Front the first snap to the last, Rich Rodriguez' first season in Tucson was extremely entertaining if nothing else. He took a team that won four games and was primarily a passing offense and turned it into a bowl-winning squad built around his patented zone-read spread option attack. With all 11 starters returning on defense and a Heisman Trophy-contending tailback returning on offense, expectations in the desert should be much higher in season two under RichRod — even without a proven commodity at quarterback.
Arizona Wildcats 2013 Spring Preview
2012 Record: 8-5 (4-5)
Spring practice dates: March 2-April 13
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 11
Passing: B.J. Denker, 25-of-37, 259 yds., 3 TDs, 1 INT
Rushing: Ka'Deem Carey, 303 car., 1,929 yds., 23 TDs
Receiving: Austin Hill, 81 rec., 1,364 yds, 11 TDs
Tackles: Jake Fischer, 119
Sacks: Marquis Flowers, 5.5
Interceptions: Marquis Flowers, 3
Redshirts to watch: DE Kyle Kelley, WR Trey Griffey, DL Dwight Melvin, WR Jarrell Bennett, OL Zach Hemmila, OC Beau Boyster, QB Javelle Allen
JUCO Transfers to Watch: QB Jesse Scroggins (JC), OL Steven Gurrola (JC)
Aug. 31 Northern Arizona
Sept. 7 at UNLV
Sept. 14 UTSA
Sept. 21 Bye Week
Sept. 28 at Washington
Oct. 5 Bye Week
Oct. 12 at USC
Oct. 19 Utah
Oct. 26 at Colorado
Nov. 2 at Cal
Nov. 9 UCLA
Nov. 16 Washington State
Nov. 23 Oregon
Nov. 30 at Arizona State
Offensive Strength: The running game. The best player on the team may be the best running back in the nation. Ka'Deem Carey returns with Heisman aspirations and three starting offensive lineman to block for him.
Offensive Weakness: Under center. Matt Scott redshirted as a junior and it could not have worked out better in his one season as the starter. He led the Pac-12 in total offense last year, and now, RichRod has to fill a gap that produced 343.8 yards per game.
Defensive Strength: Depth and experience. The linebacking corps is the most talented area of the defense, but the top 15 tacklers, including all 11 starters, are back on defense. Needless to say, this doesn't happen too often in college football.
Defensive Weakness: Overall production. The bodies are there. The experience and depth is there. But the numbers were not. This unit ranked 118th in total defense and 102nd in scoring defense last year. Yes, the Pac-12 has great offenses, but this side of the ball has to be more productive.
Spring Storylines Facing the Wildcats
1. Evaluate your quarterbacks. RichRod's top goal in the spring is to figure out what type of players he has under center. True freshman Anu Solomon isn't getting to campus until summer and USC transfer Jesse Scroggins is dealing with a foot issue that will limit his participation this spring. Leading the offense this spring then falls to senior B.J. Denker, redshirt freshman Javelle Allen and sophomore Louisiana Tech transfer Nick Isham. Isham has the most on-field experience and Denker saw the field last fall for Arizona. Organizing the pecking order at QB will be key for Arizona this spring.
2. Get Ka'Deem Carey focused. Despite multiple incidents in the offseason, Carey is a go for spring ball. His pretrial hearing for misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct charges stemming from a December incident involving his pregnant ex-girlfriend has been pushed back to March 20. Carey also was kicked out of a Wildcats basketball game on Jan. 24 following a verbal altercation with a police officer. Carey needs to learn that no one is bigger than the game and even rushing for 2,000 yards doesn't mean he can get away with stupid, inappropriate conduct. The offensive line returns three starters and the running game could be one of the nation's best — if Carey can become a leader instead of a liability.
3. Overcoming injuries. Like many teams this spring, the Wildcats are dealing with numerous injuries and will be without many key performers in practice. Star linebacker Marquis Flowers (shoulder), starting cornerbacks Shaquille Richardson (shoulder) and Jonathan McKnight (shoulder) and nose tackle Dan Pettinato (knee) will be missed on defense. But so will key reserves C.J. Dozier (shoulder) and Kirifi Taula (shoulder). Supporting cast players on offense like wide receivers David Richards (foot) and Trevor Ermisch (hernia) also will be sitting out this spring. This is a great opportunity to get some young talent on the field and develop the depth chart.
4. Improve fundamentals on defense. Considering all of the shoulder injuries on defense, maybe form tackling will be an area of focus during spring practice? In fact, all fundamentals will need some work on this side of the ball. This team returned just four starters a year ago and faced the best offenses in the nation out West, so excuses can be made to try to explain the horrific defensive statistics from the 2012 campaign. With so much talent returning with a full season or more of experience, there won't be nearly as many excuses this time around. So fine-tuning their overall defensive prowess should be the focus this spring.
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