Wildcats in 2010...ouch. They look solid to start the season, but they finish about as poorly as any team could. Well, this is a new season and they are excited about the possibilities.
This is another team that has a head coach that they believe might be on the hot seat. Mike Stoops has been there for a while, but they continue to fall below expectations seemingly every year. Arizona fans are getting tired of this, and they feel cheated when their defense collapses under a defensive minded HC like Stoops.
Well in 2011, they're trying to get back to the glory days of Arizona defense (early-mid 90s).
For the Buffs, this is the first of the two winnable division games we have, the next being at UCLA. We get 'Zona for our last home game, which will be an emotional Senior Day for Tyler Hansen, Rodney Stewart, Ryan Miller, Anthony Perkins & co., but will it be enough?
Follow the jump to see just what the heck I'm talking about!
Last season for Arizona was indeed 'wild.' Mostly up, and then incredibly down. They hope this season will be better, but I don't know if it will be. They were picked to finish 4th in the division by the coaches (ahead of UCLA and our Buffs), but we all know how accurate those pre-season picks are, right? Lets get right into it!
We all know Foles, their big, talented QB. They run a pass-heavy offense that allows him to get the ball to an incredibly talented group of playmakers. First, there's the enormous Juron Criner, who led the Wildcats in receiving last season and looks to have a huge year in 2011. He is back (there was some worry he wouldn't be) and he is joined by another 6'4" receiving threat in Texas-transer, Dan Buckner. He was the Longhorns 3rd leading receiver the year they lost to Alabama in the Nat'l Championship game. They are joined by a number of other capable guys who can stretch the field and will make Nick Foles a very happy man.
One thing that probably won't make Foles happy is his offensive line. They have zero returning starters. There's a solid chance that by the time our game with the Wildcats tips off (I know, wrong sport) that they've gelled and become solid or competent. There's also an equally good chance that they struggle all season. That means the Arizona offense will either be explosive and high scoring, or be tough to watch. The other thing to watch is how well this line can run-block. That isn't a huge part of this offense, but if teams don't really have to be concerned about loading up the box on their occasional running plays, then it won't really matter how good those receivers are. They've got to figure out who will start at running back, but they will probably use a few guys there, and honestly, it might not matter. I think our defense won't have as much trouble against this offense as we might have originally thought. Our strength is our defensive line which should give us a pretty solid advantage here. Yes, our cornerbacks are going to have to cover like they've never covered before, but really that won't have been different than just about every game before this one.
Saying the Wildcat defense struggled down the stretch last year is being very nice. Not only that, but they lost their defensive line coach (Hello Mike Tuiasosopo!), someone they've liked there a lot. In his place, they brought back someone who means a lot to the program and who figures to help bring about an attitude change at Arizona, former Wildcat Joe Salave'a. He was around during the Desert Swarm days and is apparently bringing the same passion and aggression to coaching that he brought as a player. Unfortunately, he has to replace the production of three (yes, three) talented defensive ends. At linebacker, they're hoping to have Jake Fischer back by the time this game rolls around. He was one of the bright spots of the defense last year and is recovering from a knee injury. Junior college transfer David Lopez looks like he'll be the one to take over for Fisher. Beside him, Paul Vassallo and Derek Earls return, but there is zero experience after them. If they can stay healthy, these guys will be a pretty good group, but these are the same guys that allowed the collapse of 2010, so who knows this season.
Another guy that the Wildcats are hoping that they get back from injury sometime this season is safety Adam Hall. In his place, the guys at safety will be Marquis Flowers and Rob Golden will try to hold down the fort. Outside, it looks like Jonathan McKnight will be joining Trevin Wade as the starters. They hope these guys will be better this year than they were last year, but it looks like they'll already be getting less help in the pass-rushing department, so we'll see. Overall, I think we can score on this defense. I think we can run on it and I think we'll have time to move the ball through the air. Even if they're getting guys back from injury, I think we can have success on offense in this game.
They return a kicker, but Alex Zendejas has had some issues and hasn't produced like they'd like. They'll be breaking in a new punter so they have to hope their coverage units are all solid. Their return game hasn't been anything special, but someone new could make an impact this year.
Winnable game, that's where I stand. That prediction may change, of course, if their offensive linemen step up and adjust quickly or if they can replace the production they lost at defensive end, but that is asking quite a bit. And even then, I think we are still in this game. Nick Foles is a good QB and he's got some great tools to work with, but I think we'll be able to keep him off of the field. I think they will finish lower than 4th in the division, and I think this game is a pretty solid win for the Buffs. We'll see if we're playing for a bowl game bid or not at this point in the season (I know, slow down, David!), but getting the Wildcats at home and the possibility of there being something to play for may be a nice edge for us to have in this game.