Arizona Game Preview

After running the tables without much of a challenge in their non-conference games. the ninth-ranked Washington Huskies are gearing up to face their biggest challenge of the year, heading south to face the Arizona Wildcats.

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The Huskies hit the road to start off conference play, heading to Tucson to face a Wildcat team with question marks and injuries at quarterback as well as running back. However, the Huskies have a target on their back right now, as a top 10 team tends to have, and Rich Rodriguez’ roster will be ready to bring all they’ve got to the table. Let’s take a look at some of the difference makers.

Players To Watch

#13 SO 6’3” 210-pound QB Brandon Dawkins

2016 stats: 31 of 50 for for 452 yards, 62% completion, 2 TD, 31 carries for 215 yards, 6.9 YPC 5 TD

Scoop: A knee injury to Anu Solomon paved the way for Brandon Dawkins to make his first career start in Arizona’s home opener against Grambling. The ‘Cats were down early, but Dawkins, by the power of his legs, navigated his squad to victory. He took a step forward the following week against Hawaii, scoring four total touchdowns. The availability of Anu Solomon is dubious, but should be be ready to go, Dawkins has made a strong case for starts going forward. His legs are a weapon, allowing Arizona to call designed QB runs and options when he’s under-center.

#12 JR 6’2” 206-pound QB Anu Solomon

2016 stats: 20 of 30 for 213 yards, 66.7% completion, 2 INT

Scoop: Despite a career 48:16 TD:INT ratio, Anu Solomon’s last year or so has been riddled with uncertainty, although a lot of that can be attributed to injury. While he’s started all 26 games he’s played at Arizona, his sophomore year playing time was truncated by Jerrard Randall, who rushed for 700 yards as a backup quarterback. A tough loss to BYU began the 2016 season for Solomon, but an injury in practice the next week held him out of his teams’ next two games, which allowed Brandon Dawkins to make a name for himself. Should Solomon return, will Dawkins assume a role similar to the one Randall thrived in a year ago? That question will be answered if Solomon is ready to roll Saturday, which is a question on its own.

#28 JR 5’10” 208-pound RB Nick Wilson

2016 stats: 43 carries for 257 yards, 6.0 YPC, 3 TD

Scoop: A breakout true freshman season set the bar high for Nick Wilson, but injuries restricted him from improving, at least from a statistical stand point the following year. The injury bug bit again in the Wildcats win over Hawaii, taking Wilson out yet again. He’s productive when he plays, scoring 28 times in 25 games. Again, the question is, will he be ready to go? If he is, he’ll figure to be the primary source of carries for Arizona.

#23 FR 5’6” 170-pound RB J.J. Taylor

2016: 19 carries for 172 yards, 8.6 YPC, 1 TD

Scoop: Nick Wilson’s injury against Hawaii allowed true freshman J.J. Taylor to make his mark, picking up 168 yards on 19 carries and scoring his first career touchdown. Obviously, he doesn’t overwhelm with his size, but he lets his speed and agility do the talking. He’ll be tasked with shouldering the load of a starting running back should Wilson’s injury keep him out for a while. If Wilson can go through, still expect to see a healthy helping of J.J.

#5 SR 6’3” 209-pound WR Trey Griffey

2016: 9 receptions for 153 yards, 17.0 YPC, 1 TD

Scoop: Drafted in the 24th round of the MLB draft by the Seattle Mariners, the son of Hall of Famer Ken Griffey junior returned for his senior year of college football, which isn’t surprising given his retirement from baseball before he started high school. He made his biggest impact last year as a big play threat, chewing up over 25 yards per reception. He’s not quite keeping up with that clip this year, but he is leading his team in receiving yards and did cash in from 34 yards out against Grambling State. He’s a big, athletic target and will be the biggest test this secondary has faced yet.

#10 SR 5’9” 180-pound WR Samajie Grant

2016: 10 receptions for 126 yards, 12.6 YPC

Scoop: Grant has been a frequent fixture in the Wildcats’ receiving corps since his freshman year. He’s a smaller receiver who relies on quickness to make up for his size. He’s a threat to keep an eye on from the slot as well as out wide.

#14 SR 6’1” 227-pound LB Paul Magloire

2016: 20 total tackles, 2.0 TFL

Scoop: Paul Magloire arrived at Arizona as a junior, following stints at Arizona Western and Appalachian State. He’s off to a hot start for his final season of his long journey to PAC-12 football, leading the team with 20 tackles, 14 of which were solo. He’s got a solid body and nice speed from an outside linebacker position.

#32 JR 6’3” 236-pound LB DeAndre Miller

Stats: 13 total tackles, 4.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks

Scoop: Lining up at the ‘STUD’ linebacker spot, DeAndre Miller has a similar role to the BUCK linebackers at the University of Washington: get after the passer. So far, he’s made a living in the backfield, leading his team in tackles for loss and sacks. Trey Adams and Kaleb McGary will need to handle him on the edge to keep Jake Browning’s jersey clean.

