Arizona offensive line ready to lead Wildcats' offense
Entering last season, Arizona’s offensive line was undoubtedly the biggest question mark, since the entire unit had one combined start going into the first 2011 game against NAU.
Fast forward one year, and the entire starting offensive line remains intact, turning a group of unseasoned youngsters into one of the Wildcats’ biggest strengths.
Arizona gained 237 yards on the ground in its overtime win against Toledo and had a Ka’Deem Carey run break for 73 yards and a touchdown, numbers that would’ve seemed impossibly high a year ago.
Center Kyle Quinn said it’s just the beginning.
“Having a game under our belt in this system, we’re just going to get better from here,” said Quinn, who was the only player with starting experience entering last season.
The long run wasn’t just the offensive line, as Carey shrugged off several Toledo defenders on his way to the end zone, but the sophomore running back credited the line for opening up holes on the game breaking touchdown.
“They made the blocks up front, the blocks made it possible,” Carey said. “They knocked everybody out [of] the way, there was a clear hole and it was me against the secondary.”
Saturday wasn’t a flawless performance though, as a 67-yard run by junior Daniel Jenkins was negated by a holding call and Toledo sacked quarterback Matt Scott twice. Even though Arizona had 624 total yards, there was still room for improvement.
“We left a lot of points out there,” Quinn said. “We put up a lot of yards, which is a good thing, but we also turned the ball over three times.
“We can’t do that against Oklahoma State.”
Having an older line, or at least one with Pac-12 experience, has eased the transition to a spread-option attack, which is predicated on a fast-moving, no-huddle offense.
With the schematic upheaval, a few lumps and bruises were to be expected in the first week, so head coach Rich Rodriguez wasn’t upset with what he saw.
“They played pretty solid,” Rodriguez said. “I think Lene (Maiava) and Kyle (Quinn) were the most consistent on Saturday … We weren’t physical enough at times. We can fight a little more physical.”
In the days leading up to the game, Rodriguez said that the Wildcats planned on rotating at least seven players through the line: the returning starters from last year as well as Maiava and freshman Cayman Bundage.
But the strategy turned into a necessity as several linemen got banged up throughout the game, including starting left guard Chris Puttonand his backup Bundage.
Senior Shane Zink stepped into the role and the line didn’t seem to miss a beat, a feat that would have been unimaginable last season.
“Having depth and continuity is a great thing to have on the O-line,” Quinn said. “When you only have five guys who can play, you kind of want to play conservatively. You don’t want to go down, you don’t want to make a mistake, but now we have more guys in the rotation. It’s great to have.”
With the five projected starters, offensive line now has 60 combined starts, and the recent play of Maiava and Bundage in camp gives Arizona a healthy supply of options.
“(Bundage) has a big punch behind him,” Quinn said. “He’s got a big heart, he cares so much about football. He’s a great kid to have. He’s very young but he’s learning fast. He’s going to get a little bit stronger, but when he was in he played great.”
Quinn recalls first career start against Cowboys
An experienced line adds a crucial element the team lacked last year, but it all started against Oklahoma State in 2010, when Quinn made his first career start.
Times have changed, as Quinn is now a senior and the deer-in-the-headlights look he had in the Valero Alamo Bowl is long gone.
“That was a long time ago and it was my first start,” he said. “I can read defenses (now), I can see what they’re going to do. I’m nasty off the ball and I’m a fifth-year senior. I’m the strongest I’ve ever been in my career and I’m going to put that to use on Saturday.”
And Quinn is ready to lead the line into a third matchup against the Cowboys, hoping to erase the results of years past.
“You try to move on from it and forget about it,” Quinn said. “It’s a new year, it’s a new era and we’re going to go out there and take it to them on Saturday.”