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A Q&A with UA insider for Washington State fans to bone up on Arizona

WE WANTED TO know all the ins and outs of the Cougs' opponent on Saturday, Arizona, so we turned to Cody Martin, senior staff writer of Wildcat Authority. From the 'Zona quarterbacks to what the Wildcats do best on defense, here's the lowdown ahead of the big WSU-UA matchup (1 p.m.; Pac-12 Networks).

Cougfan.com: RichRod said Saturday that they only had two of the same starters on defense that they opened the season with -- what's happened and what's the health outlook this week?

Martin: It seems like every week there is a new injury on the defensive side of the ball. Early in the season, it looked like it was just the linebacker corps that was battling injuries, but its slowly spread itself around. The keystone to the Arizona defense, Scooby Wright, has missed the majority of the season with knee and foot injuries. The second and third string linebackers also went down with various ailments and that has been the real crux of the injury bug.

Arizona didn't play DaVonte' Neal at corner last week and he has now missed two games in a row for the defense, but should likely be back for this week's contest. Backup linebacker Tre Tyler should be available to add some depth as well, but Wright and fellow starting linebacker Derrick Turituri are probably going to be out for this one.

Cougfan.com: The two QBs got a lot of press after the game, what's the overall situation there with Solomon's benching and Jerrard Randall's emergence?  RichRod is keeping things close to the vest on who he'll play and how much vs. WSU but what's your educated guess? Who gives Arizona the best chance to win vs. WSU?

Martin: How the quarterbacks practiced this week will probably go a long way into determining how Rodriguez runs the offense out on the field on Saturday, but my gut tells me that Solomon will get the start and he'll be the guy unless he has another poor outing. Colorado was just his second game back from a concussion that was suffered earlier in the season. Late in the first quarter, Solomon took a hit on a loss ball and really wasn't the same for the remainder of the game.

As for Randall, he is what he is at this point -- a quarterback who is extremely fast, can make good reads, and is incredibly dangerous on the field on the run, but he is somewhat limited throwing the ball as he lacks the touch and finesse in the passing game. Still, Randall has been a huge threat for Arizona to keep in their back pocket and with his success against Colorado, it wouldn't surprise me if he got to handle a series or two.


Cougfan.com: How would you characterize the different units on the Arizona D, and how have they done specifically in defending the pass? Arizona effectively does not have a bye week - has that played into the two losses and/or the game vs. Colorado?

Martin: The 3-3-5 is normally considered a "bend, but don't break" defense, but it is even more noticeable this year at Arizona. Without a bye week, the Wildcats haven't really been able to catch a breath and get healthy, which is where things get tricky. Against Colorado, Arizona started true freshman Jace Whittaker at cornerback and he was immediately picked on and for the entire first quarter. The Wildcats have also been playing another true freshman, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, in the secondary, though he has seen slightly better results.

With the secondary having so much turnover from last season and seeing the injuries pile up, it has been difficult to stop the pass. However, ithe front seven hevaen't helped much --they've been having a difficult time getting pressure on the quarterback this season. Without pressure, the secondary can only cover for so long.


Cougfan.com: Arizona is on a program record pace this year for rushing yards, and were the darkhorse pick of some to win the South. While 5-2 is nothing to sneeze at, two lopsided conference losses and a nailbiter vs. Colorado wasn't what some envisioned. What's your synopsis of how and why the season has played out as it has?

Martin: Coming into the season, it was a chance for the Wildcats to build on the Pac-12 South Championship from last season. That title came as a perfect storm of events with Hail Mary wins shaking up the conference left and right. Looking at the progress that Arizona has had under Rich Rodriguez, I think that the season is playing out slightly under par, but when you figure that the best defensive player has been out all season with injuries and both losses the team took were without the offensive leader on the field, it makes sense.

The close win at Colorado is some cause for concern, because the offense certainly underperformed, but the defense picked it up and the Wildcats were able to come away with the victory. In a season with no byes, every win in the first half is even more important. Although there was probably quite a bit of film to watch and correct mistakes, I'm sure the coaches and the team will take a win on the road.

 

Cougfan.com: What does Arizona do best and worst on offense, defense and special teams, and what's your prediction?

Martin: The Wildcats under Rodriguez have been extremely efficient at running the football. As you mentioned above, Arizona is on a record setting pace for rushing and has many weapons that can attack on the ground. As for what Arizona does worst, I would have to say turning momentum. If the offense has had a few bad drives, it seems that it takes a turnover or a big defensive play in order to get momentum back and log first downs.

On defense, Arizona has done a good job at limiting the opposing team's best player but due to depth, there isn't a whole lot else to stop the rest of a team's weapons. The concern is that it becomes a coaching decision whether to shut down the main threat or let the smaller threats get their yards.

On special teams, I would say that Arizona normally does a great job with punting. Drew Riggleman has a great leg, but has recently been switching between rugby-style kicks and traditional punting and it has affected his performance during the games. On the other hand, Arizona's punt return game has been non-existent this season, with very few actually being returned and two others being muffed.

I see the game going down to the wire, with the crowd boosting the Arizona defense to a key stop on the final drive to win the game. Arizona 38, Washington State 35.


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