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Opponent Offense Preview: Arizona Wildcats

Promising sophomore Grant Gunnell leads the Wildcats into Husky Stadium.

NCAA Football: Oregon State at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Like Washington, Arizona has only played one game this season after a cancellation against Utah in Week 1. We got to see what year 3 of the Noel Mazzone (Arizona’s OC) experience would look like after some up and down years with Khalil Tate at QB. While they didn’t get the win, there are reasons for optimism.

Gunslinging Gunnell

Gunnell doesn’t really have the gunsling mentality but the title works and it’s my article, so deal with it. After a rocky start throwing an interception on a bad overthrow, the 6-6 Gunnell settled into the rhythm of the offense and completed 70% of passes for 283 yards and 3 TDs the rest of the way. Typical of the Mazzone offense, there were lots of short and intermediate throws into the flats, wide receiver bubble screens, and the occasional deep shot. What really stands out in his game - other than his stature - is the way he moves in the pocket. He’s hardly a duel-threat but slides around and steps up well when he feels pressure. He can be elusive in this regard. Despite this impressive pocket mobility, he was still sacked 4 times by USC.

Gary Brightwell and the Skill Positions

The other bright spot on Arizona’s offense is their aptly named running back, Gary Brightwell. The senior is a violent runner and Seattle fans will see a bit of Marshawn Lynch to his game. The 6-1, 210 pounder doesn’t have quite as big a body as Lynch but is just as physical and shows some explosive juking ability to match. Coached by former Oklahoma Sooner and Dallas Cowboy DeMarco Murray, Brightwell is poised to have a big season in his first as the featured back for the Wildcats. Last week against USC he took 21 carries for 121 yards with a long run of 34 yards - his speed will make him a threat for big runs all game.

NCAA Football: Southern California at Arizona Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona’s top three receivers are Tayvian Cunningham, Stanley Berryhill III, and former QB Jamarye Joiner. I’m not super well versed on their injury situation, but it sounds like they will get some WRs back this week, and it remains to be seen how they will factor in the pass game.

The 5-10 Cunningham is the speedster who will catch a lot of passes near the line of scrimmage and try to use his speed to get upfield quickly. When they dial up the deep bomb, it is usually to him:

Mostly thanks to those 75 yards, Cunningham leads the team in receiving yards after one game and was PFF’s highest rated offensive player for the Cats, with Brightwell coming in an extremely close second. Stanley Berryhill meanwhile leads the team in receptions but is a smaller pass catcher at 5-10. As is the theme in the Mazzone offense, he’ll get lots of passes close to the LOS and on one drive was the recipient of 4 of Gunnell’s 5 completions - all short throws. Joiner is a really good athlete with good size at 6-1 and 214 pounds. He’s got some playmaking ability and while he hasn’t been targeted quite as frequently as his teammates, he is the all purpose receiver of the bunch. He will start out wide and occasionally be motioned into the backfield and given a swing pass similar to a running back - more behind the LOS throws for the Mazzone offense! Against USC he took a short crossing route 34 yards to the house for Arizona’s first TD of the day.

NCAA Football: Washington at Arizona
Cunningham last year against the Huskies had one reception for negative three yards.
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The offensive line has a couple decent players, with Donovan Laie being the standout at guard. Senior center Josh McCauley is a smart player and is their other star on the OL. Laie was the highest graded offensive linemen in USC game - but as a unit they gave up 4 sacks and 6 TFLs, which they would like to improve upon. That said, with the amount of behind the LOS throws and screen passes, not all those TFLs are on the offensive line when it could be the receivers who are the primary blockers.

What to Expect

No doubt the Arizona coaches watched the Oregon State tape and are licking their chops at the thought of running Gary Brightwell into the heart of this Husky defense. With Tuli and Laiatu Latu potentially still out, it will be up to Taimani, Bronson, and most importantly the linebackers to fill gaps and make stops at or behind the LOS. They did not do this well enough last week.

Arizona likes to move at a quick pace, and ran 80 plays last week against the Trojans. However, they only averaged 5.5 yards per play, which is fairly average. For context, Washington averaged 5.4 against Oregon State - but as of right now, Arizona looked more explosive offensively and were extremely balanced with nearly a 50/50 run/pass split. I imagine they will do what they do best: get defenses running sideline to sideline with their screens and throws to the flats, combined with a healthy dose of the physical Brightwell up the gut, and when the moment is right they will strike deep to take advantage of a tired defense.

Like pretty much every game of football in human history, the defense will need to stop the run and harass the quarterback to put them off schedule. If Gunnell is forced to throw deep constantly to get Arizona back in the game, he can lack touch at times (leading to overthrows) and that plays right into Washington’s strength in the back end of the defense. GO DAWGS.


How many points will Arizona score against Washington?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    (6 votes)
  • 11%
    (31 votes)
  • 40%
    (111 votes)
  • 32%
    (89 votes)
  • 11%
    (31 votes)
  • 2%
    35 or more (nightmare scenario)
    (8 votes)
276 votes total Vote Now