NAU offensive preview

Arizona's first game of the season is on Saturday against NAU. Read on to see which offensive players on NAU pose a threat, the keys to stopping it, and more.

Saturday marks the season opener for the Arizona Wildcats football program when it will host Northern Arizona at Arizona Stadium. UA looks to start the season on the right foot and shouldn't have much problem doing so against an NAU squad that is not only deficient of talent when compared to Arizona, but has several question marks.

The offense will be led by a new starting quarterback as last year's signal-caller Michael Herrick is no longer on the roster. In 2011, the Lumberjacks will be led by quarterback Cary Grossart, who was announced the teams' starting quarterback just a few days ago.

Grossart has limited experience – throwing only four pass attempts for 58 yards in last year's season opener – and has a tough task going on the road and competing against a Wildcats squad that has more than enough defensive talent to keep the inexperienced quarterback uncomfortable.

The Lumberjacks will most likely focus their offense on the ground as they return sophomore Zach Bauman. As a freshman, Bauman totaled 1059 rushing yards and scored 16 touchdowns. With the combination of a successful running game a season ago and an inexperienced quarterback, expect NAU to run the ball often. Behind Bauman are junior Giovannie Dixon and redshirt freshman Jamaal Perkins; both of whom are expected to see action Saturday.

When Northern Arizona does go to the air, it has a couple of targets to keep an eye on. The top returning receiver from the 2010 roster is Austin Shanks. The Lumberjacks' wideout concluded last season with 65 receptions, 613 yards and three touchdowns. Mike Czyz and Khalil Paden also return, giving Northern Arizona two more returning receivers that had greater than 20 catches a season ago. Also look for Bauman to factor in the passing game, as he caught 28 passes for 308 yards and two touchdowns in 2010.

Expect Arizona to attempt to attack NAU's backfield early in order to send a message to the Lumberjacks' young quarterback. Northern Arizona will find it difficult to move the ball through the air given the experience and talent the Wildcats possess in the secondary.

NAU will still find running the ball difficult despite the fact that it had success last season with a true freshman taking most of the carries. The reality is that UA is simply too strong and too athletic defensively for the Lumberjacks to make a significant impact on the ground. Northern Arizona will need to figure out a way to control the clock to keep the game close and that is going to be much easier said than done.

Five Keys

1. Blitz – Arizona traditionally doesn't blitz ample amounts, but in a game like this one, it may allow the Wildcats a chance to experiment a little.

2. Play strong in the middle – With NAU expected to run a lot, Arizona will need its defensive tackles and linebackers to step up to the plate and stop the Lumberjacks' attack.

3. Bring a physical style of play – NAU is no match for UA in terms of strength. Arizona has a chance to take any confidence the Lumberjacks have by playing a physical brand of defense early on.

4. Effort – Let's be honest here; as long as Arizona gives 100 percent, Northern Arizona will be out of this game by halftime.

5. Youth must step up – This game will undoubtedly feature some true freshmen and the defensive side of the ball is no exception. This is their first chance to prove their worth.

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