Q&A with Arizona Desert Storm
With UTSA traveling to Tucson this week to face Rich Rodriguez’s Wildcats, we were able to link up with Kevin Zimmerman of SB Nation’s Arizona Desert Storm to exchange a few questions. Be sure to catch the game on the PAC12 Network this Saturday. If you don’t have the channel or would like to watch while enjoying the camaraderie of other Roadrunners, Rowdytalk.com is hosting a watch party at The Block— UTSA’s newest bar/food truck park located right off campus. If you listened to last week’s podcast then you know I’m a big fan of the laid back establishment. Thanks again to Kevin for taking time out of his schedule to set up this Q&A. You can read my half of the exchange here.
1.) How much concern is there for Arizona’s passing offense? Through two games against low-level opposition senior QB BJ Denker is averaging just 84 yards through the air at a 50% completion rate.
Quite a bit, actually. A lot of fans are panicking and the coaching staff is even being pretty open about how changes need to be made. That said, it’s hard to say if they are even thinking about removing Denker. Part of it is that he’s not passing nearly as much as we were accustomed to last year simply because they’ve been happy to keep it on the ground so far. But if you think UTSA has a run defense better than NAU and UNLV — that’s entirely possible — then there could be a lot of optimism.
Point is, we don’t know if the Wildcats can throw it if they’re forced to do so. From what we’re seen, Denker’s accuracy is pretty bad once he needs to chuck it 10 or more yards. Again, it’s a matter of if and when he’s forced to get out of his comfort zone.
2.) What makes Ka’Deem Carey and the rest of Rich Rodriguez’s rushing attack click? I noticed a lot of zone blocking during the UNLV game and was wondering if that’s the norm for UA.
It is the norm for them and really it’s just about having a well-coached offensive line that, aside from a new group of centers, goes two-deep of guys who played last year. We haven’t really seen anything fancy this year as far as a lot of motion from wide receiver and that sort of thing, so I really think it’s just been the O-line playing well and against bad competition.
Of course, the zone read stuff helps. Four of the touchdowns this year have been scored by a quarterback, and if there’s any reason to like Denker, it’s his ability to pull the ball and take off. And yeah, Carey is just really good. He’s pretty fast, strong as a bull and most importantly has great instincts that get him a couple extra yards on every play. Rich Rodriguez likes to describe him as an angry runner. Expect the Wildcats to run some two-back sets with Carey and backup Daniel Jenkins.
3.) Experience is definitely an asset for Arizona this season but the defense does start a true freshman in Scooby Wright at Strongside LB. How has Wright played so far this season?
He’s arguably been one of the three best defensive players through two games. Wright seems to have really good instincts and also has a good deal of size for a freshman. In the past two weeks, he’s earned Rodriguez’s “Hard Edge Player of the Week Award” which also includes practice production. So yeah, he’s been a positive surprise for Wildcat fans.
Wright and spur safety Tra’Mayne Bondurant are probably the two defensive players to watch. Bondurant has three picks and two defensive touchdowns already this year.
4.) Arizona utilizes a specialty defense aimed at curtailing the pass. Could you explain the SWAT defense for UTSA fans as far as personnel and schematics are concerned?
Arizona uses a 3-3-5 attack that can give up a lot of yards but also was very effective last season in tight games. The Wildcats have a lot of returners outside of Wright and much more depth this season, and so far that’s turned in very good results. The 3-3-5 is set up with three traditional linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs. Two of those defensive backs, the spur and bandit positions, are sort of rovers alongside two corners and a free safety.
Bondurant plays the spur position, and you’ll often see him line up close to the line of scrimmage. He’s used in blitz packages a lot but even on non-blitz plays is close enough to blow up a lot of screen passes and make tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Essentially, the gist of the 3-3-5 is that UTSA’s offense will simply need to identify who’s playing where in relation to a traditional defense. It can get confusing if the Wildcats start doing any complex blitzes, which I wouldn’t expect to see unless it’s a close game in the second half.
5.) For those familiar with Rich Rodriguez’s offense showcased at West Virginia and Michigan, what new wrinkles has he implemented at Arizona?
Again, it’s been very vanilla so far this year, but I think it’ll look plenty similar to those old offenses (although, I don’t remember if he used two-back sets often back then). Last year, we were certainly surprised that the Wildcats were such a pass-heavy team. With a very capable dual-threat quarterback in Matt Scott, RichRod proved he could adapt to a passing attack. This year with Denker, it’s back to run, run, run. If UTSA gives Arizona a game, I think we might begin to see some new wrinkles for an offense that, as prolific as it might be, is limited. Or Arizona fans will finally get to see if Denker can make plays through the air