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2015 Fierce 40 Previews: #13 Arizona

by DJ Boyer on Sep. 3, 2015

#13 Arizona Wildcats

2014 Recap:

The Wildcats found their way to the Pac-12 Championship Game where they got blown out by Oregon 51-13 after beating them in the regular season 31-24. Arizona lost to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl 38-30, as they had the ball near the goal line near the end of the game needing a touchdown and a 2-point conversion to tie the game. Despite the two losses to end the year, Arizona finished 10-4, and expectations remain high coming into 2015.

Coaching:

During his first three seasons at Arizona, Rich Rodriguez has posted 26 wins, and the teams seems to be getting better and better every year. Rodriguez was the Pac-12 Coach of the Year in 2014, and Rodriguez has 21 years experience as a head coach with a number of high profile stops including Michigan and West Virginia. Calvin Magee and Rod Smith are co-offensive coordinators for a team that was ranked #25 in total offense a season ago. The defense did not rank as well, coming in at 103rd overall and 118th against the pass. Jaff Casteel has 32 years of coaching experience and has been at Arizona as long as Rodriguez. Another statistical year like 2014 could lead to a change for the future.

 

Offensive Analysis

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

Anu Solomon started as a true freshman and immediately showed that winning is all he knows how to do. Solomon is listed at 205 pounds, but that seems a little generous, and he stands about 6’1”. Solomon only threw for 3,700 yards with 28/9 TD to INT ratio and ran for nearly 300 yards. Solomon was a state champion all four years of his high school career in Las Vegas, so again, winning is not a foreign concept. Solomon needs to be commended for coming up big in a number of important games, but he needs to get rid of the ball a little faster. It is frustrating to watch him because he can make a string of consecutive decisions that are spot on and then one that leaves you scratching your head. Remember Solomon was a true freshman, so this should be part of the maturation process.

It will be easier for Solomon if his fellow freshman from last season continues to produce, running back Nick Wilson. 1,375 yards with 16 rushing touchdowns and a 5.8 YPC average in the Pac-12 raised a lot of eyebrows, and those stats should be even larger this season. Jared Baker will serve as the backup at running back after carrying the ball just 25 times last season.

Best Draft Prospect: Nick Wilson RB 3rd Round 2017 (with early declaration, part of the 2018 draft class).

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Arizona has an electric trio of starting receivers, and all are juniors that should be back with the team for their senior seasons. That has to excite the fan base. If any receiver leaves early it should be Cayleb Jones. At 6’3” 220 pounds he is already built like an NFL wideout. Build isn’t the only thing teams have to worry about after a 73-1019-9 season. Now throw in fellow starters Samajie Grant and Nate Phillips who themselves combined for 70-990-8 despite their 5’9” and 5’7” statures.

It doesn’t end David Richards and Trey Griffey will also see their share of time and contribute. Yes, Trey Griffey is the son of Ken Griffey Jr. so we can already see the athletic lineage at an important backup position. Arizona will go with three and four receivers on nearly every snap so we won’t see any true tight ends in the offensive sets.

Best Draft Prospect: Cayleb Jones WR 4th Round 2017.

 

Offensive Line:

If there is an area of concern for the offense it has to be along the line, as Arizona said goodbye to three starters. Mickey Baucus was an enormous tackle who was underrated, and Arizona will not have a returning starter at the right or left tackle positions. Aiulua Fanene and Lene Maiava will be the respective tackles, and the duo has a combined seven career starts between them. Most of those starts were at the guard position.

Guard is where Arizona seems little more settled, as both guards from last season are back in the form of Jacob Alsadek and Cayman Bundage. Kaige Lawrence seems to be the center that will get the starting nod, but that has not yet been announced at the time this article was being published. This will be a unit that needs time to get acclimated, but they have a number of talented skill players around them to block for.

Best Draft Prospect: Cayman Bundage OG UFA 2016.

