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Q&A with Desert Swarm: Talking Arizona Wildcats Football

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We reached out to fellow SBN blog Arizona Desert Swarm to learn more about the current state of the Arizona football program.

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Boise State vs Arizona Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week we talked with David Potts (@dpottzzz), editor for the SBN blog Arizona Desert Swarm regarding the Arizona football team.

Here's what we learned in our Q&A:

UWDP: Brandon Dawkins is certainly an exciting quarterback to watch. How are Arizona fans feeling about the quarterback situation right now? Anu Solomon has put up terrific numbers at times in his career, but has also struggled against some of the top defenses. Is the job Dawkins’ to lose at this point? We know he can run, but how consistent is he as a passer?

David: It really depends on who you ask. In our roundtable this week, a lot of our writers thought Dawkins deserves the job, at least for now. A lot of our readers pushed back, claiming that the offense was simplified for Dawkins and that he isn’t as good of a passer as Anu.

In my mind, Dawkins should be the presumptive starter from here on out. He’s healthy when Anu isn’t. He can run very effectively when Anu can’t. And though Dawkins isn’t nearly as accurate a passer as Anu, the threat he poses on the ground opens up the passing game so the throws he has to make are much easier. Dawkins is a good enough passer, and he deserves the job until he proves otherwise.

UWDP: The Wildcats have racked up over 225 yards per game on the ground in their first 3 games. Nick Wilson was responsible for most of those yards before hurting his ankle last week. What’s Wilson’s status and is freshman J.J. Taylor capable of carrying the load in the running game? Any other running backs expected to be in the mix Saturday night?

David: I don’t expect Nick Wilson to play. On paper, he’s “questionable,” but that typically means “out” for Rich Rodriguez. That means J.J. Taylor will take on a major role in the running game. Taylor should be able to handle most of the load – he ran the ball 18 times against Hawaii – but expect to see reserve running back Zach Green in the mix as well.

The interesting guy in the backfield, though, will be Tyrell Johnson. Because of the depth issues in the backfield, the Wildcats have moved Johnson from wide receiver to running back. Both Taylor and Johnson fit the Steve Slaton mold for Rich Rod running backs – they’re both very short and both very, very fast. Wilson is still Arizona’s best running back when healthy, but Taylor and Johnson will both need to be accounted for this weekend.

UWDP: Trey Griffey leads the team with 153 receiving yards. His dad is kind of famous up here in Seattle; how has Trey looked this season? Who are the other top receiving weapons for UA? How has the pass protection been in the first three games?

David: Trey may be Arizona’s leading receiver by yardage, but like the rest of Arizona’s receivers, he has been a little disappointing. He has only one touchdown on the year and only managed a single reception (for 13 yards) against Hawaii. The rest of Arizona’s receivers are in the same boat – neither Nate Phillips nor Samajie Grant have even scored a touchdown yet this season, and no one has really put together a breakout performance.

The lack of pass protection has been a big reason why. Arizona’s offensive line has been inconsistent, leaving Solomon and Dawkins little time to find open receivers. Solomon’s injury exacerbates those problems, too, because Dawkins is the inferior passer.

Ideally, as Dawkins becomes more comfortable with the offense, Griffey’s numbers will improve. He’s a big target who has a ton of experience, and Arizona will need him to put up better numbers going forward.

UWDP: How do the Wildcats stack up on defense this season? The numbers are not bad, but it can be hard to gauge against teams like Hawaii and Grambling State. How did the defense look in the season opener against BYU? Tell us about some of the top players on the defensive side of the ball.

Ironically, Arizona’s best defensive performance this year was against BYU. The Wildcats weren’t able to force turnovers in that game, but they prevented BYU from reaching the end zone and gave the team a chance to win despite the offense’s struggles. Against Grambling State and Hawaii, though? Woof. Grambling State might’ve won that game if their quarterback didn’t get hurt, and Arizona couldn’t stop Hawaii at all in the second half.

Still, there are some talented players on the Arizona defense who need to step up for the Wildcats to have a shot. Linebacker Paul Magloire leads the team in tackles and will be a major factor in limiting the Huskies’ running game. Linebacker DeAndre’ Miller, meanwhile, is probably the Wildcats’ best pass rusher and the guy who will need to try to get some pressure on Jake Browning. The linebackers are, unsurprisingly, the best unit on Arizona’s defense, and they’ll need to be very involved in order for Arizona to have a chance.

UWDP: With Washington ranked in the top 10 and having beaten the Wildcats 49-3 a year ago in Seattle, what are fans expectations for this Pac-12 opener? UW often struggles in the desert, so are the members of the ZonaZoo smelling an upset?

David: Eh. I think expectations would be a little higher if fans sensed that this particular team was a contender. At this point in the season, they’re not. Arizona struggled against Grambling State, of all teams, so a win against a top ten Washington team seems out of our grasp.

With that said, though, Rich Rodriguez has won a game against a top ten team every single year he’s coached at Arizona (Utah in 2015, Oregon in 2013 and 2014, USC in 2012), so there’s at least a little reason to think the Wildcats can surprise the Huskies.

UWDP: Rich Rodriguez has had a successful tenure in Tucson. Are fans expecting a bounce-back season for Arizona? Is there any hot-seat talk for RichRod if the team has a losing season?

David: At least at this point in the season, expectations are tempered. The game against Grambling State, in particular, showed fans that this team isn’t as talented as, say, the 2014 team. That said, if Rich Rod can’t drag this team to six wins, some people will call for his head. I don’t think that’s fair – recruiting has been down and the new defensive coaching staff is showing a ton of promise both on the field and on the recruiting trail – but there will be rumblings if Arizona isn’t bowl eligible.

UWDP: What is your prediction for this game?

David: I don’t think Arizona stands a very good chance. The Huskies have significantly more talent. It’s as simple as that. I’ll say Washington 38, Arizona 24 in a game that isn’t as close as the final makes it out to be.

UWDP: Thanks David, and good luck to Arizona in the Pac-12 South this season.

To read our answers to David's questions, click here.