After a surprise cancellation by the Arizona State Sun Devils, and the late cancellation by the USC Trojans, the Colorado Buffaloes finally found a Pac-12 opponent healthy enough to face this powerhouse team. The Arizona Wildcats have done a good job keeping COVID-19 at bay, but despite some close calls, they haven’t been able to keep the losses at bay.
I catch up with Brian Pedersen from AZ Desert Swarm, one of the best Pac-12 blogs in general, for some information on these new look ‘Cats.
The bad man Tate can’t hurt us anymore.
Q: Arizona is in the midst of the worst stretch in program history. What is Kevin Sumlin’s future with the program?
It’s certainly not promising, but I also don’t see a change happening after this season is over. Not unless a booster comes up with the entirety of his $7.5 million buyout, along with money for a replacement, which isn’t likely.
This season is supposed to be a mulligan, but it’s hard not to notice the number of players who have recently opted out. Most are holdovers from the Rich Rodriguez, so that could be part of it, but once things start to return to some semblance of normalcy he’s going to have to win quickly to stick around.
Q: Khalil Tate was the all-time best QB in the Pac-12 whenever he played CU. Grant Gunnell has all kinds of potential, but his status is a mystery. How would you describe the QB situation at Arizona?
I’d describe it as shaky, but not from a performance standpoint. If Gunnell use healthy enough to play he will, but true freshman Will Plummer showed promise despite getting thrown in with no warning (and almost as many practice reps).
But whoever is QB won’t matter if the offensive line continues to struggle. It has allowed 11 sacks in three games, despite four returning starters, and isn’t creating holes for the run game.
Q: Who are the players to watch on offense?
Senior RB Gary Brightwell is finally getting a chance to be the focal point, and he’s done well when given room to run. Same goes for sophomore RB Michael Wiley, and each are good receivers.
Arizona has a bunch of receivers with upside but none seem to want to step up and be the No. 1 guy. It doesn’t help that they collectively aren’t good at creating space from their defenders.
Q: Who are the players to watch on defense?
Arizona has two graduate transfer defensive linemen in Aaron Blackwell and Roy Lopez who have been huge (literally and figuratively) in defending the run inside. Sadly, the Wildcats have no speed on the edge which opens them up to big plays thanks to injury and opt out-depleted secondary. Corner Lorenzo Burns holds his own great one on end, and Christian Roland-Wallace is solid, but the middle of the field is lacking in playmakers.
Q: Can Arizona win this game?
Yes, and honestly it should. I think Arizona has more overall talent, and it showed in its last home game against USC it can hang with good teams. The problem is that once it falls behind by more than one about, which is usually early, it hasn’t shown the ability to rally.
That being said, I’ll be picking Arizona to win, in a back and forth affair where the lead changes at least once in the fourth quarter.