Arizona football: UA more prepared in first practice

Quarterback B.J. Denker and running back Ka'Deem Carey greet each other during Arizona's first spring practice.


Through five games, the Arizona Wildcats have their share of concerns.

There's a defense that can't stiffen up and make stops, a place-kicker who's missed more field goals (five) than he's made (four), and a kickoff return team recently described as "awful."

So it's surprising to hear what coach Rich Rodriguez considers the team's biggest offensive issue.

"We're still not running the football as well as I would like," he said.

Odd, since the UA ranks 39th nationally with 972 rushing yards so far this season. The Wildcats are averaging 194.4 rushing yards per game, third-most in the Pac-12, and 4.8 yards per carry.

Those numbers must improve Saturday if the UA (3-2 overall, 0-2 Pac-12) hopes to upset No. 18 Stanford.

Here are three reasons why the Wildcats' rushing attack should improve soon - and three reasons to think it might not happen:

Three reasons why things are looking up:

1. Ka'Deem Carey's legit. The Wildcats' sophomore tailback averages 107.6 rushing yards per game, figures that rank third in the Pac-12 and 17th nationally.

Carey rushed 17 times for 115 yards and two touchdowns in last weekend's loss to Oregon State.

"He's just a good football player," Rodriguez said. "Ka'Deem, he loves the game. He catches, he blocks, he runs extremely hard, he runs hungry and he's playing a lot more. … As many plays as he's playing and as physical as he is, he's still ready to go."

2. The Wildcats keep adding wrinkles … Embarrassed after going 0 for 6 in the red zone against Oregon in Week 4, Arizona coaches have added some wrinkles to the offense. The single-back set was replaced with more two-back looks; the Wildcats even dusted off the "bone" formation, a three-back, pistol-depth set that they ran last season.

"I love it," Carey said. "We're going to add more plays to that. We just put the front in. We have great running backs, and I feel like we're going to use them a little more and in different spots."

3. … but haven't lost their balance. If a 50-50 run-pass split is the hallmark of a great offense, Arizona appears to be on its way. The Wildcats have thrown 239 times - and run 201 - through five games. The UA has gained 155 first downs, most in the nation: It has just nine more passing first downs than rushing ones.

And Arizona's 22 touchdowns are split right down the middle: 11 on the ground, and 11 through the air.

Three reasons to be concerned:

1. Matt Scott's already banged up. The quarterback has suffered two leg injuries in his last two games and will likely be limited running the ball for a while.

The less Arizona's quarterback runs, the more opposing defenses will focus on the Wildcats' tailbacks - taking the "option" out of the "read-option" attack. Consider: Scott rushed 52 times for 190 yards and two touchdowns in his first three games, but has rushed just 10 times for 38 yards - and no scores - since.

"I think Matt understands that we're trying to protect him," Rodriguez said, "but at the same time, we're trying to run our system."

Scott said Tuesday that he's "a little banged up, but I'll be ready Saturday."

"I've been getting treatment on it all week," he said, "so I'm feeling better."

2. Change-of-pace options are limited. Carey has been solid, but the Wildcats still lack a true "big back."

Taimi Tutogi (1 carry, minus-1 yard) has been playing more defensive end than fullback this season, and Greg Nwoko - a three-year letterman at running back - was moved to defense before suffering a career-ending hip injury. Daniel Jenkins has just 24 carries in five games, and Jared Baker, Elliott Taylor and Kylan Butler have been used only in garbage time.

3. Things will only get harder. Arizona has already faced the conference's Nos. 2 and 3 rushing defenses (Oregon State and Oregon), and must now face the toughest. Stanford is allowing 65.2 rushing yards per game, best in the Pac-12.

The Cardinal "play hard, fast and physical," Jenkins said. "They fly around to the ball and they're really smart within their schemes," he said. "We just need to execute and pay attention to the details as we practice this week."

Up next

• What: Arizona at No. 18 Stanford

• When: Noon Saturday

• TV: Ch 11

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM