Arizona Football: Will the ground game be enough to carry the day?
Arizona cornerback Malik Hausman runs into the endzone for a touchdown against NAU on Sept. 2 at Arizona Stadium.
On Saturday, the Arizona Wildcats returned to the game’s land based past, rushing for 506 yards in a convincing 62-24 victory over the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks. While the ‘Cats performance on the ground will excite fans, the lack of a credible aerial attack should be a cause for worry in the Lowell-Stevens facility.
Arizona dominated the Lumberjacks at the line of scrimmage, Wildcat runners ran through wide lanes on their way to sizable gains. The Arizona front was able to climb and engage at the second level, creating opportunities for runners. Four different ‘Cats rushed for more than fifty yards including leading rusher Brandon Dawkins. Dawkins finished the evening with 92 yards on seven carries, averaging thirteen yards per attempt. The junior signal caller found the endzone on two occasions, and had a third score nullified by penalty.
He wasn’t the only Wildcat to find the end zone, quarterback Rhett Rodriguez and tailback Nick Wilson also reached pay dirt. Wilson’s 46 yard scoring run was noteworthy as he accelerated and darted past NAU defenders, an indication that the senior is finally healthy after suffering an injury last year. Freshman Nathan Tilford got into the act, breaking off a 65-yard run that set up Rodriguez’s score. Even career backup Branden Leon found holes to run through, the sophomore scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
While the rushing attack thrived, the passing game languished. Brandon Dawkins struggled to complete passes, he was unable to create chunk plays downfield. The UA passing attack was a series of short, low risk passes with a few long heaves added for good measure. Compared to NAU’s efficient, space age aerial circus, Arizona looked like a team stuck in the twentieth century. Wildcat passers completed 7 of 14 passes, and averaged 6.4 yards per attempt. When Tony Ellison’s 49 yard touchdown reception is removed from the stat sheet, the passing game looks even worse. Outside of that play, the ‘Cats recorded 40 yards through the air.
The UA passing game was unsuccessful against an FCS program that allowed 260 passing yards per game last year. During his post-game press conference, head coach Rich Rodriguez joked about whether the ‘Cats had a passing game. While that humor went over well with the media, it calls into question whether the coaching staff recognizes the dire status of the passing game.
While Arizona scored at will against an overmatched opponent Saturday, all is not well in Tucson. The Wildcat rushing attack cannot be expected to carry the team for the entire regular season. The ‘Cats desperately need an improved passing game to take the pressure off of what has been an explosive ground game.
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