In what is a de facto home game for the Wildcats Saturday night at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ, Arizona hosts the BYU Cougars to start their 2016 season. Rich Rodriguez, beginning his fourth season at the helm for Arizona, will be looking to get the year, seemingly accompanied with tempered expectations, off to a good non-conference start. With a new defensive coordinator, Marcel Yates, in the fold, no one is quite sure what to expect from this Arizona team. Facing off against a first time head coach, Kalani Sitake, in what is on paper Arizona’s toughest non-conference matchup, Arizona will be hoping to get its hurried offense clicking while trying to answer quite a few questions on defense.
Will Rich Rod’s offense pick up where it left off?: After back to back years with a top 20 offense, Arizona is looking to get their up-tempo offense revved back up as quickly as possible. Despite Rich Rod’s public sentiment that there is an open battle for the starting quarterback position, the widely held belief is that Anu Solomon is the starter. Perhaps the battle narrative is being used to motivate Anu, or maybe Rich Rod just wants Brandon Dawkins to be prepared in case Anu goes down with yet another injury. Regardless, the experienced Solomon will have a bevy of weapons at his disposal. Nick Wilson is back and healthy at the running back spot, with the more than capable Orlando Bradford backing him up. Even after losing several wide receivers to graduation, Arizona will boast one of the top wide receiving groups in the conference with Trey Griffey, Nate Phillips, and Samajie Grant leading the way. Against a defense that was mediocre against the run last year and just learned its best defensive lineman, Travis Tuiloma, will miss at least a month of the season, Arizona will look to run the ball at will while looking for explosive plays through the passing game.
How will UA’s new defense perform?: After the dumpster fire that was the Arizona defense last season, this season’s unit will have a different look. Injuries to the linebacker position, namely Scooby Wright III, certainly hurt the defense in 2015, but problems were abound (see: total defense ranking of 114 out of 128 teams). With Jeff Casteel out at defensive coordinator, former Boise State DC Marcel Yates was brought in. Yates has led defenses the past two seasons that were top 10 in turnovers forced, something the Wildcats have struggled with. Paul Magloire Jr, DaVonte’ Neal, and Demetrius Flanningan-Fowles will lead a defense looking to make its way back to respectability. Against dual-threat, 26 year old QB Taysom Hill, they will have their hands full.
Arizona, playing with heavy hearts after the loss of senior offensive lineman Zach Hemmila a few weeks ago, is primed to put forth a spirited effort Saturday night. Nothing will atone for the loss of a teammate/friend, but a good showing and a win this weekend, in honor of Zach, would be a great jumping-off point for this season and for mending such a deep wound. Arizona 37-28