The Arizona Wildcats are opening up Pac-12 play against the 23rd-ranked Utah Utes on Friday night, and while the team responded well after Houston loss, this serves to be another critical game for the future of Arizona football.
To win, Arizona’s offense needs to come away with explosive plays. I’m not sure this offense has enough to sustain long drives and keep the ball away from the opposing offense.
And on defense, the young guys are going to have to limit their mistakes and digest all the information they can one play at a time.
Here are five guys I’ll be expecting big things out of on Friday night.
Utah’s defense is going to be loading up to stop the run game, and the front six for the Utes will cause some havoc. But I think this is where J.J. Taylor takes as a runner, stretching and bouncing runs to the outside.
Without Nick Wilson, Taylor had a pretty solid workload against Houston, who gave Arizona’s offensive line all the fits they could handle. Still, he had his best performance thus far, tallying 87 yards on 17 carries.
I just don’t think Nick Wilson or Zach Green will be effective against Utah’s box. Arizona is going to need to get the ball on the outside to get the run game going and I think this is where Taylor has a 2016 Washington-esque performance. Taylor will also need to be use in pass catching situations when Utah starts to bring the pressure.
Arizona’s run game will be a point of emphasis for Kyle Whittingham, and so will Shun Brown. He’s averaging just over 20 yards a touch, and has scored three times despite only handling the ball 13 times.
This is where a healthy Tyrell Johnson can catch Utah off guard.
We’ve already seen a reverse, and a fake reverse with Johnson in the lineup, and I’m sure there are a lot of motion plays to get him involved and keep the defense off balance.
Johnson has one carry for 55 yards, and also adds five catches for 53 yards. Like Taylor and Brown, he only needs so much space to make a place and get to the open field.
It’s going to be a game where the explosive playmakers are really going to have to step up against Utah’s defense.
Schooler was very active against UTEP, and is likely in line for a bigger role as Arizona heads into Pac-12 play. Brandon Rutt has really come on strong since the end of last season, but Schooler has the opportunity to completely wreak havoc at middle linebacker.
He has seven tackles, a forced fumble and an interception through three games. He just adds so much more intensity to the defense, much like Kylan Wilborn.
I like having Brandon Rutt in there, who is third in tackles, but there’s just something about Schooler being in there that I really like.
Tony Fields II
After enrolling early, the true freshman pretty much won his starting spot since spring practice.
Now he leads the team in tackles (17).
The linebackers are going to have to be quick on their feet this week and they’re finally going to be tested against a Pac-12 offense.
If Arizona wants to win, they’re going to need to have their young guys step up and limit the mistakes. Fields is advanced enough to do that.
I don’t think Dereck Boles is getting the attention he deserves. The defensive line just isn’t set up to put up big numbers, which explains why he only has nine tackles. But he’s been filling his gap and taking away space in the pocket for opposing quarterbacks.
While Boles might not be making the play himself all the time, he’s able to create other opportunities for the defensive line and young linebackers behind him.
He has yet record a tackle for loss or sack, but I think that changes this week. At 6-foot-2, 296 pounds, he has the size that Arizona has needed ever since Mike Stoops’ recruits graduated from the program.