There is plenty to take from Arizona success and failures this season. Read on for numerous thoughts, observations, and more.
2012 was a wild and unpredictable season for the Arizona
Wildcats football program. In Rich Rodriguez
's first season running the ship, UA experienced extreme highs and lows on its way to what is certain to go down as one of the more memorable campaigns in recent memory.
The end result was similar to those in recent years under previous head coach Mike Stoops. An 8-5 record, a bowl victory and victories over quality opponents throughout the season were some of the positive notes to take away.
On the flipside, embarrassing losses to Oregon and UCLA combined with heartbreaking defeats to Oregon State, Stanford and Arizona State were some of the low-points in a very interesting year for Arizona football.
It was a very strong year for the offense, but the defense will be remembered as a unit that was depleted and ultimately struggled mightily throughout the year. High scoring games, fast-paced football and extreme twists and turns were what built the 2012 campaign for the Arizona Wildcats football program.
The player of the year for Arizona could go to one of two players, but the slight advantage has to be given to Ka'Deem Carey. The sophomore running back broke numerous school records while leading the nation in rushing yards among running backs. He proved to be the type of player everyone expected him to be and then some, finishing with 1,929 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns.
Carey was downright dominant for much of the season and even set a conference record for rushing yards in a game with 366 against Colorado. With how he performed as a sophomore, fans have to wonder if 2013 will be Carey's final season before heading to the NFL.
If Carey was the team's best player in 2012, quarterback Matt Scott was a close second. After waiting patiently for four years for an opportunity to start consistently, the fifth-year senior had a monster season for the Wildcats.
Scott concluded the campaign with 3,620 yards passing and 27 passing touchdowns while completing just a shade over 60 percent of his passes. The UA signal-caller also rushed for 506 yards and six rushing touchdowns, proving to be a perfect fit for Rodriguez's offense.
Many wondered how UA's aerial attack would fair under Rodriguez, who is generally known for calling for an offensive approach that features the run more than the pass.
Rodriguez decided to play to his strengths more and brought an evenly balanced attack to the field that saw 544 rushing attempts and 538 pass attempts as a team. Arizona was able to parlay its strong passing game into 3,879 yards passing on the season.
Austin Hill was another breakout player in Rodriguez's offense. The sophomore caught 81 passes for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns, putting together one of the best seasons by a wide receiver in Arizona history. Hill displayed the type of skill usually shown by players that go on to have long NFL careers and his level of talent will likely require Rodriguez to continue to utilize the passing game more so than he has at any of his previous stops.
The entire receiving unit was much more productive than many people anticipated coming into the season. Not only did Arizona receive production from Hill and senior Dan Buckner, but several other young players were able to contribute to the success of the passing game.
Take David Richards, for example. The redshirt freshman may have gone a bit unnoticed with stars like Scott, Carey and Hill garnering the majority of the attention, but Richards caught 29 passes for 298 yards and three touchdowns.
The numbers may not be exactly eye popping, but Richards was able to contribute in a big way in his first year of action and appears to have a really bright future.
Garic Wharton is another receiver that Rodriguez became more comfortable utilizing as the season progressed. Known as a speedster, Wharton was a player many figured would make a huge impact with a coach like Rodriguez taking over. Unfortunately the production didn't materialize early in the season and Wharton watched most of the early campaign from the sidelines.
The second half of the season is when Wharton made a bigger impact, especially the last two games of the season. Wharton caught 13 passes combined between the Arizona State and Nevada contests, which accounted for over half of his receptions for the season.
The speedy wideout also finished the year with 278 receiving yards while catching a pair of touchdowns. Given the style of offense Rodriguez runs, fans should expect to see much more of Wharton in 2013.
Dan Buckner had a strong senior season, finishing with 61 catches, 773 receiving yards and five touchdown receptions. Buckner's size came in handy all season as Scott was never afraid of feeding Buckner in traffic. He served as a reliable, experienced target for Scott and his services will be missed in 2013. Luckily for Arizona, there are a few other receivers returning that can produce in the same manner in which Buckner did.
The offensive line did a very solid job in 2012. On top of allowing just 18 sacks in 13 games (not to mention over 1,000 offensive plays from scrimmage), the unit was a big reason why UA's rushing attack – and specifically Carey – had such a big year on the ground. Arizona returns a majority of the unit in 2013 and the seniors – Trace Biskin and Kyle Quinn – have viable replacements ready to step in.
While the offense put together a record-setting season, the defense had one of the roughest seasons in school history. UA used numerous walk-ons consistently and the results were inconsistent at best.
Walk-ons who saw the field with some sort of regularity at any point during the season include Jared Tevis, Tevin Hood, Sir Thomas Jackson, Blake Brady and Vince Miles. While they were far from the main problem, it's tough to expect a unit to succeed with any sort of consistency when there are five rotational players who are not on scholarship.
One of the most problematic areas for the defense in 2012 was its inability to get to the quarterback. Arizona accumulated just 16 sacks as a team all season, which allowed opposing quarterbacks to pick apart UA's young and depleted secondary with consistency.
Run defense was historically deficient this season for UA, who surrendered 2,680 yards on the ground. The Wildcats gave up 200 rushing yards or more on seven different occasions. In the final game of the season against Nevada, UA gave up a season-high 403 rushing yards.
The passing defense didn't perform much better this season. UA allowed 3,807 yards through the air and allowed numerous receivers to have monstrous performances against them. USC receiver Marqise Lee set a Pac-12 record for receiving yards against the UA secondary this season, while the Wildcats gave up 300 yards passing (or more) on six separate occasions.
If there was a bright spot in the defense, it was the play of Marquis Flowers at linebacker. The former safety switched positions prior to the start of the season and turned out to be the best all-around linebacker and the most productive player on the defensive side of the ball. Flowers finished the 2012 campaign with 100 total tackles – 13 for loss – 5.5 sacks, three passes broken up and three forced fumbles.
Flowers was one of UA's few play makers on defense and his presence on the field allowed the Wildcats to make up for a lot of defensive shortcomings. He was responsible for creating more turnovers than any other player on the defense this season.
Several true freshmen made an impact on the defensive side of the ball for Arizona. C.J. Dozier saw plenty of action at linebacker and collected 27 tackles and forced a fumble. Another linebacker, Dakota Conwell, picked up 12 tackles – three for loss – and recorded a sack. Defensive back Wayne Capers saw the field in a reserve role and picked up 12 tackles – one for loss – a forced fumble and he broke up a pass. Fellow freshman defensive back William Parks collected nine tackles.
Arizona had moderate expectations coming into the season and an 8-5 record in Rodriguez's debut campaign should be viewed as an overwhelming success.
Despite a few hiccups along the way, Rodriguez worked his magic on offense enough to make up for a very suspect defense. The Wildcats' head coach proved that he could make what UA already possessed on offense work. If the defense can start catching up, Arizona will only continue to improve as a program going forward.