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5 Arizona Wildcats to watch vs. Utah

Defense is seeing some up-and-comers rise

<span data-author="5158751">arizona-wildcats-utah-utes-players-to-watch-2018 </span> Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats are entering one of the most important games of the season as they have a short week before traveling to Salt Lake City.

The offense has been sputtering badly and needs its key players to step up in a big way. On defense, we’re starting to see some role players emerge as a pieces to the puzzle.

Here are five Arizona Wildcats to watch against the Utah Utes on Friday.

Anthony Pandy

Suspended for the USC game for disciplinary reasons, Pandy returned and was named as a team captain for the Cal game, which is kind of odd as a sophomore role player.

Nonetheless, he only had one tackle but made it count, giving Brandon McIlwain a clean shot on a long scramble to force a punt.

Much like Jalen Harris, who I wrote about prior to the USC game, Pandy is able to take advantage of injuries ahead of him on the depth chart. With Tony Fields nursing a shoulder injury, Pandy has a shot to play a much bigger role in this defense.

I’m a big fan of the constant rotations on defense this season. Arizona is actually deep at a lot of positions and there are constantly new guys being thrown out there. Pandy has enormous upside as a weak-side linebacker and should be a part of the general rotation going forward.

Against Southern Utah, he produced a sack and six of his 10 tackles on the season.

Azizi Hearn

With Jace Whittaker missing most of the season so far because of injury, combined with losing Tony Wallace and Jhevon Hill prior to the season due to academics, cornerback depth was hurting. Sammy Morrison and Malcolm Holland have been injured, as well, leaving few options.

McKenzie Barnes, Jimmy Banjok-Wangjobe, Malik Hausman and Antonio Parks are the other healthy corners, it appears, who do not really play a whole lot if at all.

I was optimistic for Tim Hough to join the roster, an experienced corner who was headed up to play with Donte Williams at Oregon. I’ve been very underwhelmed since he started filling in for Whittaker. Missed tackles and several deep balls that are luckily a step away from the receiver have been plentiful, and for that reason I’m out.

Lately it seems like the staff has been opting for walk-on Azizi Hearn, as he has continuously seen the field since Week 2.

The ball graciously fell into Hearn’s lap after Colin Schooler got the ball punched out from behind, make no mistake about that. But it was a great play and I often don’t really notice him in coverage, which is a good thing.

It doesn’t seem like there are other corners being mixed in very often, so give me a little more Hearn in the rotation.

Khalil Tate

Now it feels like we’re watching the offense from the Washington State game back in 2016, when Arizona lost 69-7.

The offensive line seemed a little shaky to me against Cal and that will happen when left tackle Layth Friekh is out, but there wasn’t much push on run blocking and pass blocking had Tate leaving the pocket quite a bit.

And that’s a problem. When Tate leaves the pocket, it seems like a guaranteed throw out of bounds or a very, very desperate decision to force something. There is no option to run anymore, there seems to be no check down and this offense is just frustrating to watch. The play calling doesn’t help either.

Drives are stalling, Arizona isn’t able to run a lot of plays, it’s just not good.

I appreciate the change of pace with Jamarye Joiner, but the staff did him no favors with the play calling. I’m also not sure what good one series would have done, as I feel any average freshman quarterback needs some time to settle in. Perhaps the staff tried to go Jerrard Randall and get him to rip a long one.

And now, we still don’t really know who QB2 is.

Does Rhett Rodriguez come in as the game manager, a safe but low-ceiling type of guy? Is Joiner, a Rich Rodriguez guy, starting to earn more reps? And of course there’s Noel Mazzone’s hand-picked guy late in the cycle in Kevin Doyle, the borderline four-star prospect with huge upside.

We don’t know the order of quarterbacks and who would take over to finish out 2018 if that decision ever comes, but I think most people are anxious to see if Tate doesn’t step it up.

JJ Taylor

Aside from the Oregon State performance, Arizona’s run game has been non-existent as a whole. The team is barely averaging over 150 yards on the ground if you take away the Oregon State game, and the Beavers rank 127th nationally in rushing defense and dead last among Power Five programs.

If Khalil Tate isn’t running wild, JJ Taylor needs to put the rushing attack on his back. The offensive line doesn’t give him too much help, and a one-dimensional Tate probably doesn’t help either.

It’s going to be tough, but Taylor needs to get things rolling early to open up Arizona offense.

Josh Pollack

Arizona just isn’t allowed to have good special teams play, I think that has been confirmed.

Lucas Havrisik seems to have the leg, but not the accuracy, so Pollack might be the better answer for the field goal unit. He was shaky last year himself, but the long snapping situation did him no favors either.

Let’s hope that he can bring some consistency to the unit and get Arizona on the board when the offense starts to sputter in enemy territory.