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Opponent Q&A: Talking Arizona Wildcats football

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You think Husky fans are frustrated?

Good Sam Vegas Kickoff Classic - Brigham Young v Arizona Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Earlier this week we talked with Brian Pedersen, editor for the SBN community Arizona Desert Swarm regarding this week’s matchup with the Huskies.

Here’s what we learned in our Q&A:

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UWDP: The QB position is in flux, with freshman Gunner Cruz now out for the season and Jordan McCloud also injured. So, the job is now Will Plummer’s. How has Plummer looked in limited action this season? What are his strengths? Where does he need to improve?

Brian Pedersen: Will Plummer’s best ‘strength’ is that he hasn’t suffered a season-ending injury like Jordan McCloud and Gunner Cruz. His lone start this year, in the embarrassing loss to NAU, saw him get intercepted twice including once that was returned for a TD. Since then he’s tried to work on his footwork and tone down a bit of his aggressiveness, but he’ll still be trying to take shots down the field much more than the other two QBs did.

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UWDP: Drake Anderson and Michael Wiley have handled the bulk of the work on the ground. Describe their styles. How would you assess the offensive line play so far?

Brian: Anderson is a game-time decision, and not a likely one, because of a shoulder injury, which is a shame because he’d been the most consistent runner. Wiley is shifty but he’s had some fumble issues and is falling out of favor, so this game may see a lot of freshmen Stevie Rocker Jr. and Jalen John. Both are bigger backs who are quick for their size, though if there aren’t holes to run through it won’t matter.

The O-line could be without two starters for this game, including center Josh McCauley, so who knows what to expect from that group. When they were healthy they couldn’t pass block to save their lives, let alone their quarterbacks’.

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UWDP: Stanley Berryhill III has more than twice as many catches (and yards) than any other Wildcat receiver, but Tayvian Cunningham & Boobie Curry are the only main targets averaging over 10 yards per reception. How are these three used in the offense? Who else is a threat in the passing game?

Brian: Berryhill is the go-to guy and will continue to be because he’s reliable and never drops a catchable target. He’s on pace to break the single-season school record for receptions, and they will try to get the ball in his hands in whatever way possible. Cunningham, despite being small, is the deep threat, but it’s just a matter of getting it to him.

Curry and BJ Casteel are bigger receivers who have also shown great ability to block in the run game, which has limited their production as receivers. After that, there are two tight ends that see a lot of snaps but they don’t get targeted much, despite a lot of preseason promises of that to happen.

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UWDP: The Wildcats are 57th nationally in total defense, and 10th against the pass. But they are 105th in scoring defense. What has been the story on that side of the ball this season? Has anyone stood out?

Brian: Arizona’s defense is vastly improved from previous years, there’s no question of that. The reason those rankings are so weird is a combination of allowing big plays and missing far too many tackles. They’re like the defensive version of a hit-and-miss run game, where they’ll make a few consecutive stops for no gain or negative yardage and then get gashed for 30-plus on the ground.

The pass defense has been solid all year, though Colorado connected on some deep shots, and cornerbacks Christian Roland-Wallace and Isaiah Rutherford are the reason for that.

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UWDP: Jedd Fisch inherited a disaster, but—let me guess—fans still want him canned? How do you feel about the direction of the program under the first year head coach?

Brian: Yes, the Fire Jedd Fisch calls have been happening since the second game of the season, but anyone who is calling for a change this early clearly doesn’t understand how all this works and therefore shouldn’t be listened to on this subject. Personally, I think the program is moving in the right direction even if that means having to still go backwards during the early stages.

Remember, the vast majority of the players are from the Kevin Sumlin era, and there are still quite a few left over from Rich Rodriguez, so the jury can’t possibly come back yet. Arizona is putting together one of its best recruiting classes in years, so more time is needed to truly evaluate Fisch.

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UWDP: What is your prediction for Friday night?

Brian: Other than the smallest crowd at Arizona Stadium since the early 1970s, if not earlier?

A few glimpses of Arizona looking capable, some of the usual mistakes in the red zone, a few critical errors that keep a game that’s in doubt in the second half from being won and ultimately a 2- or 3-score margin. Washington wins 27-13.

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Thanks Brian. For more on the Wildcats, check out Arizona Desert Swarm.

To see our answers to Brian’s questions, click here.

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