Arizona football: QB emerges from battle, defense left puzzled

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Alex McIntyre

Arizona linebacker DeAndre’ Miller (32) dives to tackle Hawai’i quarterback Dru Brown (19) against Hawai’i at Arizona Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016. The Wildcats won the game 47-28.

Saul Bookman

Arizona football improved to 2-1 on the season following the Wildcats’ Saturday night victory over Hawaii, 47-28, at Arizona Stadium. Prior to moving into conference play this week, we take a look at some keys for the team as well as storylines that have emerged in the opening weeks of the 2016-17 season.

Brandon Dawkins vs. Anu Solomon

After three games and one big injury to Anu Solomon’s knee, the starting quarterback position is still up in the air. But Brandon Dawkins is making his case loud and clear.  

Dawkins replaced Solomon in Week 2 after the starter injured his knee mid-week in practice. Dawkins struggled early on against Grambling State but seemed to get his footing in the second half. 

The experience of playing his first game as a starter seemed to settle his nerves going into the Hawaii game, and Dawkins was solid against the Rainbow Warriors. 

He brings an element Solomon simply doesn’t: the ability to run. Dawkins ran 15 times for 118 yards and three scores—some designed, some reads and some off of scrambles after play breakdowns. That option in the Pac-12 Conference is vital for success, especially with the Wildcats’ defensive question marks.

Keeping Dawkins in at QB would seem to be the best option. Solomon isn’t such a great passer that it warrants taking the element of a Dawkins run out of the game. Dawkins’ accuracy, something that was unsettling against Grambling State, was much improved against Hawaii.

Defensive puzzle

Defensive coordinator Marcel Yates  has his work cut out for him. The defensive line is undersized, which is a big obstacle for the schemes that Yates wants to implement. Every team in the immediate future on Arizona’s upcoming schedule—Washington, UCLA, Utah and USC—will pound the ball until they get stopped. Arizona will struggle without stunts and blitzing linebackers helping against the run.

The Wildcats’ secondary is a work in progress. They have potential, but the realization of that potential may come too late. Communication and soft coverage have plagued the defensive backs thus far, and though they tightened their play against Hawaii, the Rainbow Warriors don’t have the likes of USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster or Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey.

Arizona’s defensive bright spot is that team seems more aggressive in general. There has been a noticeable difference in guys attacking the ball and overall punishment on ball carriers this season. The defense is trending up, but it remains to be seen if that trend halts within the conference’s blood bath of a schedule.

Focusing on football

Arizona players would probably tell you this season has not been easy due to all the change that has come about—some expected, some not. 

The death of offensive lineman Zach Hemmila was a blow to everyone within the program, and his impact continues to be missed. Hemmila was slotted to be the starting center and his loss shifted the offensive line into realignment rather quickly. 

The additions of new coaches in the offseason were changes the defense knew about coming into the year, but it doesn’t mean the adjustments have been any easier. 

The other major distraction has been the arrest and dismissal of sophomore running back Orlando Bradford. 

It’s hard to believe another team has had to deal with more than the Wildcats in such a small amount of time. This is not even including the injuries to certain players which have shifted roles on the team.

To their credit, there hasn’t been a player or coach yet to complain about any of the distractions, or make excuses. 

Next up for the Wildcats is No. 9 Washington on Saturday night at Arizona Stadium. 


Follow Saul Bookman on Twitter.