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Arizona Position Previews - Offense

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Washington travels to the desert to face Solomon and the Wildcats

Stephen Dunn

Quarterback

Anu Solomon (RSFr., 6-2, 205) is the 3rd starting quarterback in three years for the Wildcats. First Matt Scott, then BJ Denker, and now the redshirt freshman.

Through nine games, Solomon has completed 239 of 402 passing attempts (59.5%) for 2816 yards (312ypg, 7.0ypa), 25 touchdowns, and only 5 interceptions.

Under Rich Rod, this has been a high volume passing offense. Solomon has attempted 70+ passes on two occasions, and a minimum of 30 in all but one game.

The first 70 attempt game came against Cal, when Solomon sliced the Golden Bears up for 520 yards and 5 TDs. He completed 47 of 73 passes (64%) and also threw 2 INTs.

Solomon also attempted 72 passes in a 26-28 loss to USC, that time completing under 60% of his attempts for 395 yards (only 5.5ypa) and a single TD.

His most statistically impressive game: the 59-37 win in Pullman. 26 of 38 (68%), 294 yards (7.7ypa), 5 TDs, zero turnovers. On the other hand, his worst performance came the very next week at UCLA when he completed only 18 of 48 attempts (37.5%) for 175 yards (an awful 3.6ypa), 1 TD and 1 INT.

It's tough to picture a Husky defensive backfield (lacking in Marcus Peters) that was carved apart by Brett Hundley a week ago suddenly shutting down such a high-volume spread passing attack.

The X factor will be the return of Kikaha, who sacked Hundley on the first drive of the game before missing the remainder of the contest with a stinger. We'll never know how differently the loss to UCLA would have played out if Kikaha had never been injured, but we do know that the pass rush became a non factor without the national leader in sacks.

Judging by what we saw from the corners and safeties last week, it seems that harassing Solomon will be critical to keeping this game competitive. Unfortunately, he is also fairly mobile, so the defensive line will have to keep contain on Solomon while simultaneously attempting to harass and bring him to the turf. No easy task, but also hardly a new challenge considering that this team has faced Hundley and Mariota already.

Running Backs

Arizona's run game is weird. Nick Wilson (Fr., 5-10, 199) has been the most productive back on the roster (130 carries, 763 yards, 7 TDs) only a year removed from high school, yet he is still listed as an OR co-starter with Terris Jones-Grigsby (Sr., 5-7, 195), who has carried the ball 91 times for 474 yards and 3 scores.

Wilson's season numbers were boosted by three consecutive 100+ yard days in non-conference play (UNLV, UTSA, Nevada). Since then he has had bad days (11 carries for 33 yards against Cal, 9 carries for 18 yards at UCLA) and good days (13 for 92 and 2 TDs at Oregon, 21 for 153 last week against Colorado).

Jones-Grigsby, on the other hand, missed the last two non conference games. In Pac-12 play, his performances have also varied pretty wildly. 27 for 115 and a score at Oregon, 13 for 107 against WSU. 12 carries for only 32 yards vs USC and 10 carries for 18 yards last week vs Colorado.

Given that Arizona's top two backs have been very inconsistent, it should come as no surprise that Arizona's running game as a whole has also been up and down. Oregon and Colorado were high points, while the team was held well under 100 rushing yards in losses to USC and UCLA.

The non-conference stats skew the totals, but judging only by the conference schedule, Arizona is 8th in total rushing yards and rushing yards per carry, very similar to Washington.

Offensive Line

Here are the five starters listed on the depth chart for this week: LT Mickey Baucus (Sr., 6-8, 293), LG Cayman Bundage (Jr., 6-2, 281), C Steven Gurrola (Sr., 6-2, 286), RG Lene Maiava (Jr., 6-5, 301) or RG Jacob Alsadek (RSFr., 6-7, 298), and RT Fabbians Ebbele (Sr., 6-8, 315).

Assuming Lene Maiava starts at RG, this is an extremely experienced starting line made up entirely of juniors or seniors.

Arizona is best in the conference with only 41 TFLs allowed (compared to 60 for 6th place Washington), and 3rd best in sacks allowed with only 20.

Even if you lower things down to Pac-12 play, the Wildcats do not budge much in those categories. Considering the volume of plays, especially passing plays, run in this Rich Rod offense, it's pretty damn impressive how few plays have been blown up for negative yards.

In fact, given Solomon's low yards per attempt average and the inconsistency of the run game, the lack of negative plays has been instrumental in allowing the Wildcats to sustain drives and score 35ppg in conference play.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

While Austin Hill (Sr., 6-3, 212) is the biggest name in the receiving corps, having dominated the 2012 season before missing last year to recover from a torn ACL, it is actually Cayleb Jones (So., 6-3, 215) that has emerged as Solomon's top target.

Jones leads the team with 53 catches, 734 yards, and 8 TDs. Hill, technically listed as a co-starter with the far less productive David Richards (Jr., 6-4, 213), is 2nd with 33 catches, 459 yards, and 4 TDs.

With slot receiver Nate Phillips done for the year, DaVonte Neal (So., 5-10, 173) appears to be the 3rd starting receiver. He has caught 19 balls for 175 yards and 2 TDs.

Other receivers to watch: Samajie Grant (So., 5-9, 177) and Trey Griffey (So., 6-3, 195). Grant scored twice against Colorado.

While much has been said about Hill's failure to immediately return to dominance, from questions about the return of his explosiveness to murmurings about his chemistry with Solomon, he is still a dangerous big-bodied weapon.

Hill and Jones lining up across from one another is simply unfair for Washington, which will apparently be starting true freshman Sidney Jones and sophomore WR John Ross at the outside corner spots.

I am especially worried about how Ross will fair against the superior reach and physicality of either Hill or Jones, given his slight frame. UCLA picked on him throughout last week's loss, and I would be surprised if Arizona declines to do the same.

Overall

I'm not overly optimistic about this matchup. As great as Washington's defense has been at times, its total inability to stop Hundley was disheartening. The Huskies are still without Peters, and yet this time they will be traveling to the desert instead of playing at Husky Stadium.

Shaq will apparently start at linebacker this time, but he alone cannot elevate Washington's pass defense. Short of some turnover chaos or a worst-case performance from the sometimes inconsistent Solomon, I do not see Washington holding the Wildcats below their season average of 35 points unless Kikaha's return leads to a fearsome performance from the Husky pass rush.

Given that both UCLA and USC brought Solomon down three times in their victories, a successful pass rush seems to be the blueprint for success against this offense.