#36 SO 6’2” 200-pound S Demetrius Flannigan

2016 stats: 15 total tackles, 1.0 TFL, 2 INT

Scoop: Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles employs characteristics of a linebacker and a safety, which makes him a solid fit for Arizona’s ‘BANDIT’ position. He essentially is a rover who is relied upon to make a presence in the box, in coverage, and, occasionally, in the backfield. He benefited greatly from playing all 13 games as a true freshman, taking a huge step forward this season. With his ability to make a play in a variety of ways, he’s a fun one to watch.

#1 SR 6’0” 206-pound S Tellas Jones

2016 stats: 5 total tackles 

Scoop: Injuries have limited Jones to just one game this season, but the possibility of him playing against the Huskies is legitimate. He’s the ‘SPUR’ safety for the wildcats, and, much like Flannigan-Fowles, he’s a playmaker who can make an impact in the pass and run game. He had seven tackles for a loss in 11 games last season, which is evidence of the impact he can make when healthy.

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What Does the Wildcat Offense Look Like

First and foremost the Wildcats love to run the ball: in just 203 plays, the Wildcats have run the ball 122 times. And it’s no wonder why they are so reliant on the run, as they average 5.6 yards per carry as a team and have scored 10 times. 

With the graduation of Cayleb Jones, this is suddenly small receiving corps. Only two of the eight receivers listed on the two-deeps for Arizona are over six feet tall. One of those is Trey Griffey, the most potent big play threat of the pass catchers. 

An injury to Nick Wilson makes a thin backfield even thinner. J.J. Taylor emerged as a dangerous playmaker, with incredible speed and amazing lack of size, against Hawaii. According to azdesertswarm.com, slot receiver Tyrell Johnson is beginning to transition over to running back. A healthy Nick Wilson adds some size to an otherwise really small running back group.

Anu Solomon and Brandon Dawkins are both great athletes in their own right, but they each have their own strengths they bring to the table. Solomon is a better passer, and he uses his speed more to extend plays when needed, though he can scramble for yardage without a doubt. Dawkins, on the other hand, is a much more dangerous runner. Him under center allows the ‘Cats to call more options and QB runs, but might limit their ability to do damage through the air. Regardless of who lines up at quarterback, Arizona likes to spread the field and allow playmakers to create opportunities in space, starting with their tailbacks.

What Does the Wildcat Defense Look Like

Although Marcel Yates moved from Boise State to take on the defensive coordinator role for the Wildcats, they still run a similar set to what they did last year. They employ a unique nickel-type package with three safeties, two of which are in-the-box, rover type players. Their three down linemen are very small, the heaviest weighing in around 270 pounds. The thought is to outmatch opposing offensive lines in speed where they’re outmatched in size. Of their three linebackers, the WIL and MIK play a more traditional linebacker role, both patrolling the middle and stopping the run. The ‘STUD’ backer is similar to UW’s ‘BUCK,’ tasked with rushing the passer.

The Wildcats are 10th in the conference thus far in total defense, giving up 435.3 yards per game. Of their seven touchdowns allowed, five have come on the ground, suggesting that their opponents have been able to feed their backs and rely on their size advantage in the trenches.

Washington Offensive Coordinator Jonathan Smith noticed that Arizona, while their personnel hasn’t really changed with the switch to Marcel Yates, the coverages have. Adjusting to the new looks will be crucial for the Husky offense if they want to get out of Wildcat Country with a win.

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Keys to the game

Arizona

1. Keep Washington out of rhythm when they try and run the ball - The Huskies started to build a little momentum on the ground against Portland State, but it was the most often complained about aspect of their offense by fans and media alike. Keeping Washington out of rhythm will make it hard to move the ball on the road against a PAC-12 team.

2. Start off strong - Arizona started slow their first two games, resulting in a loss to open the season and a nail biter against Grambling. A fast start against Hawaii put the game out of reach early. There could be a trend here.

3. Create havoc - The Huskies have yet to play on the road. Pressuring Washington early and taking them out of their comfort zone will give them their first test of the season, and it would be a challenging one.

Washington

1. Another fast start - Washington has had two incredibly fast starts in three games thus far. Fortunately, a slow start against Idaho wasn’t enough to make it close. However, a slow start against a PAC-12 school could be a different story.

2. Take advantage of size up front - The Husky offensive line is significantly larger than Arizona’s defensive line. If the guys up front can create holes for Myles Gaskin and buy time for Jake Browning, it should make the first game of conference play a lot easier.

3. Win the turnover battle - The Huskies and the ‘Cats sit atop the leader board for turnover margin in the PAC-12. Falling behind in the turnover battle on the road against a conference opponent is rarely a good idea.

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