Arizona is coming off one of the biggest wins in the past few years, beating Oklahoma State 59-38. It was the first win for the Wildcats over the Cowboys in the last three years when the series started.
This one may have been the most important, marking the end of Arizona's tailspin towards mediocrity and signaling the rise of Arizona football once again.
In order to continue the ascent, the Wildcats will have to defeat South Carolina State on Saturday. The Bulldogs aren't Oklahoma State, but they really aren't as good as Toledo (Arizona's first opponent) either. They may be the easiest of the weakest of the teams on Arizona's non-conference schedule.
However, Arizona plays in Eugene next weekend and it could be very easy to overlook a team like SCSU. The Bulldogs have a decent team at the FCS level and anything can always happen in college football.
On offense, they like to run more than pass, but it is not a very explosive attack. With that being said, the Bulldogs have produced 177.5 rushing yards per game in the first two contests. Their main point of attack comes from running back Jalen Simmons and quarterback Richard Cue, who collectively have totaled 216 rushing yards in two games.
Cue seems to be more effective on the ground than through the air. He is only completing 47.4 percent of his passes and has thrown four interceptions in two games compared to just three touchdowns.
If he doesn't make better decisions with the ball, Arizona's secondary could be lowering his touchdown-to-interception ratio.
On the other side of the ball, it is hard to see SCSU's defense holding Arizona on very many possessions. The Bulldog defense is averaging just 61 plays per game and the Wildcat offense is running 89 plays a game.
Tempo will mean everything and if the Wildcats can get to the line of scrimmage quickly time after time, South Carolina State will be a very tired team by night's end.
To be fair to SCSU, it does have some quality players on defense, including All-MEAC selection Darius Drummond. Set as the starting cornerback, Drummond has had a slow start so far this season with only two tackles and a team-high three pass breakups.
However, he has the ability to make plays and shift momentum if done early enough in the game. He could have a big impact on the Bulldog defense.
Overall, Arizona is simply just more talented than South Carolina State. The Bulldogs may be able to give Arizona a good run for a portion of the game, but the Wildcats' speed, size, and athleticism should be the difference in the outcome of the game.
Players to watch:
#17 QB, Richard Cue – As already mentioned, Cue is dangerous with his feet and less with his arm. The offense is averaging 185 yards in the passing game, but the quarterback's accuracy is the real question mark. Converting half of his passes and throwing two picks a game isn't something that is going to make Cue lethal, but he could make a few plays on the ground.
#48 MLB, Joe Thomas – Quick linebackers like Thomas generally become the heart and soul of a defense. Thomas has filled that role on the Bulldog defense so far this season. He is leading the team in tackles and is usually in the right place at the right time to make plays. He can get in the backfield and blow up a run, or pursuit a short pass route. In short, the offense should be aware of where he is on Saturday.
#4 RB, Jalen Simmons – Smaller backs are typically harder to tackle, but Arizona has a similar player in J.T. Washington, which could prove valuable for the defense. Simmons is shifty and quick, which could pose problems for the Wildcats, who have had some difficulty stopping the run so far this season.
Simmons will likely be asked to do carry most of the offensive work load on Saturday and how he handles that will directly correlate to offensive success.
#30 CB, Darius Drummond – Drummond may be down to start the season, but good players don't stay down for long. The cornerback hasn't had a breakout game so far, but could be in for one if Arizona elects to throw a decent amount his way.
In addition, he has also struggled in the punt return game, netting negative yardage on the season so far. The Wildcats shouldn't have to punt often, but if they do, Drummond may take it upon himself to make something happen for the Bulldogs.
Keys to the game:
1. Continue Limiting mistakes: In the opener, Arizona nearly lost due to missed opportunities and costly mistakes. Last weekend, the offense did a better job, but the feeling after the game was that there were still points left on the field. Learning to capitalize better will help Arizona in the long run.
2. Don't look ahead: With the week four ESPN matchup with Oregon looming, it can be easy for Arizona to start thinking about that game and look past South Carolina State. There is a reason that Rich Rodriguez covers up every other game on the schedule in the practice facility except for the current opponent. Arizona needs to stay focused on this week.
3. Speed up the game: Arizona has yet to play at the speed that Rodriguez wants to play at. The reason is somewhat cloudy, but could be due to lack of depth on defense. With a weaker opponent this week, the Wildcats shouldn't need to worry too much about depth and can run as fast as they like.
4. Second-string action: If everything goes as planned and Arizona takes care of business early, mop up time can be used to get younger or inexperienced players some playing time. It has been said that some of the freshmen may redshirt this season, but the ones that are going to see special teams playing time should be able to get in on the offense and defense fun too.
5. Respect the opponent: South Carolina State is going to be ready for Arizona as Head Coach Buddy Pough spoke very highly of the Wildcats earlier this week.
Wildcat players feel comfortable going into the game, but the Bulldogs shouldn't be taken lightly. A prepared team always has a chance to win and SCSU is going to be prepared.