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Each week, we take a look at the various fronts of Washington's upcoming opponent. Today, we look at the offense of the Arizona Wildcats.
The father of the spread offense found early success in his first season with the Wildcats, but Rich Rodriguez's squad has since fallen to 3-3 (0-3) after losing to a trio of highly-ranked opponents in Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford. In many ways, Arizona is the mirror image of Washington in the conference's south division: Both teams have faced a brutal early schedule against quality foes and have registered an underdog win against a team that had its number for the last several years (Stanford for UW, Oklahoma State for the Cats), and face a potential turning point in the season this weekend. Suffice to say that this weekend's winner of the Washington/Arizona game could easily find itself entering the remainder of the year with considerable momentum at its back, while the loser will have a much tougher road to travel to finish the season with a satisfied fanbase.
Quarterback: Former Arizona coach Mike Stoops' decision to redshirt his backup senior quarterback in 2011 is perhaps the single biggest reason that the Wildcat offense has clicked on all cylinders this season. Under the tutelage of offensive guru Rich Rodriguez, Scott ranks among the top passers in America, having thrown for 2,099 yards and 13 touchdowns in the first half of this season. Scott also finds plenty of opportunities to gash opposing defenses with his feet on designed runs and scrambles, and averages almost 6.6 yards per carry if you exclude sacks from his rushing totals.
Running Back: Much like how Washington utilized Chris Polk for three years, sophomore tailback Ka'Deem Carey, pictured above, is the unquestionable workhorse of Arizona's ground attack, and has averaged 5.3 yards per carry on his way toward picking up 670 yards and 10 touchdowns this year. Carey also plays a vital role in Arizona's screen pass and check-down game, as he accounts for the fourth-most receptions on the team (21) and has logged 220 yards and one score through the air. Carey's primary backup, Daniel Jenkins, is a fourth-year junior who has seen his workload steadily increase over the course of his career, and while it can be expected that Carey will receive the lion's share of the Wildcats' ground attempts, RichRod's gameplan will undoubtedly call for Jenkins to play a bigger role than he has in his two career games against Washington, in which he has taken one handoff for four yards.
Offensive Line: The Cats start three seniors and two sophomores who have 55 starts under their collective belt. Though the line is less experienced than would be considered ideal, it is notable that four of the five starters are in roles that they held at the end of the 2011 season, giving the team a continuity that Washington can only be envious of. The offensive line is hardly impenetrable, though: Through six games, the Cats have allowed 39 tackles for loss, which ranks 82nd in the nation. If Washington is to earn its first road victory of the 2012 season on Saturday, it will probably be partly because Washington's front seven does a good job of collapsing the pocket, and doesn't lose containment of Scott when the mobile quarterback starts to scramble.
Tight End: The days of Rob Gronkowski routinely torching opposing secondaries for red zone scores seem to be over in Tucson, as neither of the two tight ends listed on Arizona's depth chart, Drew Robinson and Michael Cooper, have logged a catch this year. That's not likely to change against the Huskies, who (with the exception of Oregon's Colt Lyerla) have done a good job of shutting down opposing tight ends.
Wide Receivers: As I mentioned above, the matchup between Arizona's prolific passing offense (sixth in the nation by yards gained) and Washington's stingy pass defense (11th in the nation by yards allowed) is perhaps the most interesting collision of an unstoppable force versus an immovable object in the conference this week. Desmond Trufant is playing as well as any cornerback in the country this year, and he faces a challenging matchup against two talented wideouts in Austin Hill and Dan Buckner, who have combined for roughly half of Arizona's passing yards and seven of the team's 14 receiving touchdowns. It's not difficult to imagine that the severity of Shaq Thompson's apparent ankle injury in last Saturday's game against USC, and its resulting effect on the talented freshman's ability to play at a high level, could be the deciding factor in this vital aspect of the game.