New Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes brings his wide open spread offense to Tucson this year. Dykes comes to Arizona from Texas Tech, where he was the co-offensive coordinator with head coach Mike Leach.
This season while running the spread offense, Arizona has improved in nearly every offensive category. The Wildcats are rushing for more yards, passing for more yards, and most importantly scoring more points.
Junior quarterback Willie Tuitama is the leader of the Wildcats passing attack which ranks second in the Pac-10 averaging 306 passing yards a game. The Wildcats quarterback is second in the Pac-10 with 15 TD passes and is averaging 303 yards passing a game. The Trojans defense will get plenty of work defending the pass this week as the Wildcats put the ball in the air 45 times a game on average. Earlier in the year in a loss against Cal, Tuitama attempted a school record 61 passes, completing 42.
The Wildcats are ranked last in the Pac-10 in rushing offense, averaging just 86 rushing yards a game. This stat can be a little misleading, because in the pass-happy spread offense, the Wildcats use short passes and screens like running plays. While the stats don't show it, Arizona has some talented running backs.
The Wildcats most talented back is newcomer Nicolas Grigsby. Grigsby is the Wildcats leading rusher, averaging 86.2 yards a game. The freshman running back from Whittier, Calif. is also dangerous in the passing game. Grigsby has 14 receptions for 98 yards and a touchdown.
Last week against Oregon State, the Wildcats had just nine net rushing yards and a season-low 231 yards of offense.
This week the Trojans defensive line should control the line of scrimmage and stop the run but the Wildcats will use lots of quick passes and screens to keep the Trojans defense off balance. USC will also have to keep a close eye on true freshman Nicolas Grigsby who is averaging 5.3 yards a carry.
The Wildcats will look to spread the Trojans defense and use their passing game to expose weaknesses in the Trojans secondary.
The player the USC secondary will key on is junior wide receiver Mike Thomas. Thomas is second in the Pac-10 with 6.3 receptions a game and ranks fifth in the conference with 70.5 receiving yards a game. He has become the Wildcats big play receiver and is the Pac-10 co-leader with six touchdown receptions.
Along with playmaker Mike Thomas, Arizona has two solid wide receivers in senior team captain Anthony Johnson and sophomore Terrell Turner. Both receivers have 25 receptions in 2007 and are dangerous weapons in the spread attack.
The Wildcats spread offense will put a lot of pressure on the Trojans banged up secondary. Look for Arizona to put the ball in the air 50-plus times against USC on Saturday and try take advantage of a Trojan secondary that hasn't lived up to expectations so far in 2007.
On the other hand, if USC is able to throw the Arizona passing attack out of rhythm, then it could be a long day for the Wildcats and quarterback Willie Tuitama.
True freshman Rob Gronkowski has emerged as the Wildcats top tight end in 2007. Gronkowski was one the most heralded players in the Wildcats 2007 recruiting class. The 6-6, 250 lbs tight end is a big target in the spread attack. On the year Gronkowski has nine receptions for 210 yards and three touchdowns.
The Wildcats have an experienced group of offensive linemen led by senior left tackle Peter Graniello and sophomore captain Eben Britton. The offensive line has shown steady improvement since the arrival of new offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes.
This year the Wildcats are averaging 86 yards rushing, which is a big improvement from the 54 yards they averaged in 2006. The offensive line's main focus will be protecting Willie Tuitama since Sonny Dykes plans on throwing the ball around 50 times a game.
While the Wildcats are improving on the line, they still have a lot of room to grow. Last week against Oregon State, the Wildcats had just nine net rushing yards in a 31-16 loss.
The Trojans defensive line shouldn't have much of a problem keeping the Arizona running game in check, but the key to the game could be how much pressure the Trojans can put on Willie Tuitama.