Secret to stopping Arizona's offense is no secret at all

Scott Hood, Staff Writer
CU Sports Nation
S5daq1t1wxdnev8mgy3h
S5daq1t1wxdnev8mgy3h

USA Today

Conceived by Rich Rodriguez over two decades ago, Arizona’s funky run-dominated offense is, as Mike MacIntyre explained Tuesday, a hybrid of two classic schemes – triple option and the Wing-T.

In four games, the Wildcats have run the ball 193 times and thrown it just 116 times, fewest in the Pac-12, a run-pass percentage of 62.5-37.5. The Wildcats’ 731 passing yards is the lowest in the conference by a wide margin.

Only two other teams have passed for less than 1,000 yards (Stanford and Oregon State) and both those schools are nearing the millennium mark, unlike Arizona. The Wildcats have averaged 6.3 yards per pass attempt, second lowest in the Pac-12.

Contrastly, Arizona is averaging 6.13 yards per rushing attempt with 15 rushing touchdowns. In short, the Wildcats average almost as many yards running the football compared to when they throw it.

Indeed, Arizona loves to attack opposing defenses with a ground assault.

“We have to be able to stop their running game,” Mike MacIntyre said. “The keys are easy to say, but hard to do. We have to tackle the quarterback and tackle the running back (every play). That offense has option aspects. Their bubble guy is really like the pitch gut. The dive guy is kind of like the fullback and then you have the quarterback. It’s similar to the Wing-T with how the quarterback runs and all the pulling guards.

“(Rodriguez) has combined a couple of different offenses and developed it into his own. It’s really the Rich Rod Offense. Not many people run this exact type of thing. If they can get the running back going, you can’t stop them. Somehow we have to stop the running back from getting going. If we do that, we have a chance.”

Dating back to last season, Arizona has rushed for 150 or more yards in 10 straight games. It’s the longest streak since the Wildcats rushed for 150 or more yards in 11 straight game bridging the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Arizona has rushed for 200 or more yards in three of four games this season.

Everything about the Wildcats’ running game begins with junior quarterback Brandon Dawkins, who has 1,498 rushing yards for his career, most by any Arizona quarterback in at least 50 years.

MacIntyre favorably compared Dawkins to a former Mountain West quarterback he coached against years ago when he was at San Jose State.

“Dawkins reminds me so much of Colin Kaepernick when I coached against him at San Jose State,” MacIntyre said. “He’s long, he’s athletic, he’s fast. He is dynamic and he can fly. He can throw the ball forever and has great arm strength. In college, Kaepernick ran everywhere and do all kinds of things. We have to be able to corral Dawkins. He’ll pull it, he’ll run and he’ll throw it out there. ”

Dawkins is the Pac-12’s sixth-leading rusher at 85.2 yards per game. He has the fourth highest average per rush (6.56) among the Top 12 most productive ball carrier in the Pac-12.

But Dawkins is hardly a one-trick pony. He throws the ball accurately too. Dawkins has completed 62.9 percent of his passes (66-105) for 670 yards and five touchdowns with three interceptions. In the 63-16 win over UTEP earlier this season, Dawkins ran for 143 yards and three touchdowns, passed for 143 yards and three touchdowns, and even punted once for 36 yards.

The job of the Colorado defensive front seven is simple: contain Dawkins in the pocket and prevent him from getting out on the perimeter where his speed and athleticism will make open field tackles difficult. In last year's 49-24 Colorado win in Tucson, the Buffs limited Dawkins to 9-for-19 passing for 107-yards and 76 yards on 18 rushes.

While Dawkins has gotten off to a good start, Rodriguez wants to see the Wildcats cut down on costly turnovers and mistakes. They are averaging two turnovers per game.

“He’s made some big plays, but he’s also had some turnovers as well,” Rodriguez said of Dawkins Monday. “It’s been uneven. It’s been frustrating for him as well. It’s the big mistakes that have been hurting us, but he’s not the only one making mistakes. Brandon knows that we can’t have a big mistake, and can’t have turnovers. We have to capitalize on opportunities from big potential plays.”

As much as he runs the ball, Dawkins isn’t Arizona’ lone rushing threat. Freshman J.J. Taylor is 12th in the Pac-12 in rushing with an average of 57.2 yards per game.

Buffs defensive back Evan Worthington said Tuesday the Buffs have already devoted a substantial amount of practice time to preparing to stop Dawkins and Arizona’s rushing attack.

“We're working on it in practice,” Worthington said Tuesday. “We've got plays for him, so he's going to have to do what he needs to beat us. We just have to keep on top of everything. Little mistakes have been hurting us so we just have to eliminate those little mistakes and we'll be fine."

Defensively, the Arizona defense has improved significantly through the first four games compared to a season ago under second-year defensive coordinator Marcel Yates. Points per game allowed are down from 38.3 in 2016 to 22.2, while total yards allowed have fallen almost 100 yards per game (469.3 yards per game in 2016 vs. 376.0 in 2017).

“They are much improved on defense compared to where they were last year,” MacIntyre said. “They are playing very well. Last year they had a lot of injuries. They have caused a lot of turnovers on defense too. We have to really take care of the football, which has hurt us a couple of times. It’s going to be a tough game.”

The Wildcats have allowed just 129 rushing yards over the past two games, the best two-game output by the Arizona defense since the Wildcats allowed just 124 rushing yards against UCLA and Washington State in back-to-back games in 2009.

“Marcel Yates has always been an excellent defensive coordinator,” MacIntyre said. “This year, they have been able to play more guys more often. They haven’t changed things as much. They are getting comfortable making plays. They are flying to the ball and making plays. They have picked thing sup better and look more assignment-sound.”

PAC-12 WEEK 6 SCHEDULE (Sat. Oct. 7)

Oregon State at USC, 2 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)

Arizona at Colorado, 6 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)

Washington State at Oregon, 6 p.m. (FOX)

Stanford at Utah, 8:15 p.m. (FS1)

California at Washington, 8:45 p.m. (ESPN)

(All Times Mountain)

Byes: Arizona State, UCLA

PAC-12 SOUTH STANDINGS:

Utah 1-0 (4-0)

USC 2-1 (4-1)

UCLA 1-1 (3-2)

Arizona State 1-1 (2-3)

Colorado 0-2 (3-2)

Arizona 0-1 (2-2)

What to Read Next