We asked a few questions to expert David Potts from AZ Desert Swarm about this week’s game.
1. Brandon Dawkins leads the team in both passing and rushing. Is he your entire offense? Are there any other weapons Stanford should be aware of?
Not many! Arizona's backfield has been decimated by injuries this season: Nick Wilson is out, J.J. Taylor broke his ankle, and even Tyrell Johnson (who started the year at wide receiver) is now injured. Dawkins (assuming he gets the start over Anu Solomon) is clearly the most dangerous offensive weapon for the Wildcats.
That said, the receivers can be dangerous...if Dawkins can complete passes to them. Trey Griffey, Nate Phillips, and Samajie Grant are all dangerous in the open field, but the Wildcats have had some trouble getting those guys the ball. We'll see if the return of Dawkins (and of Solomon, who is the better passer anyway) has an impact there.
2. Arizona still is yet to win a conference game. Why have they been struggling so much this year?
Two reasons. First, the Wildcats don't have a ton of talent. The recruiting has been lagging for a few years now, and part of the reason Jeff Casteel and most of the rest of the defensive coaching staff was fired was because they weren't getting results on the recruiting trail. The best case scenario for this Arizona team was always going to be 7 or 8 wins, regardless of anything else.
The second reason - and the reason the Wildcats are probably going to miss a bowl game - is the injuries. In the backfield alone, the Wildcats lost their starting quarterback (Anu Solomon), the back-up (Brandon Dawkins), their starting running back (Nick Wilson), and their back-up running back (J.J. Taylor). Key members of the defense have been hurt for stretches this year as well - Cody Ippolito is out for the year with a torn ACL, De'Andre Miller was banged up, and Parker Zellers missed a couple of games. The injuries on offense, though, really pushed the Wildcats from a middling Pac-12 team to a bad Pac-12 team.
3. Arizona forced overtime versus Washington. What was the difference in that game?
I cannot explain what happened in that game. I thought it exposed the Huskies, but the next week they waxed Stanford, so I clearly don't know anything. It's important to note, though, that the Washington game was really the last game where Arizona had a "healthy" backfield. Nick Wilson was out, to be sure, but J.J. Taylor ran for 97 yards before breaking his ankle, and Brandon Dawkins was fully healthy and doing Brandon Dawkins things. The Wildcats managed to rack up 308 yards on the ground against a team that is usually pretty good against the run.
Once Taylor broke his ankle, the Wildcats fell apart a little. The remaining running backs were Zach Green (a solid back-up, to be sure, but not a guy who should carry the full load) and Tyrell Johnson (a converted wide receiver who weighs about 160 pounds). That drop-off after Taylor's injury really hurt Arizona's running game and therefore the entire offense.
4. Tell me about the Arizona defense. Do you think a struggling Stanford offense could put up points against them?
I think just about anyone could put points on the Arizona defense. To be fair, the defense has done well in stretches this year at keeping opponents out of the end zone. Early in games, in particular, the defense has been able to limit opposing offenses to field goals instead of touchdowns. The problem is that, as the game goes on, the defense has gotten weaker and weaker, letting teams catch-up and score quickly. Arizona were up 14-3 on Utah early (and led 14-12 at the half), but the defense couldn't get a stop in the second half and the Wildcats lost by 13. Arizona was only down 14-7 at the half against UCLA, but the defense gave up 31 points in the second half (including 21 in the fourth quarter alone) and lost by 21.
I expect that the Stanford offense will struggle in the first half while the Arizona defense is fresh. It's in the second half that I expect to see Stanford get comfortable and put some points on the board.
5. What’s your final prediction for Saturday’s game?
I really hesitate to say this, but I think Arizona pulls this one out. Dawkins being back is huge, and the Cardinal - though definitely more talented than the Wildcats - aren't built to take advantage of Arizona's weaknesses. I don't think Stanford will be able to slow down Dawkins on the ground, and the Stanford offense isn't good enough to totally dismantle the Arizona defense. I think Arizona wins a relatively close one 31-27.
6. Lastly, how excited is Arizona for basketball season?
Excited, especially given how poorly football season has gone, but worried. The fan base very high expectations for this team, especially because the Final Four will be in Phoenix, and the weight of those expectations makes Arizona fans nervous. It doesn't help that rumors are still swirling about whether Allonzo Trier will be eligible to play this season or whether he is on some sort of double-secret probation that can't be disclosed yet. Regardless, there is certainly more hope and excitement for basketball season than there is remaining for football season.