Previewing Arizona, Plus Some Scheme Analysis

Arizona Wildcats (2-5, 1-4) @ Washington Huskies (5-2, 3-1)
Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Husky Stadium, Seattle, Wash.
TV: ROOT, FSN (National); Radio: 950 KJR; Internet: SEE BELOW
Line: Washington -4.5

A stumbling, shorthanded Arizona team rolls into Seattle this week with the unenviable task of following last week’s 65-21 indignity on the Washington schedule.

The Dawgs’ upperclassmen have voiced their disgust with team effort and will likely have their squad in top mental shape for Saturday’s tilt—this does not bode particularly well for the Wildcats, who are depleted by injury and suspension and are transitioning between coaches.

Eight-year head coach Mike Stoops was relieved of his duties earlier this month after 10 consecutive FBS losses dating to last season. Defensive coordinator Tim Kish was named interim head coach on Oct. 10.

Here comes one minute of editorializing: Stoops’ firing was a strange and questionable decision by Arizona brass. Consider these facts: Stoops was handed a 2-10 team in 2004 and turned it into a back-to-back eight-game winner in 2008 and ‘09. He had the Wildcats ranked in the top 10 last season before a November-December losing streak. Oh, and those 10 straight FBS losses?

@ No. 12 Stanford
@ No. 1 Oregon
Arizona State (two overtimes)
No. 13 Oklahoma State in San Antonio (Alamo Bowl)
@ No. 9 Oklahoma State
No. 6 Stanford
No. 10 Oregon
@ Oregon State

Sounds like the front office was tired of his high-energy, in-your-face coaching style and a loss to previously winless Oregon State was enough to get him out of there.

Let’s Talk Schemes:

Defensively, Arizona runs as much 4-2-5 and “Desert Storm” Double-Eagle Flex as they do their base 4-3. Here is a handy graphic of the flex defense, a relic from past Wildcat squads brought back last week by coach Kish to counter UCLA’s run-heavy pistol attack.

Double-Eagle Flex
This look has two hybrid players—the weakside “T” backed a couple yards off the line of scrimmage is a half-tackle, half-linebacker called the “flex tackle” and the “SS” listed is really a safety-linebacker/”rover” hybrid.

The “N” stands for neck guard, a defensive tackle lined up on the center’s neck (a “slanted” one-technique). Against the run, he is responsible for driving directly into the center and pushing him into the strongside A gap. The flex tackle can either push the weakside guard into the weakside A gap or flow across to the strong side, depending on which direction the run goes.

In passing situations, the flex tackle is in prime position to stunt outside the “E” player, who floats way out in space as a “loose nine-technique” (meaning he lines out on the tight end’s outside shoulder). Otherwise, the “E” man keeps contain on the quarterback’s weak side. The rover—true freshman Tramayne Bondurant in this defense—blitzed a lot last week, resulting in a lot of Cover Three zone and Cover One man-to-man and making the Double-Eagle Flex’s coverage schemes fairly similar to those of Buddy Ryan’s famous “46.” Against Washington’s high-powered passing offense, however, Bondurant may be used more in coverage.

The nine-technique “E” player is also something of a hybrid. Depending on available personnel, a defense can use a defensive end, rush linebacker or blitzing safety at “E” due to his matchups with tight ends or pass-blocking running backs. Arizona used defensive end Mohammed Usman at the “E” position last week. Expect true freshman linebackers Rob Hankins and Hank Hobson and tackle Kirifi Taula to get looks at flex tackle.

Offensively, they’ll throw it. Oh, how they’ll throw it. Arizona spreads the field with four wideouts using the “Air Raid” spread offense that former offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes brought with him from Texas Tech. (Dykes is now the head coach at Louisiana Tech.)

The idea behind the Air Raid is replacing 3- and 4-yard runs with short passes, forcing the defensive backs to make tackles instead of running at linebackers—Arizona’s ark-load of physical receivers make this philosophy work brilliantly. The scheme relies heavily on playcalling and recognition of defenses, so having an experienced, savvy quarterback like senior Nick Foles is a considerable boon.

Last week, Arizona used a lot of a hybrid full house/pistol formation with three running backs encircling a shallow shotgun. The multitude of blocking backs in that formation protected Foles as 6-foot-4 wideouts Juron Criner and Dan Buckner worked on the Bruins’ corners.

A bit more and a prediction after the jump!


Recent History:

Last Thursday, the Wildcats air raided UCLA on national television to the tune of 416 yards at halftime and a 48-12 win. Yeah. Silly numbers all around, perhaps the silliest of which was the 46 rushing attempts that Arizona racked up—almost twice their season average to that point. The lead was so big so early that the Wildcats ran out the clock for almost three quarters.

The big story from last week, however, was the bizarre second-quarter incident in which a fan dressed as a referee ran onto the field and stripped to his underwear before being leveled by security. At the same time, a brawl broke out between the UCLA receivers and the Arizona defensive backs, leading to two ejections and 10 suspensions.

Four Arizona players are suspended for Saturday: starting cornerbacks Shaq Richardson and Jourdon Grandon are suspended for the whole game and two more key defensive backs can return after halftime. That leaves the Arizona secondary mighty thin for the first half, the half in which the Huskies have thrown the ball the most this year.

The Huskies are healthy this week with no new injuries. Expect continued rotation at both safety spots, with big-hitting sophomore Will Shamburger working in with Sean Parker, Justin Glenn and Nate Fellner. Glenn has been limited this week with a foot injury but should be ready to go on Saturday. The Huskies may even go into a little 3-3-5, as the three-safety look unwrapped last week against Stanford seems to historically have success against spread attacks. Also look for more of Josh Shirley and Andrew Hudson at defensive end and possibly some Everrette Thompson at defensive tackle as the Huskies go small and fast against the Wildcats’ wide-open passing game.

Last season in Tucson, the Wildcats beat the stuffing out of the Huskies, 44-14. The game was similar to Arizona’s win over UCLA last week, with the Wildcats using an efficient early passing attack followed by a clock-eating ground game.

The 2009 meeting, however, was the “Immaculate Interception” game, in which the Huskies erased a 12-point deficit in 18 seconds. The scoring was capped by Mason Foster’s 37-yard interception return on a pass that deflected off of Delashaun Dean’s foot (and/or the ground).

That wild finish went the Huskies’ way, perhaps retribution for 1998, one of the most gut-wrenching Husky losses of all time. I’ll let the video tell it. I don’t think I had ever felt more despair in my seven years of existence to that point. 

So a lot of weird, painful history here for both sides. This Saturday is homecoming and the Huskies will wear their black uniforms. Both teams’ great-offense-bad-defense combination should make for another very exciting and memorable game.

Three Choppy Sentences of Analysis and Some Numbers:

They can’t stop us. BUT we can’t stop them. BUT they can’t stop us worse.

UW 49, UA 38

INTERNET NOTE: For those of you with no access to cable on Saturday, I’ll be posting links to Internet feeds on the site’s Twitter account, @SeatownSports. Give us a follow! We’re interesting!