From the Bird’s Nest: Arizona – Very Offensive
Location: Tucson, AZ
Stadium: Arizona Stadium (57,400)
Coach: Mike Stoops
Record: 40-45 (8th season)
Last meeting with Louisiana: None
Coulda, woulda, shoulda.
That was Arizona in a nutshell last season.
The Wildcats won their first four, including a win over ninth ranked Iowa. That win propelled Arizona into the Top Ten.
They then suffered a narrow home loss to Oregon State. Then they won three in a row to get to 7-1.
The Cardinal embarrassed the Wildcats 42-17 and ‘Zona didn’t win another game, including a blowout loss to Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl. That was Coach Mike Stoops’ third straight bowl appearance, something never before done at Arizona. But a lot more was expected. The Wildcats will try to atone this season, but if they do, they’ll have to be as offensive as most feel they will be.
The Wildcats return just five offensive starters, but it starts with quarterback Nick Foles (605, 245) who had a great year last season, throwing for 3,191 yards and 20 touchdowns. He was second to Stanford’s Andrew Luck in total offense and completion percentage. He threw for nearly 900 in the two games against the Oregon schools.
The receiving corps is as good as any in the Pac-12. Juron Criner is 6-4, 215 and has a chance to become only the fourth player at Arizona to amass 3,000 receiving yards in a career. He caught 82 balls a year ago. Senior David Douglas was also productive with 52 catches and five touchdowns. Terrence Miller was fourth on the team with 29 receptions last year. This group has great size and will cause matchup problems for everyone they play. Texas transfer Dan Buckner will see plenty of time on the field this season as well.
Senior Keola Antolin (5-8, 195) is the top returning running back. He led the team in rushing with 668 yards as a part time starter. Sophomore Daniel Jenkins was the leading rusher in the spring game and will see plenty of action as well. Antolin has proven to be a good receiver as well. He caught 28 balls out of the backfield in the Arizona spread offense last season.
The big question mark is the offensive line, where all five starters must be replaced. Only junior center Kyle Quinn has started a game in his career, and he’s started only one time. It looks as though the tackle spots will be manned by redshirt freshmen. And, JUCO transfer Addison Bachman needs to be a solid performer as well.
The Wildcats had three defensive ends chosen in the NFL draft and there’s little experience returning there. They’ll probably start a couple of seniors who didn’t play a lot last season. But Mohammed Usman was in the rotation for the final three games and should start at one of those spots. A couple of sophomores who saw a lot of action last year will man the tackle spots.
Arizona had a costly spring when junior linebacker Jake Fischer tore his ACL. But Arizona does return two starting linebackers in seniors Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo. Both started as juniors after enrolling from the junior college ranks. But the spot vacated by Fischer is wide open and could be manned by a freshman.
The second springtime blow for Arizona came in the secondary when free safety Adam Hall tore his ACL as well. Senior Robert Holden will probably move over to Hall’s spot. Senior Trevin Wade, a two year starter, returns at one corner spot. Sophomore Shaquille Richardson is the leader at the other corner spot. He saw action in all 13 games last season.
Alex Zendejas returns as the kicker. He was good, but not great, last season. Arizona will look to a JUCO transfer to handle the punting duties.
The schedule doesn’t do Arizona any favors early. After opening with Northern Arizona, the Wildcats travel to Oklahoma State, the team that embarrassed them in last year’s Alamo Bowl. Then it’s back to back conference games against league favorites Stanford and Oregon. That’s a September to remember.
Arizona and Louisiana close the season with a non-conference game. That’s usually not a good thing from a motivation standpoint. The only way this means something to the Wildcats is if they need that game against the Cajuns to get to six wins and become bowl eligible. It might be doubly tough for the Cajuns, motivation wise, with an open date preceeding this game.