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Behind Enemy Lines: Arizona Wildcats football


NCAA Football: Utah at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Football again? I feel like I just finished watching the UCLA game. With no bye weeks, these games sure come quick. Unfortunately for CU, Arizona is fresh off of one of those coveted bye weeks before they come to Boulder. What do we know about the Arizona Wildcats? Not much, which is why we asked Ryan Kelapire of Arizona Desert Swarm to answer our many questions.

Has Brandon Dawkins shown improvement in throwing the ball, especially past 5 yards?

Nope. While his completion percentage has improved this year, his yards per attempt are down. And his numbers are rather dreadful altogether if you take away the UTEP game where he feasted on one of the worst teams in the FBS.

His mechanics are still shaky, his accuracy is poor, and he has trouble seeing the field, often overlooking wide open receivers. He's still one of the most dangerous running quarterbacks in the country, though, so he's capable of ripping off some big plays.

There's a chance Arizona plays two quarterbacks against Colorado, as Rich Rodriguez hasn't shown reluctance to pull Dawkins if he's struggling. Arizona's primary backup is Khalil Tate, who is a better passer and a good runner, but just as mind-boggling with his decision-making.

Arizona's defense has legitimately improved. Despite playing a ton of freshmen, the overall athleticism on that side of the ball has gotten better, and I think it being defensive coordinator Marcel Yates' second year in the program has helped, too.

In reality, the Wildcats are a play or two away from being 4-0 this season, and the defense is mostly to thank for that. In Arizona's two losses, the defense has given up three fourth-quarter points. It's keeping the Wildcats in games, but so far the offense hasn't lived up to its end of the bargain (kinda weird to say for a Rich Rodriguez-coached team).

The good news is Arizona has been competitive in every game this year, which wasn't necessarily the case last season, especially toward the end of the season. That said, Colorado represents Arizona's first tough road game this year — its first was at UTEP

4/5 top tacklers are freshmen or redshirt freshmen. Could you go throw who they are and how they have been successful?

Those four are linebackers Tony Fields II and Colin Schooler and defensive backs Lorenzo Burns and Scottie Young Jr.

Three of them start (Schooler doesn't but still plays a lot). For Young and Fields, it's their athleticism that's making them stand out. Arizona's 3-3-5 scheme means it has a lot of speed on the field, and can cover a lot of ground. Fields is a safety-linebacker hybrid, often blitzing off the edge to pressure QBs or make plays in the back field.

For Schooler, a middle linebacker, it's his instincts defending the run that have made him successful. A few people have compared him to Scooby Wright in that he always seems to be around the ball and is a sure-handed tackler. While I don't think he's that good — Scooby was unreal — Schooler has definitely been an upgrade over the linebackers Arizona relied on last season.

Young is a free safety, but his speed has made him a factor in defending the run, too.

Burns is Arizona's No. 2 cornerback and since Jace Whittaker (the No. 1 cornerback) is pretty good, Burns often gets targeted a lot. He's done pretty well in coverage this season — besides being prone to PI every now and then — but I think that's why you're seeing the high tackle numbers for him (he almost has twice as many tackles as Whittaker). Plus, Arizona has a tendency to give wide receivers a big cushion, allowing quarterbacks to complete short passes, thus forcing Burns to come up to make tackles.

Nick Wilson seems to be finally healthy. Which of the three running backs should CU key on the most?

Wilson is probably Arizona's best overall running back, but J.J. Taylor is always the guy to watch, since he's such a play-maker. A 5-foot-6 scat back, Taylor has incredible elusiveness and is one of those running backs who can create yards on a broken play. And if he gets into space, he's a danger to take it to the house.

Arizona has actually had difficulty running between the tackles this year, too, so Taylor has better overall numbers than Wilson. Wilson has speed, too, but runs more like a traditional running back.

Arizona seems to have improved from last year and play as a team. Would you say that is the case?

Yeah, though mostly because the defense has gone from a dumpster fire to respectable. Arizona's offense isn't much different than last year — one could even argue that it has regressed — but the defense is keeping the team in games, which wasn't the case a season ago. If Arizona's defense can sustain that, and its offense takes a step forward, the Wildcats could be a dangerous team in the latter half of the season.

Is Rich Rod on the hot seat?

Oh yeah. Since Arizona won the Pac-12 South in 2014, things have just gone downhill for the program. The overall talent level is worse, the recruiting has suffered, player development has been mostly nonexistent, and the fan interest has plummeted. Not to mention Arizona just hired a new athletic director who has no ties to RichRod, so you'd have to think there will be less reluctance to fire him.

Some think Arizona has to win at least six games for RichRod to keep his job, and I agree with that. Unfortunately for him, I don't think Arizona will get to that mark, so this is probably his last season in Tucson.

Who are the players to watch on offense? Defense?

On offense, it's Dawkins and Taylor, just because of the damage they can do on the ground. Same with Wilson, too. All three of those guys are a carry away from six points. And if Dawkins can hit some throws down the field, he can be a tough player to defend. Arizona's receiving corps is rather unimpressive, but Shun Brown (No. 6), a short but quick receiver, is capable of making some acrobatic catches. He's also returned a few punts for touchdowns this season, too.

On defense, the guy to watch is Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, who plays the "bandit" position. He's a ballhawk, who already has three interceptions this season. Now a junior, Flannigan-Fowles entered the program as a rather lowly-touted prospect, but played immediately and has only gotten better since. He's one of the few NFL prospects on Arizona's roster.

Jace Whittaker is another notable player, as he's Arizona's best cornerback and capable of being a shutdown corner at times.

Prediction for the game?

Colorado wins 31-21. I think Arizona's defense will have a tough time stopping Phillip Lindsay this weekend, even though it has been fairly stout against the run. It just seems like UA's defense is due for some regression, and a road game in Boulder seems like the right environment for that.

And I don't think Dawkins and the offense will be able to put up enough points to combat that, unless Arizona wins the turnover battle and isn't awful on special teams like it was vs. Utah.