It took awhile for Arizona’s offense to start moving under OC Sonny Dykes, but by the end of the year things started to click. During the Wildcats’ three game winning streak in late October through November, the offense hung 48 points on Washington, 34 on UCLA and 34 on Oregon.
Washington's loss to Arizona last year was just sickening, and it killed any chance of the Huskies attaining the goal of a bowl game. Washington was the better team for most of the day, but in the fourth quarter Arizona rallied and scored at will against an inept Husky defense.
With ten starters returning on offense, this is a team that could put up a whole lot of points in a hurry. Tuitama has just about all of his weapons returning. Tight end Rob Gronkowski, H-back Delashuan Dean and receivers Mike Thomas and Terrell Turner give Tuitama plenty of quality receivers. However, the addition of junior college transfer Derick Barkum could be the long threat the team needs. Barkum has terrific speed, but he needs to prove that he can catch the ball in camp before he will see much time on the field this fall.
With the return of four of the five starting offensive linemen, Arizona hopes the running game will improve a bit. Even though the team does not want to run too often, it is still nice to rush for more than 76.8 yards per game. Nic Grigsby could be the answer after a decent freshman campaign, but he needs to improve in 2008 for the Wildcats to be a credible running threat.
The Wildcat defense needs to fill some major holes, only 3 starters return to a defense that ranked 53rd a year ago. This team’s front 7 is fairly small and could have trouble stopping the run, but might be able to use its speed to get after the opposing team’s quarterback.
Former fullback Earl Mitchell will make an attempt at moving to defensive tackle, but is only 265lbs. Ronnie Palmer is the only returning linebacker who had 83 tackles last season, but will need to play a much bigger role this year. It looks like D’Aundre Reed and Adrian McCovy will be the other starters here.
The team does return both starting safeties in Cam Nelson and Nate Ness, with Ness being the guy who could end up being special as he had 5 interceptions last season, and didn’t even start till halfway through the season.
The most glaring need is at cornerback where all world Antoine Cason and Wilrey Fontenot have graduated. In their place will be Marquis Hundley, Robert Golden and Devin Ross who have talent, but certainly lack in experience.
Arizona has to rebuild it's defensive line in 2008. Just about everybody who saw any significant playing time last year was a senior. Jonathan Turner has some experience at end, but sophomores Ricky Elmore, Lolomana Mikaele, Brooks Reed and D’Aundre Reed need to step up and at least provide some depth. To help address the problem former H-back Earl Mitchell and linebacker Apaiata Tuilhalamaka will see time on the defensive line.
How do you beat Arizona?
You don't let Willie Tuitama beat you through he air like Washington did in 2007. The Huskies made Willie who they had beaten up the previous two years look like a Heisman Trophy candidate last season.
Arizona is this years "Jekyll and Hyde" team. The Wildcats boast one of the conferences most explosive offenses, and probably its worst defense. You beat Arizona by exploiting their defense with long time eating drives that result in TD's effectively keeping the ball out of Tuitama's hands.
Despite the problems on defense Arizona should win more than they lose this season thanks to an easy conference schedule. That should be enough to save Stoops job. The Arizona program was in shambles when he took over, and it seems they are finally on the right track.
What do I think?
I think this one will be a toss up on the road, and a must win for both teams. Stoops saved his job last year by beating Washington on the road, and Willingham picked up a big nail in the coffin for another close fourth quarter loss. Former DC Kent Baer went into virtual hiding after this game, and was fired soon after the season concluded.
I have to go with Washington in this one because we should beat these guys on most given days if our offense develops a strong running game behind that experienced OL. I think the Wildcat offense will be great, but they are going to have their work cut out on defense. Control the ball, build a lead, and keep it away from Tuitama, especially in the second half and you win the game.