By Steven Herrera
After winning the South division last year, the Arizona Wildcats have taken a major step back this season. With a 5-5 record, including a 2-5 record in the conference and a three game losing streak, Arizona is far from defending the division title and just trying to secure a bowl game bid at this point. With only two games left on the schedule, at home against Utah and on the road against ASU, the question becomes how will the Wildcats finish the season. Will they mail it in and look ahead to next year, like they did in a 49-3 beat down loss to Washington, or come out swinging, as they did against a surging USC team in a 38-30 loss?
Looking back at Arizona’s season, the Wildcats have yet to win a game against a decent opponent. Their two conference wins are against the two weakest teams in the Pac-12, including a close game against Colorado that Arizona was losing at one point. The Wildcats other three victories have come against UTSA, Nevada, and Northern Arizona. Out of Arizona’s five losses, they were taken to the woodshed in three of them (UCLA, Stanford, and Washington) while putting up a fight against Washington State and USC.
So what does this mean? For the game on Saturday, it means Utah will have to do more than show up to beat the Wildcats. Anu Soloman is a good quarterback and capable of tearing apart defenses. The sophomore quarterback has thrown 16 touchdowns on the season with only three interceptions, all three of which have come in the last two games. Soloman spreads the ball around really well and Arizona has receivers who are capable of making plays. Last week, against USC, three receivers finished with 80 yards or more on at least six catches. Oddly enough, Arizona’s top receiver on the season wasn’t one of those to finish with at least 80 yards. Nevertheless, Cayleb Jones will pose a threat to the Utah defense, and will have a huge height advantage against Porter, Hatfield, or Butler-Byrd.
Luckily for Utah, Nick Wilson’s status for the game is unknown, as the running back that torched the Utes for more than 200 yards last season is dealing with an injury. Taking his place should Wilson be unable to play will be senior Jared Baker. Baker has amassed 622 yards and six touchdowns running the ball this year, with his best game being a 207-yard performance against Colorado. Senior quarterback, Jarred Randall, will likely be apart of the Arizona rushing attack as well. Randall has rushed for 683 on 70 carries and five touchdowns.
The Arizona defense allows an outstanding 34.6 ppg, which is only better than Oregon is the Pac-12. The Wildcats are last in the league in interceptions, with six on the season, and no player has more than one. Arizona is 9th in the conference with 19 sacks, led by sophomore Jack Banda with three. Senior safety Will Parks leads the team in total tackles with 59 followed by corner DaVonte Neal and safety Jamar Allah. When the top three leading tacklers on your team are members of the secondary, something is definitely wrong. Part of the problem unquestionably belongs to injury, as linebacker Scooby Wright has missed practically the entire season due to injury. Wright was the MVP and star of the Wildcats defense and a large part of their success last season.
The cherry on top of Arizona’s disappointing 2015 campaign full of injuries, embarrassing losses, and overall disappointment is the rumors swirling around head coach Rich Rodriguez. With numerous head coaching gigs opening up in the college football world, speculation has matched Rich Rod with just about every open job. The rumors likely have an adverse affect on the team and continue to be a distraction as each loss only adds fuel to the fire, despite Rich Rod denying being in contact with any schools.