Only one more day before the Arizona Wildcats strap it on and take on the Cowboys from Oklahoma State. Both teams seem to underestimate the other's big play potential and relatively little is known about either squad by their respective opponent. Oklahoma State was picked to finish deep in the Big XII, they stunned everyone (except their own fans) and won 10 games this season. Unfortunately, they were unable (again) to beat Oklahoma at home and instead of facing Nebraska in the Big XII Championship, they waited like everyone else to get their bid to their bowl. They are primed and ready to show the nation that they are the real deal.
Arizona was picked to finish deep in the Pac-10 and fulfilled the pre-season expectation by dropping their last four games and underperforming from their early season success against Iowa. Arizona's losses came at the hands of some top quality opponents (Oregon) and also at the hands of some terrible coaching/playcalling and execution (Arizona State). The Cats finished 7-5 and 5th in the Pac-10. To make matters worse, Arizona lost its defensive line coach and co-defensive coordinator after the Arizona State game.
Arizona on Offense
Arizona is led by Nick Foles who has a huge arm and a quick release that gets him lots of nice short to mid range passing completions. He is also 6'5" which gives him excellent vision over tall defensive linemen. He does have the ability to throw the deep ball; however, Juron Criner has been the only deep threat for the Wildcats all season. If Oklahoma State knows how to cover a premiere wide receiver (Blackmon during practice), they better bring it during the Alamo Bowl. Criner is no joke and can hurt you on the deep ball at any moment. Foles' only weakness is the occasional timing route thrown with a bad read on the defense, usually resulting in an interception. Oh yeah, he also has the scrambling ability of a wounded duck.
The receivers for the Cats include Juron Criner and a pair of possession receivers in David Douglas, David Roberts and Bug Wright. The TE, Simmons, is used rarely and Rob Gronkowski is greatly missed in Tucson. These guys all have great hands but in reality, Criner is the only one with deep threat capabilities. Look for Foles to use the mid-range routes to pick apart Oklahoma State until that window opens for him. Once it does, Criner will be on the other end for a deep pass.
The running back trio of Nic Grigsby, Greg Nwoko, and Keola Antolin keep the backs fresh and give new looks to defenses which can be confusing at times. Grigsby and Antolin have the speed to take it all the way if they break free and Nwoko has great hands out of the backfield to set up a screen or pound out a few if needed. Cats fans were expecting Grigsby to have a breakout season this year but he has not had the holes available to him for that kind of year. Arizona's reliance on the pass has also hurt any one of the backs from having an outstanding year.
Arizona Offensive LIne
The offensive line has been adequate this year but hasn't consistently opened up big holes for the Cats this year. They do protect Foles well and due to his abilities, he rarely suffers a sack due to his quick strike capability on the hot read. Arizona will be without their leader in Center, Colin Baxter, who had knee surgery and will miss the game. Protection is key and Arizona will be matched with Oklahoma State's size on the DL.
Arizona on Defense
The defense was supposed to be the achilles heel for the Cats from day one. The Cats showed up early with the help of great schemes and an incredible performance by a freshman (Justin Washington) to start the season. Arizona only gave up 44 points in their first four games and won all four of them. As the season went on, the defense started getting pushed around a lot and created tough situations for the Cats to dig out of. The Oregon State performance was abysmal in which Arizona allowed the exact same scenario (video game quarterbacking due to lack of pressure) to continue and never changed their scheme during the whole game. Result? LOSS. Arizona beat lowly Washington State, Washington and UCLA before getting pounded by Stanford and Oregon in two of their last four games. The missed defensive opportunities against Arizona State were poor. So poor, I can't speak of them.
Arizona is led by their two beasts on the defensive ends, Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore. These guys are legit. Make fun of them all you want for their excessive hair and paint job prior to the game. I wouldn't want to be a left or right tackle trying to keep these guys off of my QB. There is always the chance that if one of these guys hits your quarterback at full speed, he will not return to the game.
(Don't let the hair fool you. Remember #42 for tomorrow night)
The defensive line is led by redshirt freshman Justin Washington (my personal favorite) and senior Lolomana Mikaele. Washington is the real threat. He can lock up a double team and allow the versatile linebackers to rush in for no gains or loss of yardage tackles. The play of the defensive ends will be, and has been, the key to each and every Arizona win this year. These guys can create havoc if you're not careful.
Arizona lost all three linebackers from 2009 and had to re-load in a sense. Jake Fischer played sparingly in 2009 but stepped it up and is the starting strongside linebacker. The other two are junior college transfers who were desperately needed. Derek Earls and Paul Vassalo have played wonderfully after a tough summer camp. Vassalo can cover some ground and also take on any fullback in the country at the line of scrimmage. The weakness for the backers is their mid-range coverage and eliminating angles on faster running backs. This is where to attack the Cats.
What can be said about the secondary? It seems that after the Oregon State game, Trevin Wade (our jewel back there) just gave up. I feel that he gets burned big time in EVERY game. He is joined by Robert Golden at the other CB position and Joseph Perkins and Anthony Wilcox at the safety position. When the Cats enter the nickel package, sophomore Adam Hall comes in the game. This is our prized 2009 five star recruit and he can absolutely lay the wood. If anyone can provide a spark with a big hit, this is the guy.
(If Wade guards Blackmon, expect 3 TD's for him.)
Overall and Prediction
Although I started azdesertswarm.com last year, I currently live in Austin, Texas and watch plenty of Big XII football. I attended the Texas vs. Oklahoma State game last year in Stillwater and had a blast. I have watched two entire Oklahoma State football games this year (Texas A&M and Oklahoma) and I know that they are the real deal. Their wide receiver, Justin Blackmon, is a man among boys and could have a field day if we don't give our CB's some help. The real problem for the Cats will be the consistent play provided by Kendall Hunter. This guy will pound away at you until he gets his break and then he's off. These two special players result in a guessing game for d-coordinators on who to shut down. Pick your poison.
Oh yeah, Brandon Weeden, who is 27 years old (cheater), has a cannon and the maturity to not make big mistakes.
I think that this game is one where Arizona fans don't know much about Oklahoma State and surprise, surprise, Oklahoma State fans have no clue about Arizona's team. This will be a great battle in San Antonio with an indoor atmosphere (with alcohol! Yeah San Antonio). I am going to predict that Arizona will win. The time off and the "motivation" for the team to emerge from the shadow of their four losses should be enough to overcome great play making ability of Blackmon.
Prediction: Foles for 300. 2 TD's. 1 Int. Zendejas hits a FG to win it: Arizona 23-21.
I will be in attendance at this one and will hopefully provide some in-game updates. Go CATS!
P.S. - I always love it when a line moves towards Arizona. The line started at Oklahoma State -7 or -6 on most books and now is only -5 or -4.5. Although a dog, I love the bet on Arizona.