Since the Cowboys will be taking on the Wildcats of Arizona in the Alamo Bowl in a few weeks, we figured it might be a good idea to get to know something about them. And the place to go for Arizona information is the SB Nation site Arizona Desert Swarm who was kind enough to have uofafanataic give us a little breakdown of the Wildcats. I also wrote up a recap of the Oklahoma State season that they have up. I'm sure I left plenty out so feel free to go over there and add to the recap in the comments.
Arizona Wildcats Season Recap
In the beginning, there was hope for the offense, and concern about the defense. Arizona's pre-season workouts and scrimmages all seemed to point to a frustratingly poor defense, with a particularly prominent weakness at linebacker. It was anticipated that the Wildcat offense would have to carry the defense all season long. The players to watch out for were Nick Foles, Nicolas Grigsby, Ricky Elmore, Brooks Reed, and Trevin Wade. Trevin Wade was expected to be the best player on the defense, and be a first or second round draft pick. Oops.
The first two games, against Toledo and The Citadel, went very well. Both the offense and the defense performed at a high level. The quality of the opponents, however, led many to dismiss the accomplishments, and point to the Iowa game as the point when it would all fall apart. Things didn't quite work out that way.
Arizona was more than capable in defeating Iowa 27-34. The score was somewhat distorted by a rash of questionable, and in some cases entirely bogus, pass interference penalties. After the victory over Iowa, and the great performance of both the offense and the defense, expectations for the season were suddenly sky-high. Arizona fans began to feel a bit cocky.
A last-minute drive won the game against Cal, and should have been the wake up call Arizona needed to re-focus and regain that underdog mentality. It wasn't. Arizona lost to Oregon St., despite the Beavers losing their top receiving threat in the first half. Head scratches all around on this game. Poor defensive schemes, and the unwillingness to adjust at the half buried the Wildcats in this one. Beaver QB Ryan Katz played like a video game QB, completing deep passes as he was being dragged to the ground. All eyes turned to the contest at Washington St. as a chance to make any adjustments necessary. Any cockiness, however, was long gone.
The Washington St. game was notable for several reasons, but most notable was the injury to QB Nick Foles. After a Cougar player rolled onto his knee, Foles was distressed to see that his knee cap was now on the side of his leg. Not good. Foles was out for the game, and ultimately for two more. Enter Matt Scott. Dismissed by many, including myself, as nothing more than a running QB that posed no passing threat, Scott shined against the Cougars. In fact, Scott would lead the Wildcats to victory against Washington and UCLA before Foles would return.
When Foles did return, a small group of fans were calling for him to stay on the bench, and for Scott to be the unquestioned starter. Now that he had so vastly improved his passing game, Scott was a true dual-threat QB. Even the media openly asked coach Stoops if he'd start Scott over a healthy Foles. However, coach Stoops wasn't hearing it. Foles is his starter as long as he's healthy.
The next three games didn't help his position on that one. The group of Arizona fans calling for Matt Scott to start grew, as Foles was unable to direct wins against Stanford, Oregon, or USC. Complicating things further, was the horrendous play of CB Trevin Wade. Not only was Wade being flat out shown up by a freshman, Shaquille Richardson, but on several plays he fell over on his own and left receivers wide open. Those losses were painful, but nothing compared to the loss against Arizona State.
That was the worst game of Arizona football I've seen in the past few years. Horrible. The kicking staff looked like a high school squad, the defense dropped numerous interceptions, and the offensive play calling was far too conservative. Arizona could have won the game in regulation, despite the horrible game, but K Alex Zendejas missed a crucial PAT. Arizona lost the game in double overtime, as a result of a second missed PAT by Zendejas.
That loss will burn for quite a while. I'm optimistic that the coaching staff will use that loss to motivate the team to play at a high level against Oklahoma State, but I've said that before this season.
The overall breakdown of Arizona is as follows.
Arizona's offense is above average to great, depending on the night. I prefer QB Matt Scott at this point, but Nick Foles is certain to start. This is not to say that Foles is unable to win. Far from it, he's a pro prospect that is super accurate and will pick apart any defense that isn't prepared for him. The fact that I prefer Scott is more of a statement of my high regard for his abilities, not a knock on Foles.
Juron Criner is Arizona's top receiver and the best in the Pac-10, period. He's big, and has the freakish ability to make tough catches while contorting his body and taking a hit.
RB Keola Antolin has incredible speed, and while he's built like a scat-back, he runs like a fullback. He'll run over you and through the middle of the line if he has to. A major passing threat, he'll likely be targeted frequently (some Arizona fans would say too frequently...) underneath.
Depending on the night, the defense is either one of the best you'll see, or completely unable to stop the pass. Some of it is the scheme, some of it is the poor DB play.
The defensive line is amazing. Easily a top-10 unit nationally. Defensive ends Ricky Elmore, Brooks Reed and D'Aundre Reed will be a major problem for Oklahoma State. Also watch for defensive tackle Justin Washington, he's a beast, and should clog the middle of the line nicely.
The linebackers are very good. These guys are all over the place, and I'd like to see them more involved in blitzes. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see Stoops and Co. work some more blitzes into the system for the bowl game. A lack of experience could show itself from time to time, but this is a solid unit.
The secondary is a concern. Considered a strength heading into the season, the defensive backs have been inconsistent and just plain bad in stretches. This is an area that demands improvement if the Wildcats hope to win the Alamo Bowl.
The kickers are horrendous. Not sure what to say here, other than this will be a glaring weakness. Short of coach Stoops finding a new kicker on the soccer team, this may lead to Arizona going for it on 4th downs. Also, don't be offended if Arizona goes for 2 instead of kicking the PAT. It's not personal, they simply have no reason to trust that the kicker can make the PAT.
Despite all of the negativity, I still like Arizona's chances in the Alamo Bowl. When the offense and defense are firing on all cylinders, this team is amazing. It all depends on what version of the Arizona Wildcats shows up in San Antonio.