We traded five questions with the folks at Arizona Desert Swarm to learn more about the Wildcats - here's what we found out:
UWDP: On the surface it looks like Anu Solomon has been playing well - 62.4% completion pct, no picks, 12.3 yards/completion - yet Jerrard Randall has been seeing more and more time closing out games. Can you provide more background on why there's a QB controversy happening in Tucson?
ADS: It's really about the past two games. Against Colorado, Solomon struggled to move the ball, and it wasn't until Randall came in that the offense got going. It was even more clear against Washington State that the offense could not get into rhythm with Solomon under center. When Rich Rodriguez finally pulled Solomon and put in Randall, Randall ran for 59 yards on the very first play. In fact, for all the talk about how efficient Solomon has been, Pro Football Focus ranked Randall ahead of Solomon in its Pac-12 quarterback rankings.
That said, Randall struggled mightily against the Stanford Cardinal, the only team in the Pac-12 with a better defense than the Huskies. Randall has probably benefited from the fact that defenses have struggled to adjust to his style of play after defending Solomon (who is much more of a passer) for the majority of the game. I'd bet that Arizona will continue to use both quarterbacks to force defenses to prepare for their two different styles of play.
UWDP: Randall is clearly a major threat on the ground and has been iffy at best as a passer. Are his yards mainly coming from designed runs and read-option plays, or is he getting a lot of that yardage from scrambles too?
ADS: Randall's yards are primarily coming from designed runs and read-option plays, which is what makes him so terrifying. Randall isn't a great passer, and teams know that, so the fact that he's still able to generate so many yards on the ground is pretty extraordinary. I do think he benefits from the uncertainty teams face when both Solomon and Randall are active, as their styles of play are so different that the defense doesn't adequately adjust when Randall is put in the game. After all, Stanford shut down Randall when they knew he was probably starting.
UWDP: After his big freshman campaign, everyone knew about Nick Wilson. But where's Jared Baker been hiding - he's putting up numbers that rival Wilson! Is this a case of the Arizona OL deserving a lot of credit for how effective the run game has been? Should we be giving more credit to the QB play and those guys making good decisions with the zone-read and run-pass options?
ADS: I'd give all the credit to Jared Baker. Baker has been at Arizona for a while now - this is his fifth year - but never managed to break out. In 2012 and 2013, he was stuck behind Ka'Deem Carey and Daniel Jenkins. In 2014, Baker was expected to compete for the starting job at running back but Terris Jones-Grigsby and Nick Wilson both beat him out. Really, for those first three years at Arizona, Baker was - at best - a third-string running back.
This year? A completely different story. Baker has more rushing yards and rushing touchdowns this year than he had his entire career at Arizona prior to this year. After never averaging more than 4.7 yards per carry for a season, he's averaging 6.7 (!!!) yards per carry this year. I don't think this is a case of the offensive line getting better (it's probably worse this season, as Arizona lost multiple starters), and the quarterback situation is probably worse this year, too. I think you have to give all of the credit for this tremendous leap to Baker, who finally managed to break through to become an impact player for the Wildcats offense.
UWDP: Any word on Scooby Wright's status for this game? If he's out again, how much does that impact the Wildcat defense?
ADS: He's still out, which means Arizona's defense will struggle. Without Scooby Wright, the Arizona defense has been unable to generate much pass rush and hasn't been able to stop the run. The unit is ranked 108th in total defense, and even that probably overstates how good they are given Arizona's weak non-conference schedule. The only saving grace is that the Huskies' offense isn't as good as, say, the Washington State Cougars' offense is, so they might be able to occasionally stop Jake Browning or K.J. Carta-Samuels.
UWDP: Once again Rich Rodriguez's name is popping up as a possible candidate for high-profile jobs farther east. How tiring is this getting for the Arizona fanbase? Are you guys getting numb to this kind of thing, and how worried are you that a job like Miami or South Carolina might tempt him to leave?
ADS: Arizona fans are getting frustrated, not because they actually think he'll leave, but because they're just tired of hearing about how he's going to leave. They're also tired of explaining the confusing Master Limited Partnership that incentivizes Rich Rod to stay at Arizona. Really, it's not a bad thing - it speaks to the job he has done here - but I think Arizona fans would rather not hear the rumors over and over again.
Personally, I'm not worried about Miami. The job just doesn't pay enough. Even if Rich Rod wanted to go back east, I don't think that's the program for him. South Carolina worries me a little more, as they are a football school with the potential to make a large offer that Rich Rod may not be able to turn down. Still, I'm not losing sleep over the possibility that another team snags Rich Rod after the season.
A big thinks to David Potts and Arizona Desert Swarm for taking the time to participate!