Here’s what we learned in our Q&A:
UWDP: Jayden De Laura is averaging over 300 yards per game and completing over 60% on the year. How has his play been overall? Where does he need to improve?
Brian Pedersen: De Laura has massively upgraded Arizona’s quarterback play from a year ago, when injuries and ineffectiveness led to three different starters, none of them good. He had six touchdowns against Colorado, matching Will Plummer’s total for 2021, and could contend for several school passing records if he keeps it up. Where he gets in trouble is when he tries to force things, usually when Arizona is trailing, and he ends up turning it over. This past game he also reacted strangely to Oregon’s pressure, despite not really being in that much danger, and was errant on a lot of throws. If he can treat every play like it’s 1st and 10 and Arizona is leading, he’s spot on.
UWDP: Michael Wiley, DJ Williams and Jonah Coleman have handled the bulk of the work on the ground. Is this a matter of guys being banged up, or is it a “by committee” rushing attack? Describe their running styles. How would you assess the offensive line play so far?
Brian: Michael Wiley is the primary back, starting every game, but his status for Saturday is in doubt after missing the second half against Oregon with an abdominal/oblique injury. That will give Williams and Coleman more touches, and they’re more downhill than Wiley. To this point it’s been a by-committee thing, trying to maximize the options, since each runner has a different skillset.
UWDP: Jacob Cowing and Dorian Singer are De Laura’s top two targets, with each pulling in over 80 yards per game. How are these two used in the offense? Should we expect to see TE Tanner McLachlan get involved as well?
Brian: Cowing, a transfer from UTEP, has been as good as advertised with his ability to produce big from the slot but also play on the outside. Singer, a former walk-on, has amazing hands and is the deep threat, and freshman Tetairoa McMillan (the highest-rated recruit in school history) is a jump ball guy that can catch anything in traffic. McLaughlin, another former walk-on, has been the biggest surprise considering he was coming off a torn ACL. He can stretch the field better than any UA tight end since Rob Gronkowski.
UWDP: The Wildcats are 11th in the Pac 12 in scoring defense and rushing defense. They are 3rd in the conference in pass defense. Are teams just pounding the run? What has been the story on that side of the ball this season? Has anyone stood out?
Brian: Those numbers are heavily influenced by Arizona’s inability to stop the run, with most teams not needing to throw much. The exception is via play action, where opponents are taking advantage of the Wildcats selling out and leaving targets open downfield.
The secondary is fairly good when not handicapped by having to keep its eyes in the backfield, with cornerback Christian Roland-Wallace likely an NFL player and safety Jaxen Turner solid over the middle. The front seven lacks impact players beyond 6th-year edge Hunter Echols, a USC transfer.
UWDP: How is the fanbase feeling about Jedd Fisch in his second year as head coach? Is there reason for optimism?
Brian: Arizona just had its first sellout in 7 years for the Oregon game, and while it being Family Weekend against a ranked opponent helped, it was a clear sign the fans are hopeful. The savvy fan can see the progress, both in terms of improved talent and results, but this current stretch of games will test their loyalty. Going 4-8 with a win over ASU to end the season has to be considered a massive success after losing 23 of 24 games, and anything above that is gravy.
UWDP: What is your prediction for Saturday?
Brian: All signs point to a shootout, one where neither defense figures to make many stops. Arizona can win that type of game this season, assuming it doesn’t turn the ball over like it has in each loss. Once the Wildcats fall behind, though, the mistakes tends to pile up. Washington wins 44-38.
Thanks Brian. For more on the Wildcats, check out Arizona Desert Swarm.
To see our answers to Brian’s questions, click here.