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Arizona is exactly midway through its first season under Rich Rodriguez at 3-3, 0-3 in conference play having played a trio of ranked Pac-12 opponents. The Wildcats are a haunting nine points shy of 5-1.
Losses to Oregon State and Stanford send UA into a much needed bye week to heal physically, and regroup mentally before beginning the second half of Year One.
Before the season, I wrote on this very site that the measure of improvement would be less in wins and losses, and more in effort. And Jared Tevis addressed that on Twitter this weekend.
Even though things aren't going our way, you can still tell we're a different team. We're going to get there— Jared Tevis (@TucTownTevis) October 7, 2012
The combined record of Wildcat opponents in the season's first half is 24-8 -- and South Carolina State accounts for half the losses. On the back six is a less awe-inspiring combined 17-13. A bowl game is a very possibility, but only if the Wildcats parlay lessons from the season's first half while building on their successes.
Matt Scott: Anyone who knew anything about this UA roster was well aware that Rodriguez's system and Scott were a fit. The surprise is just how well suited the two have been -- or rather, how Rodriguez and staff have retooled the philosophy to accentuate Scott's strengths.
Rodriguez's zone-read option has long been known as a run-first system, but this season it's called for the pass. Frequently.
In fact, Scott ended Week 6 third in all FBS for completions per game with 31, and actually has passed for more yardage than West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. Granted, Smith has played one fewer game, but...still. Pretty astounding nonetheless.
That Scott only gets one season running this offense is a shame, but his reward for remaining at Arizona and redshirting is now justified.
Ka'Deem Carey: The sophomore running back is living up to his billing coming out of Canyon del Oro High and then some. Carey is on record-setting paces with 10 touchdowns and 670 yards rushing midway through the campaign. He's been the best Wildcat back since Trung Canidate, but continued at the current rate could approach levels not seen since the "Cactus Comet" Art Luppino was college football's most prolific ball carrier in the 1950s.
The 3-3-5 Defense: Point totals aside, Jeff Casteel's new scheme has put players in positions to capitalize on their skill sets. Marquis Flowers and Tra'Mayne Bondurant have both been allowed to make plays. Tevis has not just found a niche in the system, but arguably been the defense's best player.
Arguably, because Jake Fischer is flourishing as a consummate leader. He's done a little of everything: a pass deflection, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, and a team-leading 58 tackles.
Depth: There's no mystery that the new coaching staff had holes to patch. Adam Hall suffered a second ACL tear in the spring, Cortez Johnson followed Mike Stoops to Oklahoma, and those were two notable departures from an already thin unit.
While the path there is much different than it was a season ago, UA is still giving up points in bunches. The Wildcats dug holes early much of 2011. This season, the defense is better in first halves but wear downs. Stanford scored 34 points in the second half last Saturday. Oregon State tacked on 21 after halftime. Each was able to go on lengthy, final drives.
Missed Opportunities: A win over one top 25 opponent and leading two more in the fourth quarter of the season's first month might have sounded like a surprisingly promising prospect in the summer. Chalk it up to greed, but teetering so close to 5-1, the top 20 and three wins over ranked opponents leaves a little extra sting during the bye week.
The interception that fell away from Jonathan McKnight late vs. Stanford, Scott's interception against Oregon State -- even the Oregon loss was loaded with the what-ifs of seven failed red zone opportunities.
Inability to capitalize on opportunities has troubled UA for a few seasons now, and is the most important hurdle for the staff to climb after the bye week to truly ring in a new era of Wildcat football.