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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

With injuries at running back the Wildcats passing attack must improve quickly

Arizona+receiver+Shun+Brown+%286%29+runs+against+Hawaii+at+Arizona+Stadium+on+Saturday%2C+Sept.+17%2C+2016.+The+Wildcats+prevailed+over+the+Rainbow+Warriors+47-28.
Alex McIntyre
Arizona receiver Shun Brown (6) runs against Hawai’i at Arizona Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016. The Wildcats prevailed over the Rainbow Warriors 47-28.

When quarterback Anu Solomon was at the helm, the Arizona offense had been a passing team– but times have changed.

As the running back position continues to be depleted by injuries, more pressure is being applied to quarterback Brandon Dawkins and the passing game.

His running numbers are staggering. He has 391 yards and seven touchdowns in three starts, but Arizona will need more from him through the air; he only has three passing touchdowns, one in each start this season.

The running game has carried Arizona’s offense so far, as the team has run for 992 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging six yards a carry in four games.

However, with injuries to Nick Wilson and J.J. Taylor, the offense will continue to be impacted.

Receivers such as Samajie Grant and Tyrell Johnson may see time at the running back position as Arizona adjusts to the situation.

Running backs Zach Green and Branden Leon are Arizona’s only true running backs at the time, and one will need to step up in Wilson and Taylor’s absence.

While the running game has sizzled, the passing game has fizzled, save for a few big plays here and there.

One receiver whose stock has gone up since quarterback Brandon Dawkins became the starter is sophomore receiver Shun Brown. Over the past two games, he has caught 12 passes for 206 yards and one touchdown, and has really thrived with Dawkins under center.

However, no other receiver has had over 40 yards in the past two games. While Shun has shown out, the trio of Nate Phillips, Trey Griffey, and Samajie Grant have been silent this year.

Griffey has the trio’s lone touchdown of the year, while over half of Grant’s receiving total came on his 70-yarder against Grambling State.

Phillips started off the season well with Solomon under center, with seven catches for 69 yards, but has struggled since then. He had only two catches for five yards against Washington while also losing a fumble.

Cam Denson was another name said to be included in this year’s receiving corps, but he has only caught two passes for 19 yards this season.

Despite the lack of production from other receivers, head coach Rich Rodriguez is not concerned with how the touches are divvied up to the receivers.

“You have to throw to who is the most open, I do not worry about who it is,” said Coach Rodriguez. “I know it is not looking for this guy or that guy, it is just Shun has done a good job getting open and he has made a couple of plays,” he added.

Dawkins had only 167 passing yards in the loss to Washington, but this will not weigh on his mind too much this week.

“I am never worried about his confidence; he is the Snapchat, Instagram king,” said head coach Rich Rodriguez on Dawkins. “He competed well but he probably was not as sharp as the game before,” he added.

Arizona’s lack of numbers from the passing game is a two-part problem.

First, Arizona has changed the offense to feature more run options for Dawkins than for Solomon.

Second, the offense has not stayed on the field as long as in the past two years, so not as many plays are run.

In 2014, during Solomon’s healthy season, Arizona ran about 80 plays per game and balanced it with 40 passes and runs.

This year, Arizona’s passing the ball about 28 times a game compared to almost 40 runs, so while they still run the same amount, the offense is losing 12 passes.

With running backs Nick Wilson and J.J. Taylor currently injured, Arizona will have to rely more on the passing game in the future.

Teams will try to spy on Dawkins to eliminate his big-play ability on the ground, and he will have to find his receivers if Arizona wants to contend in the Pac-12 South.

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