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Arizona football notebook: Right side of offensive line thriving despite changes, enhanced spy tactics needed, getting that elusive first interception

arizona-wildcats-football-notebook-offensive-line-cameron-ward-wsu-cougars-interceptions-pac12-2023 Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona has had 418 offensive snaps this season, and four offensive lineman have each been on the field for at least 93 percent of those plays. The fifth spot has been a bit of a revolving door, one that’s occasionally required some position shifts, but you wouldn’t know it from how the line has performed as a whole.

The Wildcats are ranked in the top 40 in all six offensive categories graded by Pro Football Focus, with their pass-blocking grade of 90.9 second in the country behind only Oregon (95.2). The offense is 14th overall and 23rd in run blocking.

Jonah Savaiinaea, Jordan Morgan and Wendell Moe all rank in the top 30 in pass blocking among offensive linemen with at least 250 applicable snaps.

Savaiinaea is making a case for a full-fledged All-American season after being a Freshman All-American in 2022. Last year he played exclusive at right guard, but during the spring and summer he was shifted to right tackle in anticipation of freshman Raymond Pulido taking over at RG.

Pulido has only appeared in one game, though, logging 44 snaps against Stanford before getting hurt, and he hasn’t returned to action. He missed the first three contests after getting in a bicycle accident 48 hours before the season opener.

In Pulido’s place at right guard has been Sam Langi, JT Hand, Leif Magnuson—who has started the past two games—and Savaiinaea, who was moved over there for Mississippi State and UTEP with Joe Borjon taking the right tackle spot. That same scenario played out during the second half when Magnuson started to wear down from the affects of a lower leg injury he was playing through, according to offensive coordinator Brennan Carroll.

“He said yeah, put me at guard, no problem,” Carroll said of Savaiinaea. “To be selfless, he’s fantastic.”

Savaiinaea has called the moving back and forth “great,” because it’s helping his team win. The only thing he’s had to get used to again is having linemen on both sides of him, rather than sometimes having a tight end to his right.

“It feels a little tighter than outside,” he said.

My (quarterback) spy

From an overall standpoint, Arizona was superb in defending against reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams. Williams was 14 of 25 for 205 yards and only one touchdown, all season lows, with that coming a week after keeping Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. from throwing a TD pass for only the second time in the past two seasons.

But where the UA struggled with Williams was when he decided to run. Minus sacks, Williams had 63 yards on eight carries with three TDs, the last two giving USC leads of 28-20 early in the fourth quarter and 35-28 in the first overtime. He also scored the game-winning 2-point conversion in the third OT.

USC had seven runs of 10-plus yards, and four of them were by Williams. That was in spite of Arizona employing a spy, either a linebacker or defensive back, to follow his every move.

The same thing could happen this weekend at Washington State. Cameron Ward has scrambled 14 times for 113 yards with five runs of 10-plus yards and one TD.

Ward has also fumbled four times, losing three, and been sacked 12 times on 209 dropbacks. Arizona’s QBs have been sacked 11 times on 243 dropbacks.

My kingdom for a pick

Arizona’s allowed just five passing TDs all season, tied for 15th-best in the country, a year after giving up 25. Three of four opponents have completed 56.3 percent or fewer of their passes, with the overall 62.4 percent completion rate down significantly from last season (69.7).

But then there’s the interceptions. Or lack thereof.

Arizona is one of four FBS teams without a pick in 2023, along with ASU, New Mexico and UTSA. That’s after having just four INTs last season, tied for fewest in school history.

There have been several close calls, but sophomore Ephesians Prysock says frustration hasn’t set in for the DBs.

“We know it’s gonna come at some point,” said Prysock, who has three of Arizona’s 12 pass breakups. “We’ll just keep flying to the ball. I mean, me, I gotta get on the Juggs (machine), I can’t lie. I’ve dropped two picks this season.”