Arizona Wildcats: CFN College Football Preview 2021

·12 min read

College Football News Preview 2021: Previewing, predicting, and looking ahead to the Arizona football season with what you need to know.

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– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
Arizona Football Schedule Analysis
Arizona Wildcats Previews
2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015

2020 Record: 0-5 overall, 0-5 in Pac-12
Head Coach: Jedd Fisch, 1st year (1-1 overall)
2020 CFN Final Ranking: 90
2020 CFN Preview Ranking: 64
2019 CFN Final Ranking: 105

Arizona Wildcats College Football Preview 2021: Offense

The entire team is going to be a work in progress. New head coach Jedd Fisch spent the last few years in the NFL, working with the LA Rams before coaching the quarterbacks last year at New England.

This might be his first head coaching gig – at least in a full-time role – but the guy knows how to get an O going, and offensive coordinator Brendan Carroll – son of Pete Carroll – comes in after working with the Seahawks.

Expect a whole slew of new ideas and creativity, partly because the personnel isn’t there to do anything conventional.

The coaching staff has to figure out the quarterback situation, and that might take a while. Grant Gunnell appeared to be the guy to work around after battling through the miserable 2020 season, but he transferred to Memphis.

No. 2 man Will Plummer is back after getting in a little work – he threw three picks with no touchdown passes. 6-5, 224-pound former Washington State transfer Gunner Cruz is a wild-card with his passing upside, and on the way is Jordan McCloud from USF.

The receivers are going to need a bit, too. Jamarye Joiner might be the best of the bunch, but he’ll possibly miss part of the season after undergoing foot surgery. No. 2 target Ma’jon Wright left the team for Middle Tennessee.

Stanley Berryhill led the way with 23 catches for 227 yards, and with three of the team’s six receiving touchdowns, but he averaged under ten yards per catch.

Boobie Curry is a big target who can move, but he only caught ten passes – they didn’t go anywhere – and Tayvian Cunningham averaged 15.4 yards per grab on his nine grabs, but the real find might be Bryce Wolma, a 6-4, 239-pound tight end who can catch. The new coaching staff is almost certainly going to use the position.

The ground game struggled, and the line had problems in pass protection. Other than that, the front five did just fine.

Three starters are expected back, but only 6-5, 322-pound Donovan Laie is a good one – he’s a versatile all-star caliber blocker who can work at guard or tackle on the left side. The hope is for Baylor transfer Davis DiVall to be a factor at one of the guard gigs.

The Cats lose leading rusher Gary Brightwell, and returning back Michael Wiley only ran for 222 yards – but he led the team with over seven yards per carry and three scores. On the way to provide an instant boost is Drake Anderson from Northwestern – he ran for close to 1,000 yards with five scores with the Big Ten Wildcats.

– What You Need To Know: Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
Arizona Football Schedule Analysis

NEXT: Arizona Wildcats College Football Preview 2021: Defense

Arizona Wildcats College Football Preview 2021: Defense

70 points, the fifth game in five allowing over 400 yards of total offense, and the fourth of those allowing over 470 yards. That’s what the Arizona defense allowed in the embarrassing loss to Arizona State to close out the 2020 season, but now …

Defense is going to be a priority.

It’s not that the previous coaching staff didn’t care about the defensive side, but it was hardly a plus as it was equal parts bad against both the run and pass.

New head coach Jedd Fisch is making a big deal out of having Arizona good on defense again, and in comes Don Brown from Michigan as the new defensive coordinator. Now he needs more parts.

There’s experience returning, but there aren’t a whole lot of sure-thing playmakers. Safety Rhedi Short tied for the team lead in tackles, but he didn’t do anything when the ball was in the air. Two other starters return in the secondary, but no one made any interceptions.

Again, there’s experience – versatile option Christian Roland-Wallace was third on the team in tackles, and he broke up three passes – but there wasn’t much production against anyone who tried to throw. Notre Dame Isaiah Rutherford should help fix the corner situation – he needs to become an instant star on the outside.

