The Arizona Wildcats are having a season like many of the teams in the Pac-12 South: unpredictable. After walking over Northern Arizona (FCS 6-2), UNLV (5-3 Mountain West) and UT-San Antonio (Conference USA 3-5, the Road Runners) Arizona lost their first two Pac-12 match ups to the early season winning streak of the Washington Huskies and USC Trojans the first game after the exorcised the final Kiffin from their coaching staff. Then the Wildcats upset a Utah Ute team that was still riding high after handing Stanfurd their first defeat of the season and followed that with last week with a victory over the improving Colorado Buffaloes.
Last week Cal helped Bishop Sankey reach #2 on this year's FBS total yardage list. This week the Golden Bears host Ka'Deem Carey (#25) who finished last season on top of the FBS total yardage leader board with 1929 yards. Arizona's offense starts around #25 and though Quarterback B.J. Denker (#7) is the other major option in this year's offense, it is clear that he is the number 2 choice.
Ka'Deem Carey vs Utah
Arizona used different formations against Utah and Colorado, so we will consider the games separately. Carey had 232 yards on 39 (!!!) carries against Utah and only 119 yards on 23 carries against Colorado. Against Utah this formation with two running backs in the back field with Denker was common. Utah is in a 3-3-5 defense. The labeled RB goes in motion pre-snap. At the snap the offensive linemen block down and the receivers block the man across from them.
Utah employs an interesting defense: each linebacker appears responsible for one running back and the defensive back (in white) is responsible for the quarterback. With the pre-snap RB motion both linebackers widen to their left. It is tough to tell who has responsibility for the motion man because both linebackers and a safety ultimately ignore him as well as the inside receiver.
The result of the motion combined with the motive force of the Wildcat offensive line (and a possible defensive line slant) is that a lane opens for Carey right along the hash marks.
Four attempts at arm tackles fail before the 5th one succeeds in part because two defenders are hanging on to Carey's legs.
This run is from the same formation. Utah is in a 3-4 defense. This time the Right Tackle blocks the play side middle linebacker, the Right Guard blocks the defensive end, the center and left guard block the nose guard and the center chips up to the 2nd level and the left Tackle blocks the back side defensive end. The labeled RB lead blocks into the hole between the Center and Right Guard.
Incredibly, three players block the play side middle backer (in black) while no one blocks the play side outside backer. None of that matters as Ka'Deem Carey uses his vision to see that the hole is a clogged mess and the outside backer has committed to the point of attack.
Carey sticks his left foot in the ground and cuts outside to gain 9 yards.
Ka'Deem Carey vs. Colorado
This 30 yard run was Carey's longest against Colorado. Arizona is lined up with two receivers wide right and one left. In the backfield there is an H-Back, B.J. Denker and #25 Carey. Colorado is in a 4-3 defense, though both defensive ends are in 2 point stances.
Arizona's play call catches the Colorado in what must be the worst defense for this particular play. The entire defense slants towards the weak side (the side without the H-back and Carey) in the case to their left. Arizona's offense blocks down and as a result everyone is moving the same direction: away from where the play is designed to go. Colorado leaves the Safety with responsibility for outside contain, something he valiantly tries to accomplish.
But this is Ka'Deem Carey and the senior DB has no chance against Carey's replacement technique and comes up with nothing but air. In the end Carey goes out of bounds, no Colorado defender is actually able to bring him down.
Carey isn't all about shifty moves, this is the same play run at the goal line and #25 used a tank technique instead. I am unsure if the linebacker is the target of a read option or if this is a straight hand off meant to look like a read option.
We can see from the end zone angle that the unblocked linebacker scrapes over to Carey...
Ka'Deem Carey just runs him over and a couple of DBs as well just for good measure.
Elusiveness, Speed, Power. Why was Carey's yardage vs Colorado half of his production against Utah?
Denker ran for 51 yards against Utah but he gained 192 yards against Colorado. Comparing plays between Utah and Colorado his carries (13 vs 15) and even his number of passes (30 vs 32) were nearly identical his production against Colorado was much higher. Lets look at some examples:
Here the last Utah defender on the line bites hard on the hand off. Once again I suspect that the middle linebacker is responsible for the quarterback while the defender on the end of the line is responsible for Carey. A quick cut allows Denker to elude the middle backer and no one else is in a position to stop the play.
This play is a traditional option play. The running back keeps the proper pitch orientation, following his quarterback. The Utah linebacker forces Denker inside but the Arizona line has done a superb job of walling off any persuit.
Utah's defense seemed to place defenders with responsibility for Denker and Carey instead of gap control. While it was an interesting defense, it was limited in its effectiveness by Arizona's ability to run at an angle to the defender which led to many missed arm tackles.
Colorado, on the other hand, seemed determined to stop Ka'Deem Carey first. To combat this defensive tendency Arizona ran a higher percentage of plays where the ball was in Denker's hands at the critical moments instead of Carey's.
Here Arizona has a shovel pass option. Denker can pass to his receiver on the outside or to Carey on the inside. The forward pass offers protection against possible fumbles due to a missed catch.
This next play is a quick option/shovel pass. Once again this is a forward pass (if only just barely), the Colorado outside backer forces the pitch/pass by committing to tackling Denker. The pass ensures a 3 on 2 situation with the running back and 2 receivers on 2 defensive backs. Colorado's defensive backs do a great job of beating the blocks to make a play.
This is a traditional read option. The defensive end commits to stopping Ka'Deem Carey and Denker has no trouble picking up 6 yards.
Denker is used as a running threat an an option quarterback but if he is to throw the ball down the field his target will likely be 6'4'' sophomore David Richards (#80).
Against Colorado the two back formations were not as evident and many more option plays were called than against Utah where hand-offs to Ka'Deem Carey were more prevalent. Maybe the game plan was changed to reduce Carey's workload after a herculean 39 carries. If that is the case I would expect Saturday's game at Memorial Stadium to resemble the Colorado game more than Utah since I would expect RichRod to try to keep Carey fresh for next week's match up against UCLA.
While a running quarterback is always a threat, it may be better than the alternative of lots of Ka'Deem Carey. Sound tackling and team pursuit are going to be important for the Golden Bears.