The Bruins will attempt to avoid their first 3-game home losing streak in 43 years this Saturday night at the Rose Bowl when the Arizona Wildcats (6-1, 3-1) come to town for Homecoming. AHMB started our weekly preview series on Tuesday with a look at Rich Rodriguez and his staff.
The Wildcats head to Los Angeles with the most prolific offense the Bruins have faced - or are likely to face this season. Team stats via teamrankings.com, and reflect only games v. other FBS-level teams. Arizona leads the Pac-12 and ranks 6th in the nation in yards/game (541.9), thanks in part to an 88 play/game pace which ranks 3rd among FBS teams. With 6.2 yards/play, they come in 27th overall, just ahead of ASU and UCLA's 6.1 yard season average. At 45.4%, their success at converting 3rd downs ranks 3rd in conference/26th overall. Rich Rod's offense has followed a pass-heavy blueprint: Arizona's 45.8% rushing plays ranks 101st out of 128 FBS teams - a major turnaround from last season's team, which ran the ball 61.3% of the time (15th in FBS) as Ka'Deem Carey completed his career in Tuscon. Without that record-setting RB in the fold, their passing game has carried the load (348.4 yards/game, 6th in FBS/3rd Pac-12). Something to keep in mind is that while Arizona has put up some big numbers in the air, the quality of the pass defenses that have opposed them have not been all that high. 5 of Their 7 opponents rank in the bottom 25 nationally in passing yards/game allowed.
Heading into the season, quarterback appeared to be a big question mark for Rich Rod after the graduation of B.J. Denker. Redshirt freshman Anu Solomon emerged from the training camp battle and has put together a very nice season for the Wildcats. His 425 yard, 4 TD debut performance was muted somewhat by coming against a pathetic UNLV squad, and a crazy 47/73(!)-520-5 line becomes a little more sane in the context of coming against the Cal defense. But he did beat Oregon in Eugene earlier in the month, and played well in Arizona's lone loss, three weeks ago against Southern Cal. For the season, he has attempted 316 passes with a 63% completion percentage for 2430 yards, 20 TD's and 4 INT's.
The Wildcats have a pair of running backs who have shared the load of carrying the ball this season. Senior Terris Jones-Grigsby opened the season attempting to fill Ka'Deem Carey's shoes, running for 124 yards in the season opener v/ UNLV and enters the Rose Bowl with 70 carries for 406 yards and 3 TD's. When Jones-Grigsby missed the 2nd and 3rd games of this season, freshman Nick Wilson had a chance to emerge. After back-to-back 170 yard performances against non-major conference competition, Wilson came back down to earth a bit with the opening of the Pac-12 schedule - while his 126 total yards/3 TD performance at Oregon gives some validation to his numbers vs. those early cupcakes, he ran for a combined 51 yards on 21 carries against the fierce run defenses of Cal and Wazzu (he missed the Southern Cal game due to injury). Those two share top billing on the Arizona depth chart (PDF), with redshirt junior Jared Baker backing up the pair with limited carries while working his way back from an ACL tear.
With Solomon throwing the ball so often while leading Rodriguez's offense, there have been ample opportunities for the Wildcat receivers to share in their team's success. Anu's 20 TD passes have been spread among 10 receivers, but a couple of leaders have emerged from that group. Fueled by a 13-186-3 performance v. Cal, redshirt sophomore WR Caleb Jones leads the team with 670 yards and 7 TD's in his first season in Tuscon after transferring from Texas. WR Austin Hill has returned in strong form for his final season after missing the 2013 season with a knee injury, with 100+ yard games against UNLV and Cal contributing to his season line of 29-408-4. JR David Richards and Soph Trey Griffey have each caught 16 passes on the season as the remaining true WR's on the depth chart; this whole group is listed at 6'3" or taller. The Wildcats have some threats to keep an eye on in the Slot - Sophomores Samajie Grant (20-284-1) and Nate Phillips (23-251-2), along with Notre Dame transfer Davonte' Neal (17-164-2). Blair Tushaus is listed as starting TE, but has not caught a pass this season.