The big call will be at the hybrid defensive back/linebacker/pass rusher Viper position in the Don Brown defense. 6-2, 214-pound Christian Young is back after missing most of last year hurt, and this is where Short might fit.

Both interceptions came from LB Anthony Pandy – he tied Short for the team lead with 30 tackles – and he’ll have a whole slew of new parts around him. Western Michigan’s Treshaun Hayward was going to become a key part of the puzzle, but he’s no longer a part of the program.

A slew of other transfer portal types will likely fill out the linebacking corps, starting with Bowling Green’s Jerry Roberts who needs to take over a spot right away.

The defensive line has a few good parts to a defense that needs as many as it can find. 6-5, 315-pound Trevon Mason has the size along with the quickness to be a force with the new defensive style, and 6-2, 289-pound sophomore Kyon Barrs is a rising tackle who should find a regular starting role.

Jalen Harris led the team in sacks and was second in tackles for loss in 2019, but he struggled last year. Getting back 6-3, 282-pound JB Brown is a big plus – he made 21 tackles with three sacks in 2019 – after opting out last year.

– What You Need To Know: Offense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
Arizona Football Schedule Analysis

NEXT: Arizona Wildcats College Football Preview 2021: Top Players

Arizona Wildcats College Football Preview 2021: Top Players

Best Arizona Wildcats Offensive Player

OT Donovan Laie, Jr.
It’s been tough to be one of the best blockers on a line that struggled as much as Arizona’s has, but the 6-5, 322-pound Laie has done what he could. Moving around between tackle and guard over the last two years after being thrown to the wolves at left tackle in his first season, he’s got the size, the power, and the toughness to be an anchor for the entire line to build around.

2. WR Stanley Berryhill, Jr.
3. RB Michael Wiley, Soph.
4. RB Drake Anderson, Soph.
5. TE Bryce Wolma, Sr.

Related

Arizona Football Schedule 2021, Analysis

Best Arizona Wildcats Defensive Player

DT Trevon Mason, Sr.
The team’s best defensive lineman over the last two seasons – or, at least, close – the 6-5, 315-pound tackle made 64 tackles with a sack and 7.5 tackles for loss in his two years. Like most of the rest of the defensive side, he struggled a bit last year and didn’t get into the backfield enough. Get ready for that to change under new defensive coordinator Don Brown and his scheme.

2. S Christian Roland-Wallace, Soph.
3. LB Anthony Pandy, Sr.
4. DT Kyon Barrs, Soph.
5. CB Isaiah Rutherford, Soph.

Top Incoming Arizona Wildcats Transfer

QB Jordan McCloud, Jr.
The Wildcats have a few quarterback prospects, and it’s going to be a fight through fall camp to find the right guy to run the attack, but the former USF Bull isn’t coming to Tucson to sit on the bench.

The 6-0, 193-pound veteran was just okay during his two years – he was one of the main men for the offense in 2019 and wasn’t able to steadily do the job last year – but his 404-yard, four-touchdown, one rushing score day in the wild 58-46 loss to UCF to end the season might have given a glimpse of what’s about to come.

– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
Arizona Football Schedule Analysis

NEXT: Arizona Wildcats College Football Preview 2021: Keys To The Season

Arizona Wildcats College Football Preview 2021: Keys To The Season

Arizona Wildcats Biggest Key: Offense

Start converting on third down chances again. The offense has to take the pressure off the defense, and it has to start doing more to keep the attack going.

The offensive line has to do more in pass protection, the rushing attack has to be something about the attack to throw a scare into defenses. It all starts, though, with simply moving the chains.

The 2019 offense converted 44% of its third down chances, and so did the 2018 attack. Third down conversions haven’t been a problem for the Arizona offense over the years – even through the down times – but nothing worked last season.

The Wildcats were dead last in the Pac-12 and among the worst in the nation on third downs, converting just 33% of their chances. Game after game slipped away partly because the offense couldn’t get into any sort of a groove.

Arizona Wildcats Biggest Key: Defense

Stop the run, and that included getting into the backfield. The Wildcats came up with just two more sacks than you did. The 0.4 sacks generated per game was the lowest in college football and fewest by anyone in over a decade.

