In 2011 Arizona tied for last in the Pac-12 with a 2-7 record. They also had the toughest Pac-12 schedule, playing both Oregon and Stanford and not playing Oregon State and Washington State.
QB Nick Foles, 4,329 yards passing
WR Juron Criner, Leading WR, 956 yards
WR David Douglas, #2 leading WR, 666 yards
WR Gino Crump, #3 leading WR, 610 yards
RB Keola Antolin, leading rusher, 568 yards
LB Derick Earls, #1 leading tackler
LB, Paul Vassallo, #2 leading tackler
DB Robert Golden, #3 leading tackler
DB Trevin Wade, #5 leading tackler
DE C.J. Parish, #1 sack leader
DE Mohamed Usman, #2 sack leader
Arizona, with a new coaching staff, will go to a 3-3-5 defense. It's a bit difficult to review, but here is what they have to work with (or don't have as the case may be). Arizona last year was dead last on team defense in the Pac-12, giving up 460 yards per game. They were 10th in scoring defense, giving up over 35 points per game (if UCLA could have scored more than 12 points against Arizona and even half their average, they would have been last in that category also).
This group had five individual sacks last year (team had 9 overall, which is astoundingly bad), and their top two sack leaders (DEs) were seniors. They have not recruited well at the DE spot, so there is not a ton of hope at the DE position. The Wildcats seem to be fairly decent at ,especially if Willie Mobley (former UCLA commit) comes back from a knee injury that sidelined him last year and Justin Washington returns to form from 2 years ago (6 sacks in 2010, 0 sacks in 2011). Of course the reason for the drop in productivity might be tied into playing next to two NFL caliber DEs in Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed in 2010.
Arizona's LBs were thin last year and they will lose 2 seniors, which were their top two leading tacklers. They got good news when they got Brian Wagner, a transfer from Akron, that was the leading tackler in the nation last year. Now the bad news: he just quit the team. A thin position just got brutally thin. Jake Fischer should be back from a knee injury that sidelined him last year and he needs to get back to form for the linebacker crew to have a chance at providing decent play.
They seem to be fairly deep, but losing Adam Hall again to a knee injury does not help. Former UCLA signee Shaquille Richardson had four interceptions last year to lead the team, and he will be one of the keys to Arizona's defensive backfield.
Look for Arizona to be one of the worst defenses in the Pac 12 unless somehow that 3-3-5 defense will be magical. Still, the personnel does not seem to be there. Their deepest position is DT and in a 3-3-5 that's only one player. They'll almost certainly have to move some of their DTs to DE at some point to get quality bodies on the field.
Foles is gone and they will be going to Rich Rodriguez's up-tempo option.
QB Matt Scott is now the man and Arizona has been high on him for a while. He is more athletic than Foles, but he will need to be because he will be running quite a bit. He is really their only option because all the other QBs left town when Rodriguez arrived. Scott's body of work is only so-so: In 2009, Scott had a QB rating of 97, while In 2010 Scott was the starter at the beginning of the season and after two sub-par games at QB they replaced him with Foles. Later in the season, when Foles went down, he started three games and did well in two of them. The one caveat is that in those three games, he faced the three bottom-Pac-12 defenses in WSU, Washington and UCLA. Still, he is mobile and athletic and should do well in Rodriguez's offense. On the other hand, at about 6'2", he is also is a big target for a running QB.Depth, at this point, is a huge worry, with Arizona having to find at least someone among a JC transfer (B.J. Denkin Jr.), a converted wide receiver (Richard Morrison Jr.), a walk-on (Alex Cappellini), or two true freshmen.
Everyone returns. They are a tall group with both tackles at 6'8". The problem is that they are not built for Rodriguez's running attack. Still, all five starters return, so that should not be a negative.
They lost their starter in Antolin, but while Antolin was a significant contributor, it's probably not a big loss. One of the more talented RBs in the Pac-12 last year, KaDeem Carey, who looks more talented than Antolin, is the heir apparent. The question: Can he be an every-down back? Arizona will be running much more, so he's going to be forced to be. This spring they used Taimi Tutogi quite a bit.
The Wildcats loses four of their top five pass catchers. Dan Buckner, their leading returning receiver, is a good one though but after that it's all question marks. Luckily, in Rodriguez's offense, they will rely less on their wide receivers. But still, they'll need a couple of new faces to step up that have previously seen only limited action. Walk-on Johnny Jackson had a big spring game for them.
It's going to be interesting watching Rodriguez's no-huddle, run-and-shoot. They went through the same transition in their spring practice as UCLA did, getting used to the faster tempo and no huddle. You'd have to think that Scott is a good fit for the spread option, and the Wildcats will probably be a better running team. But you'd have to expect they'll struggle with balance and an under-performing passing attack.
State of the Team for 2012
Rodriguez spent three awkward seasons at Michigan, but early reports are that he's far more comfortable in away-from-the-spotlight Arizona, which is far more similar to West Virginia, where he was very successful. His transition to head coach was also greased by the help of out-going head coach and friend Mike Stoops, who rented Rodriguez his house. The talent overall isn't good, particularly on defense, and while the unique offensive scheme will benefit from keeping opposing defenses guessing, the defense is going to struggle trying to stop anyone.
Head to Head
UCLA plays Arizona at the Rose Bowl November 3rd, so It's ludicrous, right now, in June, to predict how that game will go. But going on pure talent, UCLA is in the top third of the Pac-12 and Arizona is probably in the bottom third. Couple that with it being a home game for the Bruins, and UCLA's new offensive scheme going against an under-manned Arizona defense just doesn't bode well for the Wildcats. With the depth at quarterback non-existent they are, too, one injury away from a real offensive problem. They are razor thin at so many positions that any injury to a LB, DE, RB or QB could be devastating. You can probably expect Rodriguez's first year in Tucson to be a bit bumpy.