There are a lot of reasons to point to as the reason the offense has sputtered early this season. The ‘glass is half full' crowd will point to things like playing two top ten ranked defenses in the first four games while the ‘glass is half empty' crowd will point to seemingly inept play calling or a far too conservative playbook.
The excuses and/or reasons are aplenty in the Wildcat fandom so let's take a bit of time to take a well reasoned look at some of the main reasons why the offense has sputtered in 2006.
The real reasons for the struggles of the Wildcats offense are a mixed bag. Everything from youth to lack of execution to conservative play calling has lead to the early season ineptness of the Arizona offense.
While Offensive Coordinator Mike Canales' play calling has not been perfect, when you consider all of the factors involved it hasn't exactly been bad either. Execution is the difference between a good offense and a bad offense. So far for Arizona, the execution just has not been there. Execution by the offensive line, wide receivers dropping balls or running backs not hitting holes (when there actually is one) all lead to more conservative play calling.
Up front the Wildcats have started three red shirt freshmen that are seeing their first playing time on this level to go with a sophomore, all the while learning a new blocking scheme, literally under fire. The talent is no doubt there for the Arizona offensive line to be a good one, but it is still a work in progress for various reasons, mainly youth. The zone blocking scheme takes patience and experience in order to master. The talent is there, now it just has to mature.
The first two years of the Arizona offense under Canales the Wildcats just could not run a successful screen pass to save their lives. It wasn't a matter of poor quarterback play or running back play, it was a case of an offensive line that lacked the speed and athleticism required to set up a proper screen play. Now in year three the Cats have run screen plays that still have not worked as they should have. But the difference is this year the plays were set up perfectly and the running back either dropped the pass (Xavier Smith twice against LSU) or the lack of patience by the back to wait for his blocking to take form (Chris Henry this past Saturday against USC). Both of the Smith screens and the Henry screen, if executed on the running backs' end, could have gone the distance because now the offensive linemen are in place to make the play successful.
The Wildcats do not have the luxury, yet, of having the offensive line needed to carry out these plays combined with the running backs needed. The talent is there but the experience is not, which leads to my second point.
The second point is the lack of execution is killing the Cats. If Smith hangs on to his screens or if Henry waits for Eben Britton for just an extra second then those plays could have drastically changed each game, and in turn changed everyone's view of the offense. The offensive line finally executed the play correctly because they were physically capable of doing so, but now the running backs failed to execute the play and the plays still failed.
Now consider that Chris Henry is a work in progress running back with very limited experience and Xavier Smith is a red shirt freshman running back with zero experience. If those plays are ran with this offensive line and an experienced back, like Mike Bell, then they are most likely executed on all ends and the Cats have points on the board.
Also against USC this past weekend, Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama completed a pass to Mike Thomas that Thomas bobbled but ultimately made a moderate gain and a positive play. What many may not realize is that the play was perfectly set up and if Thomas does not bobble the pass he is most likely running for a touch down. The play was perfectly set up and perfectly called but was poorly executed.
In the end any offense comes down to execution and the Arizona offense is simply not executing with anything that resembles consistency. The Cats are a young offensive line learning a complex blocking scheme under fire. The line is learning in front of running backs with very limited experience and a quarterback filled with talent and promise but still lacks a ton of experience.
I said a while ago that Arizona has gone through growing pains as a program and that they had more to go through and nothing has changed. The Arizona offense is going through very tough growing pains and as a fan it is hard to remain patient when you have had to endure what Wildcat fans have gone through the past 8 years. But patience is what Arizona fans must execute.
At some point Arizona fans will have every right to call for the heads of members of the coaching staff, even the head coach, but that time is not now. The talent level of the Arizona offense is high but the bulk of the talent is still very raw and very inexperienced. Until that talent gets that experience needed to execute at a higher level the growing pains will be obvious and very frustrating. It takes time to build an entire offense from scratch, which is what is taking place at Arizona. Talent takes time to mature and the fans have to realize that. The execution will come and when it does times will be great but until then the maturation process has be completed.
The Wildcat offense is not that far away but it has to go through the process and in order to complete the process the fans have to patient, as do the coaches. All of the pieces are in place and now the puzzle needs to form and that takes time. Four games is not enough time to make an informed decision about the Arizona offense, especially when you consider who they have played. Yes I am going to say it; they HAVE played two of the nation's top six defenses in those four games.
Sit back and let the season play out. Get out to Arizona Stadium and scream your asses off because if there is one thing that can help a young offense mature, it is 60,000 crazy fans wearing red and screaming themselves hoarse.