Utah travels to Tuscon on Saturday to take last year's Pac-12 South champs, the Arizona Wildcats. After jumping out to a 5-2 start, the Wildcats have dropped three straight and are in danger of missing a bowl game. The past few seasons Utah has been unable to stop Arizona’s rushing attack, leading to three consecutive losses to Rich Rodriguez and the Wildcats. With a desperate Arizona team hosting this weekend, what can Utah expect to see from the Arizona offense?
The Wildcats have two quarterbacks which have seen meaningful snaps this year. Those guys are redshirts sophomore Anu Soloman and senior Jerrard Randall. Soloman has seen the large majority of snaps this season, but he did suffer a concussion back in Spetember against UCLA, giving Randall a chance to come in and show what he can do.
Soloman is 6-2 205 lbs. and does most of his damage with his arm, though he ran all over the Utes a year ago. This season he is 175-279, completing 62.7% of his passes. He has thrown for 2061 yds averaging 7.4 yards per attempt. He has thrown 16 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions for a 141.55 quarterback rating.
Jerrard Randall is extremely athletically gifted at 6-1 185 lbs. Randall is streaky with his throwing accuracy but has a live arm and is dangerous with his legs. He is 42-77, completing 54.5% of his passes this season. He has thrown for 458 yards, 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions for a 116.46 quarterback rating.
Prior to last week, there was some controversy over who should be starting as many Wildcats believed Randall was a better fit for the offense. Both were seeing playing time for a couple week there, but last weekend against USC, Anu Soloman took virtually all the snaps on offense and played well, completeing 67% of his passes, throwing for 352 yards and 3 touchdowns in surprisingly spirited effort by the Wildcats. Based on last week's performance, Utah can expect to see Soloman starting by behind center, but don't be surprised to see Randall come into the game, especially with his running ability. The Utes have not been able to stop Arizona's read option attack the past few years and Rich Rodriguez will probably look to take advantage of Randall's running ability at some point.
The name Nick Wilson brings bad memories and dark thoughts to many Ute fans. Last year, Wilson racked up 218 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns averaging over 10 yards a carry against the Utes as a freshman. This year as a sophomore, Wilson continues to be Arizona's leading rusher despite missing three of the past four games with a knee injury. He has 691 yards and 8 touchdowns in seven games. There is no doubt Wilson is a critical piece to this Wildcat offense and him being out is a big loss for the Wildcats. Wilson's status remains unknown (as of Monday night) for Saturday's game.
If Wilson can not play, senior running back Jared Baker will get the bulk of the carries. Baker has 622 yards and six touchdowns this season, his biggest performance coming against Colorado where he rushed for 207 yards on 23 carries. Baker is small in stature, standing only 5-8 but is lightening quick and darts through creases in the offensive line averaging six yards per carry. Even if Wilson is healthy enough to play on Saturday, Utah can expect to see plenty of Baker in the backfield as well.
At receiver Cayleb Jones leads the veteran Wildcat receivers with 539 receiving yards. Jones is a big, athletic receiver at 6-3 215 lbs. He has made his share of acrobatic catches and is a threat especially in the red zone on jump balls with his big frame. USC was able to hold him in check last week limiting him to only one catch for four yards, but the catch did result in a touchdown for Arizona.
Johnny Jackson is right behind Jones with 516 receivng yards and five touchdown receptions this year. Jackson is a completely different type of receiver, at 5-10 185 lbs., Jackson will see a lot of shorter crossing routes over the middle along with 5-7 junior receiver Nate Phillips. With the Arizona offensive line banged up right now, defensive pressure is a factor for the Wildcat quarterbacks, making Jackson and Phillips invaluable targets with short, quick passes.
David Richards is another big receiver to keep an eye on for the Wildcats. The 6-4 213 lb. junior has five touchdown receptions and is often a target on deep passes from Solomon. With both Richards and Jones providing long, fast targets on the outside it will be important for the Utah defensive line to apply pressure and not allow Solomon time to find these guys for big gains.
The Arizona offense is good, ranking fourth in the Pac-12 in scoring this season. At home, they're even better, leading the Pac-12 in scoring, averaging 47 points per game. Skewing that number somewhat is the 77 points they hung on Northern Arizona at the beginning of the year, but still, Arizona has not scored fewer than 30 points at home all season.
Even with the injury to Nick Wilson, the Wildcats boast a strong rushing attack with Randall and Baker, ranking second in the Pac-12 with 244.5 yards per game and also in yards per carry averaging 5.74. They are second in the conference in long running plays behind only Oregon. They rank sixth in the Pac-12 through the air, averaging 257.7 yards per game. Despite a wealth of talent at the receiving position, Arizona has struggled with inconsistent quarterback play this season.
Arizona's offense is focused on spreading the ball around with short quick passes, and running a zone read with their running backs. Much like Oregon, explosive running plays are a big part of this offense, and Utah will need to key in on stopping the run game first and foremost. After the past couple meetings between these two teams, the Utah coaches should be well aware of that fact. Fortunately Utah's defensive line is the strength of this defense, and Gionni Paul and Jared Norris are the best linebacking tandem in the conference right now. After last season's embarrassment, the Utah defense is sure to be focused on stopping the Arizona rushing attack. With Nick Wilson questionable, Utah has a very good chance to avenge last year's disaster.