Teams & Conferences

Preview 2017: Arizona Wildcats

Preview 2017: Arizona Wildcats


Previewing and looking ahead at the Arizona Wildcats season – and what you need to know.


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2017 Arizona Preview: RichRod Is Better Than You Think
– 2017 Arizona Schedule Analysis
Arizona Previews: 2016 | 2015

What You Need To Know About The Arizona Offense

You know what you’re getting with Arizona. The defense is going to be optional for long stretches, but the offense is going to make up for the problems on the other side of the ball in shootout after shootout. But that didn’t happen last year.

The Wildcats were crushed by injuries in the backfield, having a hard time getting settled in at quarterback early on, and lost the top running backs to major injuries before the midseason. Fortunately, the parts are back, but how long can they all stay on the field?

Brandon Dawkins and Khalil Tate will battle it out for the starting quarterback job, while the backfield is very deep and – potentially – extremely dangerous if J.J. Taylor and Nick Wilson can get and stay healthy.

There has to be a more efficient passing game, with Shun Brown needing some help from the rest of the receiving corps, and the O line has to be far more physical and consistent, but again, much of that comes with health.

Biggest Key To The Arizona Offense

The passing attack has to be more efficient. Even in a bad season like 2016, the running game still put up big yards. It’ll be great again no matter who’s in the backfield, but there has to be a balance. The quarterback health issues made for a disaster of a season through the air, but now there are more options.

The Wildcats had one of the least-efficient passing games in the country – with the QBs hitting 51% of their passes with just 13 touchdowns and 12 picks – after two straight okay seasons. How bad did things get? Arizona went four straight games – and five in six – in Pac-12 play when it failed to hit the 50% passing mark. Five scoring came in a two-game stretch against UCLA and Utah – there weren’t multiple TD passes in any other game.

What You Need To Know About The Arizona Defense

If you thought 2015 was bad, that was nothing compared to the nightmare of the 2016 Arizona defense.

The reputation of woeful Rich Rodriguez defenses (cough, cough … Michigan … cough) hasn’t exactly been helped by the last few seasons, but to be fair, injuries played a major role. The defense couldn’t seem to get off the field – giving up third down play after third down play – thanks to a woeful year from the back seven and not enough big impact plays up front.

Through all the injures, though, came experience, and now six of the top eight tacklers are back led by a seemingly much-improved secondary – at least that’s where the young talent is – to potentially change things around. The D has to be more physical overall, and more plays behind the line would be nice, but any production would be a massive improvement.

Biggest Key To The Arizona Defense

The secondary has to come up with more stops. The defensive backfield should be stronger, considering Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, Jace Whittaker and Dane Cruikshank are among the team’s top defensive players. Last year, though, was a nightmare, as teams combined to hist 66% of their passes for over 3,300 yards and 34 scores. The Cats picked off a mere eight throws, with five of them coming in the first four games.

Arizona Will Be Far Better If …

Everyone can stay healthy. Going into last season, the backfield looked deadly with QB Anu Solomon and RB Nick Wilson appearing to be ready for big things. A few respective leg injuries later, and that went bye-bye. Those were just a few of the ridiculous array of maladies and issues the team had to face, starting early in the season and getting progressively worse.

The quarterback situation turned out to be the biggest problem, but the offense was decimated just about everywhere and the defense was never playing with a full deck. Few healthy starters = no depth = bad special teams. It all tied together in one bad, bad season.

Best Arizona Offensive Player

RB J.J. Taylor, Soph. – It would be nice if Nick Wilson could stay healthy and regain his 1,375-yard, 16 touchdown form of 2014, but Taylor will likely be the star if he’s back to form after suffering a broken ankle. The diminutive 5-6, 170-pound speedster averaged almost seven yards per carry with 261 yards and two scores – with 168 against Hawaii and 97 against Washington – before getting hurt. Ideal for this offense, he’ll eventually put up massive numbers.

2. WR Shun Brown, Jr.
3. OG Jack Alsadek, Sr.
4. OT Layth Friekh, Sr.
5. QB Brandon Dawkins, Jr.

Best Arizona Defensive Player

S Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, Jr. – The team’s leading returning tackler was one of the few bright spots on a woeful defense, coming up with 78 tackles with six broken up passes, two picks and four tackles for loss. The 6-2, 199-pound free safety can get all over the field, with 76% of his stops solo tackles. He hit USC with 11 tackles and Oregon State with 13, but a few more big plays when the ball is in the air would be nice, with both of his interceptions coming early on.

2. CB Jace Whittaker, Jr.
3. DE Larry Tharpe Jr., Jr.
4. LB DeAndre’ Miller, Sr.
5. CB Dane Cruikshank, Sr.

Key Player To A Successful Season

QB Brandon Dawkins, Jr. Or Khalil Tate. No matter who it is, the position has to be settled after slew of problems finding a QB who could stay healthy. Dawkins led the team in rushing with 944 yards and ten scores, but he was painful at times pushing the ball downfield. Enter Tate, who only completed 40% of his throws when he got a shot, but he was better at times in spring ball and made it a competition going into fall camp. No matter who it is under center, the passing game has to be far more efficient.

The Arizona Season Will Be A Success If …

The Wildcats win seven games, and are explosive doing it. As long as everyone stays in one piece, Northern Arizona and UTEP should be free-space wins, Houston has to be a must-win at home, and Oregon State and Washington State need to be home victories to get within range. Seven wins might not seem like anything special, but after going 3-9, it would look great.

Key Game To The Arizona Season

Sept. 9 vs. Houston – This has to be when Arizona looks the part again. The team should be healthy, it’s a home game, and it’s a winnable battle against a brand-name team with a ton of talent.

The Friday night Pac-12 opener at home two weeks later might be more important when it comes to attitude, and certainly there are bigger games over the second half of the season, but beating the Cougars would, could and should be a tone-setter.

2016 Arizona Fun Stats

– 1st Quarter Scoring: Opponents 97 – Arizona 55
– 3rd Down Conversions: Opponents 92-of-176 (52%) – Arizona 57-of-157 (36%)
– Time of Possession: Opponents 34:10 – Arizona 25:50

– 2017 Arizona Preview: RichRod Is Better Than You Think
– 2017 Arizona Schedule Analysis
– Arizona Previews: 2016 | 2015