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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Arizona offensive line struggles against UTSA

Arizona squeaked out a win over UTSA 42-32, but there were many question marks hovering over the offense Thursday night.

It was the Wildcats’ first game of the season and they were shaking off cobwebs and adjusting to new faces. Granted, Anu Solomon, Nick Wilson and the receiving cast will be leading the offense this season, but the biggest worry for the Wildcats falls within the trenches.

The very first play on offense against UTSA might have been the worst start the offensive line could have drawn up. Solomon was in shotgun, took the snap and before he could even think about his open receivers, the pocket collapsed on him.

In just a matter of a breath, Solomon was brought to the ground and sacked for a loss. Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez had the disappointing facial expression as if athletic director Greg Byrne had taken his lunch money.

There’s an issue, an extremely large issue at that, and it’s only the first week.

Many can say defense wins championships, but let’s be real, the offense is what fills Arizona Stadium and a productive offensive line will take any team to that point of excellence.

Just look at Arizona’s line last season. Steven Gurrola, Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele were the three anchors for the offensive line, now this year’s leadership role is still up for grabs.

Cayman Bundage was shifted from left guard to center due to Carter Wood suffering a career-ending injury, which opened up a competition between T.D. Gross and Zach Hemmila.

It was uncertain how the offensive line would shape up with the addition of Freddie Tagaloa. Thursday night proved that the big boys up front couldn’t handle the national stage just yet. Tagaloa was out with a knee injury suffered earlier this week in practice.

As an offensive lineman, there aren’t any stand-out statistics to go along with the job, but there are statistics between the statistics.

If there was a stat for pancake blocks, it might have been UTSA’s defensive line that was forcing the Wildcats to take a comfortable seat on the turf.

Winning the battle of the trenches opens up the offense and allows Solomon to sit pretty in the pocket for a few extra seconds and it allows running backs Nick Wilson and Jared Baker to read the defense.

Wilson rushed for 97 yards, but as much as Baker played, he only had 35 yards. Arizona was in the red zone during every offensive touchdown they had; however, none of them were rushing touchdowns.

The Wildcats are going to have to do some soul searching up front and they should search quickly because Arizona doesn’t have any bye weeks to rely on this season.

Just like any football team at any level, there must be protection. The offensive line is the insurance of the quarterback. It’s only the first game, but what’s going to happen when the Wildcats have to go toe-to-toe with defensive linemen from USC, UCLA and Stanford?

If UTSA’s defense had a field day with the Wildcats, then it’s unimaginable what the almighty Pac-12 South will do.

Follow Justin Spears on Twitter.

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