The troops are depleted, and Cortez Johnson finally gets his shot at proving why coaches were raving about his talents in the preseason.
Until this point, Johnson has seen very little time on the field. He's played in spot duty on special teams, but the 6-foot-2, 190 pound freshman will finally get his number called when the Wildcats face the Washington Huskies in Seattle on Saturday.
He can thank the bench-clearing brawl against UCLA for that. The two cornerbacks in front of him, sophomore Shaquille Richardson and senior Lyle Brown, are out to begin the game against the Huskies. Richardson will sit out the entire game and Brown will be suspended for only the first half.
That half will be critical. Johnson can use it to show why he's been called the best athlete in the defensive backfield.
The Louisiana native has probably had his fair share of catching up to the learning curve of college ball. For everything spoken about him, it isn't a question about his talent.
Johnson is physical and he can run. He's built like a safety, has more size than most college cornerbacks and apparently has the speed to go along with it.
Opposite Trevin Wade, the Wildcats will need Johnson to play smart and play well.
Like he was before his first game as a head coach, Tim Kish hasn't shed any light onto what defensive schemes he'll use against Washington.
This isn't UCLA's run-heavy pistol offense, though. Rather, the Huskies will be using a balanced attack. Sure, the double-flex eagle/Desert Swarm defense that Kish used against the Bruins could help, at least a little bit, in controlling and containing bruising running back Chris Polk. The senior has nearly 900 yards on the year and a 5.9 yard-per-touch average, scary considering Arizona began the year by giving three very good backs career numbers.
Polk has only one game under 100 yards on the year.
Johnson's performance here becomes key. UCLA's Kevin Prince wasn't good enough to make Arizona's cornerbacks pay if they had made mistakes. But against Price and the Huskies, the Wildcats' defensive backs in Wade and Johnson will likely be on islands.
One jumped route, and the Washington receivers could be in the end zone for a touchdown.
In that sense, it'll be a huge first test for Johnson.
It's been a long while since a Wildcat defensive back has made waves. Shaq Richardson is erratic despite his knack for creating turnovers, and Trevin Wade's career was marred by an ugly junior season.
Will Johnson burst onto the scene Saturday and become the second-coming of Antoine Cason? Too many guesses before have turned out to be false, and it's not fair to project anything that high on a true freshman. But hey, you never know.
With Brown being a capable player and able to return the second half, Johnson has only a small window to prove himself. As for how it affects the team, Johnson keeping the UW receivers from hooking up with Price will be the key match-up whether Johnson has safeties dropping back in coverage with him or not.
Should he and Wade control the second level, the Wildcats will have a decent shot at knocking off a talented Huskies squad (OK, maybe not on defense) on the road. It all comes down to that; suspensions, any signs of defense for either team and some freshman from the Bayou.
What do you think about Cortez Johnson being thrown into the starting line-up?