As much as I wish I could Bill Murray myself into reliving last week’s win over and over a la Groundhog Day, we all must move now to the surging Arizona Wildcats. Khalil Tate might be the talk of the town when it comes to Arizona football, but we’re here to take a look at the Wildcat defense!
2017 Defensive Highlights (To-Date)
Previous Opponents: Northern Arizona (62-24), Houston (16-19), UTEP (63-16), Utah (24-30), Colorado (45-42), UCLA (47-30)
Total Yards Allowed: 2,464 (1,502 pass, 962 rush)
Sacks By: 15 (114 yards of loss)
Interceptions: 8 (129 return yards)
In researching this Wildcat team, I found it difficult to get a pulse on the true potential of their defense. On paper, the Arizona D has put together a respectable season thus far. They have allowed 962 rushing yards on the year, recorded 8 interceptions (1 returned for a TD off the Rosen one), and kept opponent red zone touchdown efficiency to 57%. However, the fact that their non-conference schedule was weak (Houston was really their only test and it resulted in a loss) and two of their three conference opponents (I’ll let you guess which) had already put together underwhelming seasons gives me trepidation. So excuse me for not yet crowning Arizona the spoiler of the South.
In looking at player matchups, Kylan Wilborn (6’2, 245) has been the backbone of the Arizona defense this season with 7.0 TFL (54 yards) and 5.0 sacks (47 yards). Look for Cal to focus their attention on Wilborn on pass-rush situations. Jace Whittaker (5’11, 182) also had a monstrous game against the Bruins in Tucson, nabbing 2 INTs and returning one for a TD. I am sure Ross will be well aware of Whittaker from film, but a sneaky CB coming off a confidence-building performance can often be a thorn in the side of even the best of quarterbacks.
Keys to Cal’s Success
On a qualitative level, I have the simple solution to beating Arizona this Saturday: play like last week. Yes, on one level I do intend to be tongue-in-cheek with that overly simplified assessment. People are allowed to be cliche sometimes! But on a deeper level, it is my theory that if the players do play as if the Wildcats are the #8 ranked team, they can avoid the pitfall of “playing down to your competition.” In no way am I saying that Arizona is a poor team or that the Bears are far superior to them. I am saying, however, that Arizona is clearly not as talented as Washington State, which can lull us into complacency after such a dominant win against a top 10 opponent.
Moving from the psychology to the game plan, a balanced attack is key. Last week was a prime example of how an efficient ground game can open up receiver routes, tire the opposing defense, and enable clock management. With Bowers knowing that he could lean on Vic Enwere to pick up 4-5 yards on a given play last week, he was able to more boldly look downfield for Kanawai Noa or Jordan Veasy. Additionally, a more balanced tactic forces UofA to honor the run. UCLA was a pass-heavy team, which allowed the Arizona secondary to sit back and read the routes and quarterback with little fear of a dominant rusher. If the Bears can get Enwere or anyone other back going, the Wildcat defense could breakdown. Colorado exploited this well, gaining 300 yards on the ground while on their way to drop 42 against the team from the desert.
Look, I do not want to walk away from this game saying to myself, “Well, I should have seen that letdown game coming.” And the only reason I say that is because this game slightly smells of that letdown feeling. All in all, I do not expect that to happen, but I wanted to just throw that out there that my spidey senses are tingling.
This Cal team put together the game of a decade last week. Let’s carry that momentum against Rich-Rod’s Arizona team. If all goes according to plan, we will all be spared the insufferable “U OF A” chants and we can walk away from this game knowing we only need one more win to be bowl eligible. ~fingers crossed~