Pay close attention to tonight's Orange Bowl, Arizona football faithful, because it just might be a glimpse into the Wildcats' future.
There has been much hand-wringing on the subject Rich Rodriguez's defensive coordinator hire since he was hired in late November -- including on this very site, by this very blogger. UA could know the identity of its new defensive guru as early as tonight, if speculation that Rodriguez will reunite with Jeff Casteel proves true.
Casteel has led the Mountaineers' successful defense for a decade, his 3-3-5 stack formation peaking in 2008 when it held opponents to 17 points per game, the No. 17 lowest average in the Bowl Subdivision.
Against the potentially explosive Clemson Tiger offense, boasting Tajh Boyd, Andre Ellington, and arguably one of the nation's top receivers in Sammy Watkins, WVU is sure to be tested. What better way to evaluate the...possible? probable? likely? maybe?...defensive future of UA.
Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris employs an uptempo, vertical passing attack, but a balanced look via the rush. The look is somewhat similar to the style Noel Mazzone used at Arizona State last season, and is likely to employ under Jim Mora at UCLA.
Clemson's balance (503 rushes and 478 passing attempts this season) means viewers will get to see how Casteel handles each phase of an offense.
Past WVU defenses have been particularly stingy vs. the rush. A season ago, only Boston College allowed fewer yards on the ground per contest. Squashing the rush out of the 3-3-5 starts at the line. For WVU, Julian Miller and Bruce Irvin are two two watch.
The pair combined for 25 tackles for 13.5 sacks: the latter is 3.5 more than Arizona had as an entire group.
Run defense in the 3-3-5 is also heavily predicated on the reading ability from the middle linebacker. Najee Goode transitioned into the role this offseason, despite previously playing on the edges the three campaigns prior.
Goode's adaptation bodes well for UA should Casteel come to town. Derek Earls and Paul Vassalo were both seniors and far-and-away, UA's most productive linebackers. Retooling the corps was inevitable, so a new look won't be much of a setback for youngsters like Rob Hankins.
Casteel's set calls for a network of defensive backs who are multifaceted in their coverage abilities. Obviously corners need the speed to contain wideouts, something UA struggled with immensely in 2011. But one caveat of the formation that should benefit the Wildcat secondary is its use of rovers either to supplement the blitz, or pick up against the pass as needed.
Such possibilities only scratch the surface. The Orange Bowl should provide more angles to examine in preparing for what seems likely to come.