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Arizona football: Jared Baker shows Wildcats have depth at running back

Arizona's going to need some depth at running back with six-straight games coming up.

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

When Terris Jones-Grigsby went down after a vicious hit in the USC game, there were questions about who would be the next man up at running back for the Arizona Wildcats. Nick Wilson wasn't dressed, and we hadn't really seen any of the other backs since Week One.

On the ensuing drive, Jared Baker found himself lined up in the slot at first, and then started lining up in the backfield. He went on to score three times for the Wildcats in the second half.

"He was the second back behind Terris Jones-Grigsby," Rich Rodriguez said after the USC game. "I thought he played alright."

After watching the tape, Rodriguez was a bit more complimentary of the third-string running back.

"I thought he played pretty well," coach said at Monday's press conference. "He caught the ball well, he did a good job running, so we've got a lot of confidence in playing him."

That confidence from the coaching staff is going to be important with the uncertainty about the statuses of both Jones-Grigsby and Nick Wilson heading into Saturday's game at Washington State.

"Nick Wilson and Terris Jones-Grigsby were our top-two for a reason," coach continued. "But Jared has been right next to them anyway, so I thought he played pretty well and gave us a little confidence in him."

"I think you have to be deep at tailback, particularly with the way our schedule's going to be setup the next six weeks."

Baker finished the USC game with 43 rushing yards on 12 attempts. He also picked up 50 yards on four catches, including a 41-yard TD on a wheel route.

"I love Bake," DaVonte' Neal said. "Bake's a hard-runner. When you call his number, he's going to give you all he's got. And I think he showed everybody Saturday 'You know what, yeah we have Nick Wilson and we also have Terris Jones, but you know what, I'm here as well and I'm here to play football, and that's what I'm here for'."

"You've just gotta be prepared for everything," added Anu Solomon. "What if I go down? Jesse (Scroggins) has to be there. Or Jerrard (Randall) or Connor (Brewer). What we're telling all the backups is be prepared for anything, cuz your time may come."

If Arizona needs to go further into the depth chart at running back, Rodriguez laid that plan out as well.

"Adonis Smith can run it, be we can also play Jonathan Haden at running back. We've got some confidence and (running backs coach Calvin) Magee has confidence that we can put four or five different guys back there and play that one-back for us."

Putting in a new guy affects everyone on the offense, especially the offensive line, and how they play each snap.

"I like to know what Baker's seeing," center Steven Gurrola explained. "So every time I ask him 'You reading off me? The nose tackle's going one way so just read off it' and I know he knows he's reading A-gap to A-gap so he's reading my block."

"When (Baker) got in, I knew he was in, so I told him after the play because the nose made a tackle on me 'This is what you gotta see, this is what you gotta do."

The run game struggled against USC because of the strength of the Trojans' defensive line, but the injury to Cayman Bundage hurt the Wildcats the most as Bundage is the best run-blocker on this team. Also, the Arizona offensive line is not very deep.

"We got beat up-front on both sides of the ball," Rodriguez said. "But (USC)'s pretty talented."

"Cayman has been one of our most consistent linemen," coach continued. "And is probably the most aggressive guy we have. So when you have a starter out, it's not the ideal situation but Lene (Maiava) and Jacob (Alsadek) have played a lot and they're considered starters anyway. So it just took away any depth. We had 111 snaps on offense, but that's a lot of snaps for the same five guys the whole game."

"With Cayman, he gives you a lot of help, and I think he makes me look good," added Steven Gurrola. "But Lene stepped up this week and he helped me out and did what he needed to do."

For right now, it appears Bundage will play in a sort of limited role this week, along with Nick Wilson. Terris Jones-Grigsby will probably get most of the reps at running back, but Jared Baker's showed that if he has his name called in that game, he's able to step up to the plate and fill that void.

Arizona fans aren't used to this whole multiple running back thing, but sometimes you just gotta be comfortable with being uncomfortable.