With California set for a 7 p.m. tilt in the desert on Saturday against Arizona to open up Pac-12 play, we quizzed our resident Wildcat expert Jason Scheer, who runs our network's Arizona site, about just what the Bears will be facing in Tucson.
BearTerritory: How much did facing Nevada’s Cody Fajardo last week help prepare the Wildcats for the running and passing exploits of freshman Cal quarterback Luke Rubenzer?
Jason Scheer: It certainly doesn't hurt. The Wildcats faced a mobile quarterback in UTSA’s Austin Robinson and it is a similar situation to Rubenzer in that Robinson is not the starter either. Arizona keyed in on the run and basically entered the game saying that it would take Fajardo’s running ability away, which it did. It will be much more difficult to do that against Rubenzer because of the other talent that Cal has on offense, but the defense will at least be prepared and experienced against a mobile quarterback.
BT: After last week’s game against Nevada, Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez said “we weren’t stopping anybody,” allowing the Wolf Pack to convert 8 of 16 third downs pile up 25 first downs. Where were the breakdowns in the Wildcat defense?
JS: It’s hard to say because it was all over the place. The defense has failed to get any type of consistent pass rush and you can only blame the defensive backs so much when the opposing quarterback is getting so long to throw. However, when there was a pass rush, there were numerous plays in which the defensive backs just made the wrong read. Will Parks has been very good for Arizona, but made some bad mistakes that wound up as Nevada first downs. In addition, Arizona went to freshman corner Cameron Denson a bit and the Wolf Pack really took advantage. It is difficult to point to just one area breaking down on third down, which may be the scariest part for the coaching staff.
BT: Nevada had previously rushed for 214 against Washington State, but barely passed the century mark against Arizona. While the Wolf Pack passed for 110 yards against the Cougs, they threw for 321 yards on 39 attempts (with Fajardo notching a season-best 74.4 completion percentage) against the Wildcats. What was Nevada and Fajardo able to exploit in the secondary that led to those numbers?
JS: It’s similar to the answer above. Arizona keyed in on the rush and basically dared Nevada to throw. If the Wolf Pack were going to score, so be it, but it wasn’t going to happen on the ground. The defense would have been much more successful if it did not come apart on third down. Pass rush has been the biggest issue and it happened against Nevada as well. Arizona is blitzing plenty, but the linebackers are the ones getting to the quarterbacks. The defensive line has been solid at stopping the run, but there has been no pass rush from the three linemen and that has really hurt the defense overall.
BT: DaVonte’ Neal didn’t play much of a role last week in the win, and he’s only caught two passes this season. A former four-star prospect, and the No. 5 receiver in the 2011 class, what’s slowed Neal’s introduction after sitting out last year following his transfer from Notre Dame? How much of a role can we expect him to play on Saturday?
JS: It’s shocking that Neal has only had two touches this season, but he’s also missed two games with an ankle injury. Rodriguez is pretty quiet on injuries and Neal was listed as probably last game, but barely played. The expectation is that he will play more on Saturday, especially if Samajie Grant is unable to go after he left the game on Saturday. If he is healthy and ready to go, the coaching staff should try to get him involved early and his biggest contribution may come on special teams.
BT: With both Cal and Arizona running tempo-based offenses, time of possession isn’t generally a big deal for either team, but last week had to be concerning for Rich Rod and his staff, I take it?
JS: It may have been the first time I have heard Rodriguez as mentioning it as a major factor. He usually brushes it off because of how well Arizona’s offense can do, but Nevada definitely frustrated Arizona because it had numerous long drives and the defense just could not get off the field. The offense was scoring quickly and its longest scoring drive was just over three minutes, so it seemed like the defense was on the field the entire game.
BT: Is Anu Solomon the real deal, and what has he done so well over the first three weeks of the season?
JS: Solomon struggled some against UTSA and I think he got overly criticized because of it. He was a redshirt freshman making his first career road start in a hostile environment against an experienced squad. Against UNLV and Nevada, Solomon played great. The intriguing thing about him is that even though he put up some big numbers, there is a ton of room for improvement. Against Nevada, for instance, he slid right before the first down marker late in the game and if he gets the first down, the game is basically over. He has great touch on his deep balls and has gotten better at knowing when to run. The next step is being able to release the ball when the coaching staff wants him to, because he has a tendency to hold onto it for too long.
BT: Cayleb Jones, the transfer from Texas, scored two late TDs last week to help the Wildcats stave off an upset. Rodriguez said that he will “only get better and better.” At 6-3, 215, how much do you see him playing a role against Cal’s corners, all but one of which are 6-foot or shorter?
JS: Jones is not fast by any means, but he is a complete nightmare to cover. Not only is he tall, but he is extremely strong as well. A good portion of his catches have seen their yardage come after the grab because the defensive back has trouble bringing him down. There are so many receivers to spread the ball around to, so it is difficult to predict which ones will have a good game. However, with Jones’ size and strength, it is easy to think that he should put together a solid game.
Q&A With WildcatAuthority.com
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