Sunday, February 7, 2016

2015 Look Back/2016 Look Ahead: Arizona Wildcats

Arizona Wildcats
2015 Record: 7-6 (3-6 PAC-12 South)
Bowl: New Mexico Bowl, Defeated New Mexico 45-37

What Went Right: We will start with that, because the 2015 season went wrong in many different ways for the Wildcats. Offensively, the Cats still managed to score plenty by averaging 37.4 points per game. Anu Solomon, while not being entirely himself, still managed to pass for 2667 yards and 20 TDs, while limiting himself to just 5 INTs on the year. He missed time because of a head injury, and sometimes looked like that was still affecting him later in the year. He still compiled 242.5 yards per game in what can still be considered an off season for him. While nobody in the receiving corps had a fantastic season, the top four receivers had good years in Cayleb Jones, Johnny Jackson, Nate Phillips, and David Richards, as they combined for 20 TD receptions as a group. Phillips was especially effective on punt returns, where he averaged 17.29 yards per return on the season. Tyrell Johnson is also a developing star in the kick return game, averaging over 25 yards per return. Drew Riggleman closed out his career as perhaps the best punter in Arizona history, averaging over 45 yards per punt. Casey Skowron was also good on 18/22 FGs to give the Wildcats one of  the better kicking tandems in the league.
Will Parks finished with 7 pass breakups on the season, and that's where the good news on defense starts and ends.
What Went Wrong: The defense imploded in 2015, and what should have been one of the better teams in Arizona history on paper became a complete disaster in a real hurry, starting with a shocking 42-32 narrow win over a bottoming out UTSA club to start the season. UA gave up just over 35 points per game and gave up 30 or more points 8 times during the season, including giving up over 40 three times, and they even surrendered 37 points to New Mexico in the bowl win. Scooby Wright was hurt early on, and when he returned he was dreadfully out of shape, and even resembled some guy who ate Scooby Wright at some points. He was miserably out of shape, and when he returned early against UCLA, he just looked like a shell of himself. Arizona gave up 300 1st downs, allowed 28 TD passes, gave up 30 rushing scores, and allowed over 6000 yards of offense. The also allowed 10/18 conversions on 4th downs. and opposing teams had a 93.1% success rate in red zone scoring against them. The defense lacked play makers, and it was completely obvious on defense.
Offensively, what has always been a potent run game failed to secure a 1000 yard rusher, or even anything resembling one, which really put too much pressure on Solomon when he wasn't at his best.
Stars: QB Anu Solomon, WR Cayleb Jones, WR/PR Cayleb Jones, P Drew Riggleman, PK Casey Skowron
Best Win: Utah, 37-30
Worst Loss: Washington, 49-3
Look Ahead: Solomon is back at QB, and he should be better as a junior in 2016. Jared Baker is gone at RB, and Nick Wilson should step up to replace him next fall after playing in just 9 games in 2015. Cayleb Jones should return, as should Nate Phillips and Samajie Grant, but Dave Richards and Johnny Jackson depart. Trey Griffey and Tyrell Johnson both return, but combined for just 16 receptions. They will need more production to give the corps some depth.
Reggie Gilbert is gone on the D line, and so Jack Banda and Sani Fuimanoa are the most experienced linemen returning on defense. Luca Bruno should join them, but there is little depth to mention up front. Scooby Wright is gone after a horrible season, and that may be a huge mistake on his part. Deandre Miller is back, however, and is in line for a big season in 2016. Jake Matthews also returns at LB, but after him, it's a huge gap in experience and productivity. The secondary should be loaded with potential talent in Paul Magliore, Jr., DaVonte Neal, Tellas Jones, Cam Denson, and Jarvis McCall, Jr. Again, if injuries should occur, depth may be a problem.
Both kickers need to be replaced as well, and replacing Riggleman may be a huge issue.
The non-con schedule does provide the Wildcats a break, as Arizona gets BYU in Glendale, and they also play Grambling and Hawaii.
Rich Rodriguez played Arizona for a contract extension after he flirted hard with South Carolina during the winter, and that may have been a mistake for Arizona to play into that. Rodriguez has made Arizona viable to a point, but they may be back peddling into some dark times ahead, and Rodriguez getting an extension after what was largely a train wreck of a season may prove to be a bane in the end.
Projection: 6-6, minor bowl

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