Phillips prepares for the blitz

As much attention as the quarterback race is getting, no one should forget that the most important position for the success of the Wildcat offense is the offensive line. The struggles the running game had last year were due in part to the inconsistent play of the men up front. With two young quarterbacks taking snaps, the o-line knows they have to protect the passer and take pressure off them by establishing the run. Brandon Phillips discussed the importance of line play this week.

Brandon Phillips has been watching a lot of tape on the UTEP defense and he feels he has a pretty good idea of what is coming. Even without spending time in the film room it seems obvious to the Wildcats as to what their opponents will do.

"Knowing that they're going to be young guys, they've really put an emphasis on getting to the quarterbacks," Phillips said of UTEP. "Because they are young guys, relatively inexperienced quarterbacks, they are going to try to rattle them somehow by trying to get to them. I expect a lot of the blitz."

The Cats realize that the blitz is going to be a way of life, at least until Costa and O'Hara prove they can handle pressure. Last year blitzes gave them trouble and from the start of camp blitz pick-up has been an emphasis of the coaches. Phillips feels that the work they did in early August will pay off in September and beyond.

"That's something we have been working on, even early on," Phillips said of blitz pick-up. "The first day they through something like 15 blitzes at us. We didn't pick them up so well, but that was the point. We put such an emphasis on blitzes and blitz pick-up that I think we're going to be all right. We've seen a lot of different looks."

The entire team has been devouring tape of UTEP for some time. Some players even took DVD's of game film home with them over summer vacation. Phillips said that while watching tape is good, it isn't always effective for early season games.

"The first couple games it is tough to watch film on different players," Phillips noted. "A lot of times it is a different guy. It could be a different defense from last year or he could have gained thirty pounds or lost thirty pounds. It's hard to judge one player at a time. So we've been looking at things schematically and seeing the different things they do."

Both in the spring and in training camp the team worked hard on establishing the run. The Cats were a terrible run team a year ago and the team knows it must move the ball on the ground to be successful. Running the ball not only keeps the defense honest, but it will take pressure off the quarterbacks from having to make all the plays.

The Cats struggled on the ground for a number of reasons. Not only were the top backs injured and the line inconsistent, but many teams put eight men in the box. With the safety cheating over, there were less places to run and the team had to throw a lot more than they would like. The team knows that a stacked defense could be there to shut down the run and the line has worked long and hard against alignments that feature eight players near the line of scrimmage.

"You learn what to look for when they are putting that many guys in the box," Phillips said. "You learn to read coverages a little bit so you can see what defensive back may be coming. I think we learned something last year. It was tough last year because they were looking to shut down our running game in the beginning, being as they thought that would be our strength. They would put eight or nine guys in the box and we all know how that went."

This season the team is confident that the offense can move the ball in the air as well as on the ground.

"I think this year something you will expect out of us is more balance in what we are capable of doing," the senior tackle confessed. "I know we will be able to run the ball and do it well. The pass I think will be there as well."

When pressed on how he "knows" the team can run the ball, Phillips was pretty forthcoming with his answer.

"I know it because after being around and seeing the way things go and the way you practice," Phillips noted. "Last year we were still struggling with some things. Some guys were struggling with concepts, while other guys struggled with steps and other things you were doing in practice. I didn't know it then, but now we are doing a much better job of not only getting guys covered up, but in moving them, making holes. Last year an emphasis was in toughening guys up, while this year it is in getting guys out of the way. It's shown, it's shown in practice."

The hot question around the Arizona football program is who will start the game on Saturday. Although both QB's will get equal snaps, there is a certain prestige in being the first quarterback to see action. Phillips insists that it does not really matter who's under center first.

"I'm pretty curious, but at the same time I don't think about it much because I know the coaches are going to make a decision on who will do the best and help us win. As an offensive lineman it does not change the way I block. It does not change any of the schemes at all. I just have to go in ready and whoever is back there, is back there. Other than I'm a little curious, you kind of want to know, just to know, but I don't have a preference."

UTEP coaches have said in interviews that they expect the Cats to run fairly different offensive sets depending who the quarterback is. Phillips denied that such a strategy was in place and that both players would be expected to do similar, if not identical things on the field.

"In the past under coach Tomey he would run in two different quarterbacks and switch things up according to them and their style," Phillips said. "I think Mackovic likes one guy that will fit into their style. I just know that whatever they decide I believe will help us win games and that's all I care about. You could stick Keoki back there and that would be fine." Read this week's SCOUTING REPORT

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