With ups and downs and only small gains this year (and even some regression), the Bruins will take on the Arizona Wildcats this Saturday at the Rose Bowl with an extremely late time slot (7:30 PT on ESPN). This season, Arizona has played all of their games late, and apparently this game is not seen as relevant to the TV networks.
Sure, Arizona is rebuilding. On top of a depleted defense with a multitude of changes, their quarterback is even questionable as Anu Solomon has missed the last two weeks with an injury sustained during a practice after their first game against BYU. But as I’ve stated before, our offense has no identity, a lack of confidence, and a lack of swagger. Our defense has it. You can tell when they walk on the field. They have a "we’ve got this...come at us" attitude, whereas our offense seems to say, "we’re not so sure...but we’re going to try some plays and see how they work" (and possibly do the same thing over and over again even if it isn’t working). I know some are calling for Mora’s head, but as a teacher, I’m always told to work with what I’ve got. And right now, he’s what we’ve got and I personally think it’s too early to call the season over. Let’s take a look at Arizona’s offense and what we’re up against.
As I mentioned, Anu Solomon is questionable for Saturday’s game (and, if you remember, was injured in the 56-30 loss against UCLA last year). His back up, redshirt sophomore Brandon Dawkins, is a dual-threat quarterback that played about a half a season last year. He is currently 50 for 81 with a 61% completion percentage. Not too shabby (Rosen’s completion percentage is almost identical). Solomon has been named to the watch list for the Maxwell Award, which is awarded to the college football player judged by a variety of folks in the sports world to be the best in the country. He finished last year with over 6,000 yards, and is currently fourth in school history. Last year, Solomon was highly touted, but UCLA easily stopped him until his injury. I expect either quarterback to be contained by our defense, which has proven themselves strong already and should be successful Saturday.
Redshirt Freshman Nathan Eldrige has the starting job at center. He was immediately practicing with the first team after the unfortunate and unexpected death of teammate Zach Hemmila. Hemmila was to be the starter, but Eldrige is now going to fill that void. Levi Walton has a year on Eldrige, but Walton historically had issues snapping the ball, so for now, Eldrige gets the start. On the left, Freddie Tagaloa will start at guard and Layth Friekh will be the left tackle. Tagaloa initially started at left tackle and then moved to guard last season before injuries ended his year, and has permanently moved to guard. There is definitely no shortage of size on the left, where Tagaloa stands at 6’8", 314 pounds and Friekh comes in at 6’5" and 282 pounds. Jacob Alsadek, a third year starter, is going to be at the right guard alongside Gerhard de Beer, a Wildcat of South African descent who started last year at guard and moved to tackle.
Junior Nick Wilson headlines the running back position. He finished the 2015 season with 2,104 career rushing yards, which is 12th most in program history, and 24 career rushing touchdowns, the seventh-most in school history. So far, he has 257 yards in 2016, with an average of six yards per carry, and is also on punt returns. Freshman J.J. Taylor out of Centennial High School has 261 yards so far this season, with a 61 yard rush vs. Hawaii. He is also on kick and punt return duties. Aside from Wilson’s experience, this group this does not come across as a difficult group to stop.
The Wildcats are definitely not short on experience at this position, with each projected starter in their senior year. Redshirt senior Trey Griffey (son of Ken Griffey, Jr.) was actually drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 24th Round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He hasn’t played baseball for years and this was more than likely a nod to his dad (KG Jr. wore 24...drafted in the 24th round...hmmm). He averaged 25.8 yards per reception last year, and so far this season, he has 10 receptions for 159 yards. He hasn’t been a major contributor in the past, and had a short season last year due to injury. Teammate Nate Phillips is another senior and is building on 13 starts last year alongside Samajie Grant, who had nine starts and combined with Phillips had 865 yards last season. Neither has a touchdown yet this year. Tight ends Josh Kern (redshirt senior) and Trevor Wood (redshirt sophomore) have combined for six receptions for 40 yards so far this year. In 2015, Kern was primarily utilized as a blocker in team’s zone run-option scheme.
There isn’t anything about this group that particularly impresses me. If we were able to hold Stanford like we did last week, there’s no doubt that we’ll hold these guys. Again, it comes down to what our offense can put together. I’d love 66 points on the board like in 2012 when walk-on Melvin Emesibe was able to run one in for his first career touchdown (who, by the way, was on scholarship the following year) on the same night Jonathan Franklin shattered the all-time rushing yards record. One can only hope we have as much to celebrate on Saturday.
[Update]: As of yesterday, according to Arizona Desert Swarm, these are the injury updates for tomorrow:
Probable: Tellas Jones (Ankle)
Questionable: Nick Wilson (Ankle)
Out: FB Jamardre Cobb (knee), LB DeAndre’ Miller (ankle), WR Shawn Poindexter(foot), QB Anu Solomon (knee), RB J.J. Taylor (ankle – out indefinitely), NG Parker Zellers (knee)