Statistically, it all ties together. Don’t get into the backfield, don’t come up with sacks, and the run defense is going to have problems, too.

The Arizona defense had problems two years ago allowing 4.8 yards per carry. That was an issue, and then came 2020 – the Wildcat defense allowed 5.9 yards per carry and 19 touchdowns in just five games.

Colorado ripped off over 400 yards, Arizona State scored seven times on the ground, and everyone rumbled for over five yards per carry.

With BYU, San Diego State and Oregon coming up early, this has to be fixed … fast.

Arizona Wildcats Key Player To A Successful Season

OT Paiton Fears, Jr.
The Wildcats already have a good option at one tackle spot – Donovan Laie should be a full-time blocker on the outside after spending a ton of time at guard over the last few weeks – but the pass protection and the offense as a whole can’t and won’t be better until the line improves.

The 6-5, 312-pound Fears came in from the JUCO ranks in 2019 and started for most of the year somewhere on the line, and last season he got the call at right tackle – and he struggled. He’s got the skill and upside to grow into a factor, but if he’s not far better in pass protection, there’s going to be a scramble.

Arizona Wildcats Key Game To The 2021 Season

BYU, Sept. 4 (in Las Vegas)
There aren’t a whole lot of winnable-looking games on the Arizona slate – Northern Arizona is one, and good luck finding a second. BYU isn’t totally rebuilding, but this isn’t going to be quite the killer last year’s team was – not having QB Zach Wilson around is a big part of that.

BYU might be more of a 50/50 game than it appears. At the very least, it’ll show just how far Arizona has to go under the new regime. In a perfect world, win, and with San Diego State and NAU to follow, there’s a shot at a fantastic 3-0 start.

Arizona Football Schedule Analysis

2020 Arizona Wildcats Fun Stats

– 3rd Quarter Scoring: Opponents 44 – Arizona 10
– Sacks: Opponents 17 for 113 yards – Arizona 2 for 3 yards
– Fumbles: Arizona 9 (lost 5) – Opponents 3 (lost 1)

NEXT: Arizona Wildcats College Football Preview 2021: What Will Happen, Season Prediction

Arizona Wildcats College Football Preview 2021: What Will Happen, Season Prediction

Kevin Sumlin should’ve worked.

When things were rocking and rolling at Texas A&M, go ahead and credit him and Johnny Manziel for being the ahead of the curve as they took the defense-and-running-game SEC and shot it into the modern age of offense.

Not that the Pac-12 doesn’t play D, but Sumlin’s offensive style should’ve been a problem for the conference, and it just wasn’t. Throw in the totally absent defense, and now we have the beginning of the Jedd Fisch era.

Things are about to be different in Tucson. Fisch brings the high-end offensive mind with an NFL background and resumé to build an attack that can hang punch for punch with anyone in the league – but all that was why Sumlin’s offense should’ve succeeded. There’s one big difference.

There appears to be a big push to make Arizona good at defense again.

Set The Arizona Wildcats Regular Season Win Total At … 3

No football coach will ever say he doesn’t care about defense, but the last two head men – Sumlin and Rich Rodriguez – were just a wee bit more interested in making sure the other side of the ball worked.

It’s going to take a while, and it’s going to be rough before the transformation kicks in, but Fisch getting former Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown to be his guy was a very, very big step.

But about that pain and suffering before getting good again …

The Pac-12 is loaded, not playing Oregon State and Stanford – instead of, say, Oregon and Washington – hurts, and the most winnable-looking conference games – Colorado and Washington State – are on the road.

It would’ve been nice to have more paycheck non-conference games like Northern Arizona, too.

BYU and San Diego State aren’t the teams you want to face when totally rebuilding a program, especially when the Pac-12 season kicks off in Eugene against the Ducks.

But after Arizona went winless last year to complete a run of 12 straight losses to end the Sumlin era – crashing with a total thud of a 70-7 loss to Arizona State – as long as the Wildcats start to look like things are starting to improve, that will be enough.

– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
Arizona Football Schedule Analysis