Arizona football is finally back. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, it took three quarters for their offense to realize the season had actually started. Arizona tripped all over itself on its way to scoring three points through three quarters Saturday night, before finally getting some momentum going and nearly stealing a victory late in the fourth quarter. Before losing to BYU on a last-second field goal, Arizona’s performance left room for plenty of questions moving forward. What can Arizona expect from its quarterback position? Is the offensive line going to be a problem this season? Can Arizona’s undersized defensive line withstand a long, grueling conference schedule?
Anu Solomon struggled overall against BYU, throwing two costly interceptions (including one on a two-point conversion attempt with a little over a minute remaining that would have put Arizona up by 3) and making multiple poor positions that had huge field position consequences. In taking double-digit yard sacks that knocked Arizona out of field goal range, the Wildcats left points on the board, pure and simple. Coach Rodriguez has since said that he has 100% faith in Solomon, while also noting that he wants to get backup Brandon Dawkins, who was in a battle for the starting quarterback spot throughout fall camp, into the next game for a few series. The fact that there was a battle for the starting spot and that Arizona is planning to get Dawkins some playing time in the next game shows that the quarterback battle may not be over just yet. The weekly depth chart release suddenly got much more interesting for the Cats.
In a loss where the quarterback was constantly under pressure (pressure that Solomon seemingly did not respond especially well to), the offensive line labored through a tough matchup against a solid BYU defense. Before anything is said that the o-line could be an issue this year, it must be noted that the unit was playing in its first game after the recent death of starting center Zach Hemmila. How the offensive line performed in such a strenuous and difficult situation is hardly a measuring stick for the rest of the season to come. So long as the unit continues to put forth the effort and continues to mold together, there doesn’t appear to be a reason it can’t be a point of strength for the Arizona offense.
If the offense left much to be desired in week 1, the Arizona defense was a near revelation. The young secondary, besides notably missing a few tackles, showed impressive coverage skills while flying around the field. The defensive line, significantly undersized compared to any other Power 5 d-line unit, held up well. Arizona, with its up-tempo offense, rarely wins the time of possession battle, so its defense faces a lot of plays. Even after giving up over 200 yards rushing (on 47 carries), the defense was what kept the team in the game, allowing for the near fourth quarter comeback. Moving forward, the biggest thing for the defensive line will be generating some semblance of depth to offset any potential injuries as well as the general play count discrepancy they will face.
As Arizona closes out its non-conference slate against two teams it is heavily favored against, getting the kinks figured out offensively will be the number one focus. The conference schedule contains no lightweights. If the Wildcats want to contend for a South Division title, they will need to be clicking in all facets before a tough Washington team comes to Tucson in late September.