Engaging the Enemy: Arizona

Mike Singer, CUSportsNation.com
CU Sports Nation

Colorado (3-2) hosts Arizona (2-2) in a Pac-12 South tilt on Saturday at 6pm MT in Boulder, Colo. To preview the Wildcats, we spoke with GoAzCats.com senior editor Matt Moreno.

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1. Arizona is coming off a bye week. In your experience covering the Wildcats, how big do you think that will be in their chances of pulling off the road upset?

Matt Moreno: "It has been somewhat hit and miss with Arizona under Rich Rodriguez after byes. There have been instances, back in 2014 when the Wildcats beat Oregon on the road, that it has worked in the team’s favor, but for the most part, the results are split with some bad losses coming off byes as well. In this instance, it doesn’t feel like the bye came at a good time for UA. The loss to Utah was a tough one to swallow for the Wildcats because of how many chances were wasted, and even Rodriguez said he wished the team had a game the next day rather than two weeks away.

"Defensively it will be interesting because the team has been on a roll on that side of the ball and I’m not so sure a break in the action is what was best for that group."

2. What do we know about Arizona football at this point in the season?

MM: "Right now we know it’s a team that will run the ball well, but has the potential to be downright awful in the passing game. Defensively, it is a young group that is continuing to look better each game out and make many of the plays it didn’t make a year ago. For the most part this team is what I thought it would be and what most of those in the media who cover the Wildcats thought it would be. It felt like a team that might not rack up many more wins than it did in 2016, but the games seemed like they would look better with the young talent the coaching staff brought in this year. That has been the case with Arizona’s two solid opponents being its two losses this year but both losses coming by a combined nine points.

"We still don’t know entirely what the quarterback position is about. Brandon Dawkins has been great at times but he has also gone through stretches where he misses open receivers and easy plays. As the season moves along we should start to get a better feel for him and if what he is is what he will always be or if there is room for growth."

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3. Who are some players on the offensive and defensive side of the ball for Arizona that Colorado fans need to know about?

MM: "I already mentioned Dawkins at the quarterback position, but the other two key playmakers on offense are both at the running back position and Arizona considers senior Nick Wilson and redshirt freshman JJ Taylor as co-starters. The usually will split the carries evenly and both have big play ability. Wilson has struggled with injury issues and already has missed time this season because of it, but when he’s fully healthy he is the best option in the entire offense. Taylor is more of a shifty back who the Wildcats will use in the slot at times to help open up the passing game.

"On defense there are a few freshmen linebackers to know. Two of them are officially starters with Tony Fields II starting at the WILL and Kylan Wilborn getting the nod at the STUD position, which is the hybrid linebacker/defensive end spot in Arizona’s defense. Fields leads the team in tackles and sacks while Wilborn has been disruptive off the edge. The other freshman linebacker to keep an eye on is middle linebacker Colin Schooler who is coming off his two strongest performances. He led the team in tackles against Utah and in the previous game he created two turnovers for UA’s defense.

"The secondary features the closest thing Arizona has to a NFL-caliber talent with junior bandit safety Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, who leads the team with three interceptions this year."

4. Non-game related question: How is football recruiting going for Arizona? Is the future pretty bright?

MM: "On the surface right now, no. The future is bright based on the freshman class the Wildcats brought in for the 2017 class but recruiting in 2018 has been sluggish. Some of it has been on purpose as the coaching staff had to watch a big portion of its 2017 class walk away as decommitments were commonplace in the last cycle. This could be the first year under Rodriguez the Wildcats don’t land a four-star prospect and for now there buzz just isn’t there with this class.

"The positive is that every year the coaching staff ends up pulling strong players after the season is over. Many of the players who have made up the team’s impressive group this year came to UA after the season ended. That has been a theme throughout the years, so there is still quite a bit of time before we know just how this recruiting class will actually look."

5. What is your score prediction and why?

"I think most teams know what the recipe is to beat Arizona. You make the Wildcats pass the ball and do the things they don’t want to do. The offense and running game is good enough to score points even when teams are playing to stop the run, but ultimately I think the bye week hurts the progress of the defense. However, Arizona has played close in games this year when it is the underdog, and I think that happens again this weekend.

"I think Colorado wins it 34-28 over the Wildcats."

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