 

Defensive Analysis

Defensive Line:

Reggie Gilbert was the leader up front for Arizona, but he projects more as a run stuffing defensive end vice a pure pass rusher. Gilbert will man one of the defensive end spots for an Arizona team that employs a 3-3-5 defensive front of more than 75% of their snaps. Gilbert was set to leave last season as a senior, but he did get a waiver for a medical redshirt. Parker Zellers will play inside an outside along the line despite being only 255 pounds.

Arizona will run a 3-3-5 scheme where opening up lanes for the linebackers will be the primary objective. Calvin Allen will see the majority of time along the line as a floating defender who will primarily play defensive end. Allen played in six games last season and should excel at getting after the quarterback. Luca Bruno is another player that can slide around the line and play virtually any position.

Best Draft Prospect: Reggie Gilbert DE UFA 2016.

 

Linebackers:

We could essentially write an entire column about the play of Scooby Wright in 2014 when he was voted Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. In a day and age where statistics are looked at so closely, the gaudy stats put up by Wright don’t tell the whole story. Wright wound up in our Top Ten ballot last year for the Heisman and arguably had the best season of any defender in the nation. He had 163 total tackles (99 solo) with a staggering 29 coming for loss. Wright also had 14 sacks and forced six fumbles. He was everywhere. Wright will collect plenty of preseason accolades and he will have new players lining up outside of him as brand new starters.

Scott Ippolito and Jake Matthews are projected as the outside linebacker starters for Arizona with Derrick Turituri serving as the top reserve on both sides. Turituri looks to be the most successful pass rusher of the three, while the starters are more complete linebackers.

Best Draft Prospect: Scooby Wright LB 2nd Round 2016 (if he declares, a member of the 2017 draft class).

 

Secondary:

William Parks serves as the senior member and most experienced secondary player on the roster. Parks finished fourth on the team a season ago with 81 tackles and was second to Wright with 13 of those stops coming for loss. Parks serves as one of the rovers on the team, as they officially classify themselves as having only one safety and a pair of rovers. The other starter at rover is a name fans will recognize, DaVonte Neal. Neal was the primary punt return man a season ago, and he caught 27 total passes with two going for touchdowns. Neal could still be used on occasion as a receiver but the plan to get him on the field more and utilize his athleticism led the Wildcats to placing him on defense.

Jarvis McCall is the sophomore cornerback who looks like the future star of this unit, but the jury is still out on him regarding his pro prospects. We want to place him as the best prospect in the secondary, but we need to see him in action this year to make an accurate assessment. Cam Denson and Jamal Allah round out the secondary, and both have experience but need to step up their game is this team wants to improve upon last years disappointing showings.

Best Draft Prospect: Will Parks S UFA 2016.

 

Special Teams

Drew Riggleman had one of the best punting seasons in Arizona history, but he seemed to go unnoticed on a national level. In scouting circles the great punting/kicking combo in Utah seems to take away from Riggleman being a legitimate prospect in his own right. Casey Skowron was about as inconsistent as you could ask for concerning a talented kicker playing for a big university. Skowron was 20-28, and he made as many big kicks as he missed. If Skowron puts it all together he can get a look at the next level with Riggleman.

The return game was a point of pride for the Wildcats, as they didn’t give up a touchdown in the return game on a punt of kickoff last season while scoring one special team touchdown themselves. The coverage units were both better then average, and this will bode well for the Wildcats in the Pac-12 if they can replicate that success in 2015.

Best Draft Prospect: Drew Riggleman P UFA 2016.

 

2015 Schedule

After three lighter games to open the season the conference play opens at home with UCLA and at Stanford. The schedule gets tough down the stretch, as the Wildcats end with a road game in USC, a home date with Utah and a road game with rival Arizona State. Oregon is a team that Arizona has scored a win against in two consecutive seasons, but the Wildcats will not have a crack at the Ducks in 2015.

 

Draft Prospect & Outlook

Scooby Wright will be a junior, and he could find himself near the top of the draft if he declares. If Wright comes near what he did in 2014, then declaring early should be an easy decision. Cayleb Joseph and Nick Wilson look like picks that are not only legitimate but ones that should be high on the board. Both look like picks for future drafts.

 

DJ Boyer