Arizona football: Unlikely stars, crucial breaks help Cats win

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Insanity, the saying goes, is doing the same thing over and over and hoping for different results.

The Arizona Wildcats believe they can squeeze five or six wins out of the second half of the 2012 season.

It's not crazy, necessarily.

The UA must improve in a handful of areas that have proven problematic through the first six weeks.

The good news, first-year coach Rich Rodriguez said, is that the early struggles were expected. Arizona (3-3 overall, 0-3 Pac-12) opens the second half of its season Saturday at home against Washington before games with USC, at UCLA, against Colorado, at Utah and versus Arizona State.

"It's not anything glaring, other than the obvious," Rodriguez said. "Most of the things we struggled with and had problems with were not surprising. … We knew coming in that, hey, 'If this happens and that happens, it's going to be kind of tough.'"

But all is not lost. Arizona will win more games if it improves in these three areas.

Yards per carry

The stat: Arizona's offensive players are averaging 4.67 yards per rush through six games. Starting running back Ka'Deem Carey leads the way with 670 yards on 126 carries, a 5.3-yards-per-tote average that's tops on the team.

Where it ranks: Fifth in the Pac-12 and 48th out of 120 FBS or Division I-A teams.

How to improve: Start by starting better. Arizona has been dreadful in the first quarter this season, scoring just 20 total points, and has been shut out in the first stanza by its three Pac-12 opponents.

The Wildcats are averaging just 3.16 yards per carry in the first quarter. That number jumps to 3.80 yards per carry in the second, 6.19 in the third and 5.24 in the fourth. Nine of their 14 rushing touchdowns have come in the second half.

He said it: "That's the RichRod offense. It just wears you down. In the second half, I can see defensive players putting their hands on their hips. Once I see that, I tell Matt (Scott): 'Let's go. Let's play football.' The stats show that we're wearing teams down in the second half." - Carey

Red zone defense

The stat: Arizona's opponents have scored on 22 of 24 red zone trips. The Wildcats have surrendered 18 touchdowns inside their own 20.

Where it ranks: Last in the Pac-12 and 108th nationally.

How to improve: The team can start by not letting opponents get that deep in its zone: Arizona's first six foes have converted on 43 percent (43 of 101) of their third-down conversions and 56 percent (5 of 9) of their fourth-down attempts.

He said it: "The past couple of games, there has been a few times when, literally, if one man would have done his job, it would have gone to fourth down, and (opponents) would have gotten a field goal out of it, or maybe we would have blocked a field goal. Especially in our last game … that can be the difference between winning and losing. We're really putting an emphasis on that going forward. We're going to try to hold up our end of the bargain." - Jake Fischer, linebacker


The stat: Arizona has registered six sacks in six games, a one-sack-per-game clip that - should it hold - would mark the Wildcats' worst single-season performance since stat-keepers began keeping track in 1976.

Where it ranks: Last in the Pac-12 and 107th nationally. Rival Arizona State, by comparison, has 26 sacks over six games.

How to improve: Before it can dial up the pressure, the UA must get healthier. Defensive linemen Reggie Gilbert (ankle), Dominique Austin (foot) and Kirifi Taula (leg), linebackers Jake Fischer (shoulder) and Marquis Flowers (shoulder), and safety Jared Tevis (ankle) have been hurting.

They've been replaced by underclassmen and down-the-depth-chart backups, players who can hardly be trusted to either blitz or cover the opposition while others rush. The Wildcats must toe a fine line over the next six weeks: They need to bring pressure without being exposed when they do.

He said it: "If you have four or five guys you can cover for a long time, you can blitz as much as you want. I think that, naturally, you have to mix it up. The quarterbacks are so talented nowadays, and particularly the skill players. … To guard them one-on-one with a couple seconds' time for the quarterback to get rid of the ball, it's a tough task." - Rodriguez

Extra points

• Brandon Cox, a Pasadena (Calif.) High School quarterback who had verbally committed to the UA over the summer, has changed his mind and will attend Utah.

The 6-foot-3-inch, 200-pound Cox told the Salt Lake Tribune that Utah felt like a good fit. Cox decommitted from the UA a week ago, a decision he told California reporters was "mutual."

His decommitment leaves the UA with two QBs in its 2013 class, Las Vegas Bishop Gorman's Anu Solomon and Monroeville (Pa.) Gateway star Tommy Woodson.

Up next

• Who: Washington at Arizona

• When: 7 p.m. Saturday

• TV: Pac-12 Arizona

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)