Daniel Berk covers Arizona football for the Arizona Daily Star and knows the team as well as anyone. The Deseret News asked Berk five questions to gain better insight into Utah's opponent this Saturday.
1. Arizona has lost two straight road games to Pac-12 opponents. What's the state of the team currently and how important is this game against Utah?
Coach Rich Rodriguez and a couple of the players said (Tuesday's) practice was the best Tuesday practice of the year and the mood around the team is "hungry." They're definitely not a group that's down on themselves and reeling after a couple of losses. I think most reasonable people had UA at 3-2 after five weeks and that's exactly how it's worked out.
The next three games on the schedule are huge for Arizona and it starts this weekend with Utah. After the Utes, Arizona goes on the road for back-to-back games at Colorado and Cal. It's a stretch in the schedule where Arizona needs to go at least 2-1 to think about going to a bowl game. Rodriguez is hopeful his team will be energized coming back home after not having a home game since Sept. 14 and will play well against Utah.
2. Talk about Arizona on offense. What type of offense does it run and who are the primary playmakers?
Arizona runs the up-tempo, spread, zone-read offense that Rodriguez has been running since the '90s. He was the first coach to bring it to Division I football in the late '90s at Tulane and it hasn't changed much in that time.
The No. 1 playmaker is running back Ka'Deem Carey. He was a consensus All-American last year and had 206 yards against Utah. He looks to be a little stronger and quicker this season and has picked up right where he left off after serving a one-game suspension in the opener for a couple of offseason run-ins. Sophomore wide receiver David Richards just returned to the team two games ago after breaking his foot twice in the offseason and caught a touchdown at USC. I expect him to emerge as B.J. Denker's favorite target moving forward. True freshman Nate Phillips is also a playmaker out of the slot.
3. Same question on defense. What type of defense do the Wildcats run and who are the primary playmakers?
Arizona runs a 3-3-5 "odd-stack" defense. Coordinator Jeff Casteel has been with Rodriguez since his West Virginia days and that's always the defense the two have run.
One of the UA's biggest issues is it doesn't have a ton of playmakers on defense. Safety Tra'Mayne Bondurant is a good player and got off to a great start this season, but has been very quiet the past two games. Defenses seem to be going away from him because he's one of the only true playmakers the Wildcats have. Senior middle linebacker Jake Fischer is a really good player and plays through injuries, but is not a playmaker per se. Outside linebacker Marquis Flowers is also a solid player who can make some plays from time to time.
4. How does Arizona view Utah after its impressive win against Stanford? How does Arizona matchup with the Utes?
Arizona is obviously very impressed with Utah after the win over Stanford. I think Rodriguez would still be impressed with that team even if it hadn't beaten Stanford. He's a big fan of Travis Wilson and has complimented Utah's big, physical front a lot earlier this week. The coach wishes he had some experience like Utah's with how many older guys the Utes have on their roster. Matchup-wise, Arizona is not huge up front, so Utah's size will definitely be an issue for the UA.
5. What do the Wildcats need to do to come away with a victory against the Utes?
UA needs to continue to improve in the passing game. Even though a lot of their yards against USC came when they were already trailing, the Wildcats — for the first time this season — showed they can move the ball through the air. If that wasn't just a come-from-behind-type thing and Arizona has really made some strides there, it's a huge development for this team. If Denker can get going early and get in a groove, it will be really good for Rodriguez's group.
Defensively, the unit has to limit Wilson in the passing game and have a better game in the secondary than it did at USC. Cody Kessler and Nelson Agholor were able to pick apart that back five and it caused huge problems. That group needs to be better this week for Arizona to have a good shot at a win.
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