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Arizona at California Football 2013: Q & A with AZ Desert Swarm

With two home games left, the Golden Bears have two chances left to grab a home victory against an FBS opponent this season. Up first: the Arizona Wildcats. The last time the Wildcats were in Berkeley, Arizona QB Nick Foles threw two forward passes on a pivotal third down, leading to a Cal victory to close out the 2009 home schedule. This game, on paper, looks very different. Gone are Shane Vereen and Cal stars of seasons past. In their place are a new crop of Cal players. To learn more about the new Arizona Wildcats, we turn to Jason Bartel of AZ Desert Swarm, SB Nation's Arizona Wildcats community. Thanks to Jason for helping us out this week. Go Bears!


1. B.J. Denker seems to have gotten quite a bit better since the beginning of the season. Describe how (and why?) he has improved.

JB: Just gaining experience. He only started one game prior to this season (Colorado last year) and he just needed to be out there to be able to recognize defenses and what to do with the ball. Plus the receivers are gaining experience and confidence as well. They're very young, and a couple true freshmen in Samajie Grant and Nate Phillips are proving to be crucial parts to the success of the passing game this year. David Richards returning from injury against Washington certainly helped as well.

KZ: Really, credit has to go to the coaching staff for being stubborn and sticking with him based on what they saw during practices. It appears to be a combination of confidence and experience, quite simply. To start the season, Denker was a little slow making reads and reacting to them, and his balls seemed to float and lack confidence. Maybe it's just me, but his balls have a lot more zip and Denker is getting rid of the passes a lot more quickly rather than sitting in the pocket and getting flustered.

2. If Cal stops Ka'Deem Carey, would Arizona's offense still score points?

JB: Yes. Ka'Deem only had 119 last week, his fewest in his last ten games, and the Cats still put 44 up on the board. The passing game has become a real threat, and there's always the chance of putting in backup running back Daniel Jenkins for a change of pace out of the backfield. And Denker can run the ball as well.

KZ: A few weeks ago I would tell you absolutely not. Now, I think the Wildcats could still put up 20 with Carey struggling if there aren't turnovers and mistakes. That's because if Cal were to stop Carey, I'd expect that'd mean they're putting a lot of attention on him. The zone-read has only been getting better with Carey and Denker, who is coming off a huge rushing performance. Add in an improved passing game and it doesn't mean doom for Arizona.

3. And while we're on the subject, does Cal have any chance of stopping Ka'Deem Carey?

JB: They might load the box, but then Arizona could make them pay like they did to Colorado. There's a lot more offensive weapons on this team than I was expecting heading into this year.

KZ: I'm not sure. It really comes down to staying in lanes and getting bodies on him. Even when teams seemingly have him under control, he's still getting 4-5 yards per carry, but I think it's possible to contain him, relatively, with your general "discipline."

4. Arizona is currently 2-2 in the Pac-12. Do you think a run for the South division title is a realistic goal?

JB: No, I think a division title is wishful thinking. The toughest games of the year are left with Oregon, UCLA and ASU. With two of those games being in the south, I think it's a little much to ask at this point to be competitive for a division championship. It's interesting that people are thinking there's a chance though. No one thought last year's team would go 8-5, so who knows.

KZ: The Wildcats shouldn't be in the conversation unless they win their next two games. Then UCLA and ASU will be crucial games -- they need to set up must-wins to be in the conversation.

Nick Foles boneheaded play, Shane Vereen TD (via TouchedTheAxeIn82)

5. I know next to nothing about Arizona's defense. What is the minimum I should know about them before Saturday?

JB: The most unique part of the defense is what RichRod calls the SWAT package. Basically, in any third down passing situation, there's a bunch of DBs on the field, and almost no big guys. I'm expecting to see this a lot on Saturday with Cal's passing game being such a threat. Also, both starting safeties, Jared Tevis and Tra'Mayne Bondurant are injured, but based on RIchRod's comments after practices this week, they should at least be out there unlike last week. Maybe not full strength, but there. And Will Parks has done a good job filling in for them.

KZ: They are oddly surprising and somehow putting up top-25 statistics. As ESPN's stat attack piece shows, the Wildcats are No. 20 in the nation in yards yielded per play against FBS opponents, and No. 12 in pass efficiency defense -- just behind Oregon. Aside from some busted coverages in the secondary, they've been pretty sharp.

6. Let's be honest: Cal fans AND Arizona fans are probably more interested in talking about basketball. So: Which Pac-12 team do you believe poses the biggest challenge to Arizona's conference title hopes?

JB: Oregon. Maybe UCLA.

KZ: Ha! I think Oregon could be really dangerous, especially since transfer Joseph Young got a questionable waiver to go in his favor. But I'd say Cal could be in the conversation if Jabari Bird and the team can collectively make up for Allen Crabbe's numbers. They're the darkhorse I think.

7. What does Cal need to do to win this game?

JB: Score a ton of points.

KZ: Beat Arizona deep. The secondary is battered a little in the hybrid spots of the 3-3-5 defense, and the cornerbacks, while experienced, can bite on double-moves and such. Jared Goff has the arm to beat them downfield, so I would think Sonny Dykes should take some shots.

8. What does Arizona need to do to win this game?

JB: Take what the Cal defense gives them, not make any stupid mistakes, and hold their own against the Bear Raid.

KZ: Continue playing solid defense. I think the Golden Bears have too many youngsters and inexperienced players for them to completely shut down Arizona's offense. So the Wildcats will just need to keep the ball in front of them and make sure they at least hold Cal to field goals in the red zone.

9. Who do you want to punch in the face?

JB: Mike Napoli

Right now, I want to punch the new New Orleans Pelican mascot in the face. He is either too creepy or too happy.