It's not like Arizona to have two poor showings back-to-back and I think that the players will be more mentally prepared to handle life without Scooby Wright on defense. Both teams are likely to get rolling on offense and it will likely come down to which team has more firepower. In those cases, I tend to lean towards the caliber of the skill players and the Wildcats have the slight advantage there. Arizona 42, Nevada 34
5 Questions with WildCatAuthority
Last week Arizona gave up 32 points & 525 yards to UTSA and also lost Scooby Wright for the next few games. What do you expect the staff to do, scheme wise, personnel, etc. to improve on this performance without their All American LB?
Prediction for the game?
The Arizona defense struggled mightily in the first half after losing Scooby Wright to his knee injury, but the Wildcats actually did much better in the second half with some locker room adjustments. I expect the defense to show the same schemes moving forward, but it will definitely rotate the linebacker corps more than usual to get different looks in there. Arizona lost Wright's backup, Cody Ippolito, to a season-ending knee injury in fall camp, so it will rely heavily on some lesser known faces, like Haden Gregory until the All-American can return. The Wildcats should also have Tellas Jones (suspension), Cam Denson, and Sammy Morrison (both left the opener with injuries) back on the field, so that should help stabilize the defense.
Anu Solomon had another stellar performance 229 yds with 4 TDs. What are your expectations for him this season? Heisman potential?
It may be a little early to think about Solomon putting any awards in the trophy case, but he has shown a good jump from his freshman to sophomore season. He played it safe with a few reads out of the option, handing the ball off instead of keeping it for himself, but overall Solomon didn't make many mistakes. There were a few times that he overthrew open receivers as he was getting hurried and that may have been the only knock against him in the win. Solomon still has to show consistency and the ability to hold up throughout a 13-game season as he was banged up in the latter half of his freshman campaign. I'd expect Solomon to have slightly better numbers this season than last, but his biggest hurdle will be whether he can make the right reads and decisions with the game on the line and this week could give us the first look at that situation.
The PAC-12 South is one of the toughest divisions in all of the FBS. UCLA appears to be loaded again, USC is on the rise as is Utah. The only "gimme" in the division appears to be Colorado (it should be noted that Nevada & Colorado have the same number of PAC-12 wins since 2012...2 but we've only played 4 PAC-12 teams in the regular season). What does Arizona have to do to win the division again this year (other than the obvious answer of win all their games....)?
The biggest concern for Arizona is the depth of the defense and if it is going to repeat as Pac-12 South Champions, it is going to need some second and third string guys to step up in big games. In a way, losing Wright for a few games early in the season may be one of the things that helps this defense in the long run, because it forces Defensive Coordinator Jeff Casteel to throw a few different guys out there and get them some game reps. The Wildcats are going to need quality downs from the backups as the season moves forward and if it can consistently limit the powerful Pac-12 offenses' big plays, then it has a shot to be on top again.
Last year the offensive line seemed to have some issues. Do those issues still exist? If so, how does Arizona plan to counter a Nevada front seven that is probably the best group in the MWC?
I hate to sound like a broken record here, but the issues come back around to depth. Arizona lost Carter Wood, the projected starting center, for the season in fall camp and had to move some guys around on the line. Cayman Bundage moved from left guard to center allowing Zach Hemmila to take over at his old position, but that takes one more guy out of the rotation and it was painfully obvious at times that the Wildcats lack depth there right now. Starting left tackle, and arguably the best lineman on the team, Freddie Tagaloa missed the opener with a foot injury that flared up a few days before the game, but without his presence out there, UTSA was able to get consistent pressure on Solomon and limit holes for the running backs. Even with Tagaloa back, the offensive line is going to have it's hands full with the Nevada front seven. Best case scenario is that Arizona can grab an early lead and keep the defense guessing and worst case is having to play from behind against a defense that can send multiple guys in the backfield play after play.
What are 3 keys to the game? And 1 thing Arizona must avoid (other than giving up more points) to avoid leaving Reno with a loss?
1.) Win the turnover battle: Arizona's only turnover in the opener turned into points and momentum for UTSA. The Wildcats need to make sure they aren't giving Nevada any extra possessions.
2.) Control the tempo: Both teams are capable of taking over the flow of the game. Whichever team controls the tempo is likely controlling the game as well.
3.) Make big plays: Arizona had a handful of big plays against UTSA and those were the ones that really shifted momentum. This game isn't going to be won by Arizona if it is just chipping away at Nevada. There has to be some big plays for Arizona to come away with the win.
1.) Arizona must avoid falling behind early. The Wolf Pack taking a 7-10 point lead early in the game is the worst thing that the Wildcats can do. With the lead, Nevada can control the clock by running the ball, something that it does very well, and force Arizona's hand offensively. The longer Nevada stays in the game, the worse it is for Arizona.
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