Arizona Wildcats 2014 Preview

Rich Rodriguez has done a good job in Arizona, quickly returning the Wildcats to the bowl level that Mike Stoops had achieved, despite a radical change in offensive system. Last season, Arizona finished 8-5 for the second consecutive season, and three close losses show they weren’t far from a better finish. The team loses a bunch of key starters going into 2014, so can Rodriguez work his magic again and return Arizona to its third consecutive bowl for just the second time in its history?


The biggest loss for the Wildcats this season is running back Ka’Deem Carey, who ran for 1885 yards and 19 TDs last season, and carried the team on his back when needed. Also gone is his top reserve, Daniel Jenkins (65-411-1), leaving Arizona pretty green in the backfield. There’s no shortage of talent coming back though, but nominal starter Jared Baker was injured during spring, and only little-used senior Terris Jones-Grigsby made an impact. Freshman Nick Hill could make a big push for playing time when he hits the field in summer camp.

Quarterback is a position that could be a potential thorn in Rodriguez’ side, although that looked to be the case last season as BJ Denker struggled in the early going. The light didn’t go on for Denker until near midseason, and he turned in a fantastic second half of the year, deserving to be in the conversation among the other fine PAC 12 quarterbacks. He passed for 2516 yards and 16 TDs, and was second on the team with 949 yards and 13 scores on the ground. There is currently a four-way battle between Texas-transfer Connor Brewer, former USC-transfer Jesse Scroggins, redshirt freshman Anu Solomon and JUCO Jerrard Randall. All bring different skills to the table, but no one has stepped forward so far. This contest could continue into the season.

Having someone to throw to will not be a problem. Last season’s leading receiver, Nate Phillips, caught 51 passes for 696 yards and 7 TDs as a freshman, while another freshman, Samajie Grant, added 47 catches for 373 yards and a score. The biggest returning player could be Austin Hill. The senior missed all of last season with injury, but caught 81 passes for 1364 yards and 11 scores in 2012. He will add a veteran presence. Boosting what already could be the best receiving unit in the conference is the presence of a pair of talented transfers who are now eligible, Cayleb Jones of Texas and DaVonte’ Neal of Notre Dame. Both will have an impact this season.

The offensive line was outstanding in 2013, despite not one single player getting even an all-conference honorable mention. Only one, right guard Chris Putton, is gone, so the unit looks strong again. The battle to replace him sees junior Lene Maiava and redshirt freshman Jacob Alsadek duke it out. Neither has won the job yet, and the competition should only make the line better. Last season’s group paved the way for 265 yards rushing per game at 5.3 yards per carry, and allowed a mere 17 sacks.



At first glance, the defense looks to be in trouble with some key starters gone amongst the five who graduated. The biggest concern is probably at linebacker, where Jake Fischer and Marquis Flowers were long-time starters, but have graduated. However, Scooby Wright had a fine freshman season, making 9 of his 83 tackles in opponents’ backfields and picking off a pass. He will take over Fischer’s spot in the middle. For now, Wright is the only shoe-in, with a fierce training camp competition for the other two spots. There are options abound, but the new starters could very well come from this year’s recruiting class, with JUCO Antonio Smothers on campus and four-star true freshmen Jamardre Cobb and Marquis Ware arriving in the summer.

Only one third of last season’s starting defensive line is returning, defensive end Reggie Gilbert, who had 34 tackles, 7 for loss and 4 sacks. He’ll be expected to provide a leadership role in the absence of Sione Tuihalamaka, who has graduated. LSU-transfer Jordan Allen is expected to start opposite him, but don’t write off JUCO Jerod Cody. Nose tackle could be a concern with no one blowing away the coaching staff in the spring. Dwight Melvin looks to be the top contender so far, but he’s on the small side for the position. JUCO and former-Boise State player Jeff Worthy could be the answer.

The secondary looks to be in the best shape, with only corner Shaquille Richardson gone. Sophomore Devin Holiday has the edge so far in replacing Richardson, but he lacks experience. The rest of the unit is set, with ‘Bandit’ safety Jared Tevis leading the way. The safeties are the star of the show – ‘Spur’ Tra’Mayne Bondurant led the team in interceptions with 4, while Jourdon Grandon made 73 tackles, broke up 6 passes and picked off another 2.

Special Teams

Kicker Jake Smith, who hit 12 of 19 field goals last season, will need to be replaced. If senior Casey Skowron can’t hold down the job, the Wildcats will need to play a freshman, although neither Smith nor Skowron could claim much experience. Punter Drew Riggleman was inconsistent in 2013, but will get a chance again this season. Johnny Jackson was okay as a punt returner, but no one stood out returning kicks. Both coverage units were excellent. The continual influx of speed and talent should benefit the unit overall.


Entering his third year at the helm, Rodriguez is finally starting to get his recruits dominating the depth chart. While he isn’t quite there yet, the Wildcats definitely look more like a RichRod team (hopefully not Michigan). Are they ready to compete for the conference title this year? Unlikely, as the PAC 12 is very strong this year, and Arizona has big questions at quarterback and maybe running back – key positions both. However, the wide receiver and linebacker units are among the deepest in the conference, and the offensive line is rock solid. Another 8-win season wouldn’t be a surprise.


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