Here are three things to watch in the Arizona Wildcats’ game vs. UTEP at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas (Friday, 7:15 p.m., ESPN), plus a score prediction and some pertinent preview links:
1. PASS OR FAIL?
I know, I know. The passing game hasn’t been good enough. You want change. I understand. Well, you’re going to get a full dose of Brandon Dawkins for at least one more week. I thoroughly examined the state of his game and his mind in the first story linked below. If he doesn’t show tangible improvement soon, a change could be forthcoming; Arizona has a bye after the Pac-12 opener against Utah next week. In the meantime, Dawkins needs to build confidence in the entire passing-game group by executing what co-offensive coordinator Calvin Magee termed “the simple plays.” Dawkins needs help from his friends, too. Shun Brown has to maintain his concentration in traffic. Shawn Poindexter has to win on jump balls. If the game is as lopsided as the stats and spread (23 points!) suggest, one wonders who the second quarterback will be. Khalil Tate played last week but didn’t look right. Don’t be surprised if Rhett Rodriguez gets extended run in the second half.
2. TAYLOR AND … TILFORD?
Senior tailback Nick Wilson (ankle) again is listed as questionable. He went through warmups last week, so it’s probably better than 50/50 that he plays. But given the opponent and the looming Utah game, it might be no higher than 51/49. Regardless of whether Wilson plays, expect to see plenty of J.J. Taylor … and possibly Nathan Tilford. Magee hinted at an expanded role for Tilford, who basically hasn’t had one through two games. If both Wilson and Taylor are healthy, it’s hard to find touches for a third back. But if one or the other is dinged, Tilford ought to be the next man up. So far Zach Green has served that role. He has done an adequate job and broke off long TD runs against Arizona State and Northern Arizona. When the holes weren’t as wide against Houston, Green gained only 15 yards on five carries. He’s a reliable, high-floor/low-ceiling veteran. Tilford might be much more. The big, talented freshman needs to get a good, long look sooner than later.
You want more freshmen? Of course you do! We already have seen glimpses of defensive tackle Kurtis Brown; we could see a lot more of him if senior starter Parker Zellers (ankle; questionable) doesn’t play. Brown flashed the instincts we’ve been hearing about when he turned a shovel pass to Houston’s John Leday into a tackle for loss. We have yet to see linebacker JB Brown, but that could be changing. Brian Knorr, who coaches the defensive ends and “Studs,” said Brown (no relation to Kurtis) has been getting meaningful practice reps and could make his debut at UTEP. Brown came in as an inside linebacker, but he obviously has shown the coaches something as a pass rusher. More is needed from the edges. “The biggest thing is production,” Knorr said. “We’ve got to be able to get sacks and hurries. We didn’t hit the quarterback enough (against Houston). We’ve got to have a presence.” They haven’t aside from freshman Kylan Wilborn (two TFLs, one sack, one forced fumble).
FINAL SCORE: Arizona 38, UTEP 20