The Daily Fizz: I’m digging Arizona’s versatility
Winners of four straight, Arizona finds itself atop the Pac-12 South Division standings entering this weekend’s pivotal game against Washington. The Huskies (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12) are basically playing for their season when they visit Tucson for a Saturday night, nationally-televised tilt. Washington already has two conference losses. A third will all but end their chances of a Pac-12 Championship. Meanwhile, for an Arizona team predicted by the media to finish last or close to last in the conference, the Wildcats are sort of playing with house money.
The Huskies are favored to win, but so was Colorado last week.
My question for Arizona (4-1, 2-0 Pac-12) is will the Wildcats be able to remain versatile against Washington, something that has helped them defeat Texas Tech, UCLA, and Colorado in recent weeks. Coach Kevin Sumlin addressed Arizona’s versatility during this week’s presser. I’m paraphrasing, but big picture, Sumlin addressed Arizona’s ability to react well and take what the opposing defense has been giving them. For example, Against UCLA, the Wildcats started freshman quarterback Grant Gunnell. With Gunnell at the helm, UCLA crowded the line of scrimmage, tried to take away Arizona’s interior ground game, and force Gunnell to throw the football. Similarly, with Khalil Tate at quarterback last week against Colorado, the Buffaloes basically took the same defensive approach considering Tate was still healing from a hamstring injury that kept him out of the win over the Bruins.
Rather than bash their heads up against a wall, unnecessarily, and insist on running the football between the tackles, Arizona instead turned to the perimeter attack, using Jet Sweeps and bubble screens to get playmakers the ball outside the edges. In doing so, they stretched the defenses horizontally, which opened up the vertical passing game. Smart.
Defensively, Sumlin credited the entire defensive coaching staff with effective halftime adjustments, rotating in a lot of players all season, the program’s overall conditioning, which thus far appears to better than their opponents, and the simple fact Arizona is now getting their best players on the field at the right time.
In facing Washington, the Wildcats will need to continue to remain versatile and adaptable, all the while facing a better team despite Washington’s overall record. The Huskies feature a balanced offensive attack. Defensively, they’ve only allowed opponents an average of 364 yards per game. This is in stark contrast to the 539 yards per game gained by Arizona this season.
While I think Arizona’s defense can keep Washington’s offense in check, it’ll be interesting to see if the Wildcats own offense can score enough. I can see a low-scoring affair where Washington wins a physical, gut-check type of game. I can also see Arizona, before a full house, continue to elevate its play on both sides of the ball and knock off its first real giant of the season. Perhaps a key for Arizona's offense will be special teams play. Arizona spent the first 30 minutes against Colorado playing the long field due to some judgment errors in the punt return game. Better field position in the second half helped them score points and also keep the Buffaloes out off the scoreboard in the fourth quarter.
We’re still days away from kickoff, with plenty of pre-game coverage to come. For now, I’m just digging Arizona’s ability to be patient and take what the opponent is offering. So far, it’s been good enough to win two important conference games and own tiebreakers against divisional foes.