ASU vs. Arizona: Sizing Up the Wildcat Offense & Defense


Nov 23, 2013; Tucson, AZ, USA; Arizona Wildcats running back Ka

Arizona State’s archrival, the University of Arizona, has had a topsy-turvy 2013 football season. This year’s campaign for the Wildcats has swung from low points such as a 31-13 manhandling by Washington in the rain at Seattle and a humiliating 24-17 loss to Washington State at home, to a solid 44-20 win over Colorado in Boulder and a resounding 42-16 defeat of Oregon in Tucson.

So, which Arizona team will show up for the Territorial Cup game in Tempe on Saturday night: the mistake-prone squad that stumbled in Husky Stadium in September, or the juggernaut that dismantled Marcus Mariota and Co. just last Saturday?

Only time will tell the story of this year’s “Duel in the Desert,” but for now, we can analyze the offensive and defensive assets of head coach Rich Rodriguez’s team.


In the notorious “Rich Rod” hurry-up spread offense, Arizona will employ inside zone running and zone read with an occasional dose of the option. This approach is dedicated to spreading opponents out to run the ball. It utilizes four wide receiver sets and motion, and pushes the tempo — all to force the defense out of alignment and attack with a zone read.

The Wildcats’ passing scheme is based on rhythm and timing. They will frequently run the hitch from a base 2×2 formation or from a trips formation. In either case, the receivers run vertical routes before suddenly reversing to face the quarterback. These plays have a high probability of successful completion, as seen in last week’s rout of the Ducks.

When it comes to Arizona’s offensive game plan, there’s always one name underlined — Ka’Deem Carey. The 5-foot-10, 207-pound junior running back has paced the Wildcat attack by reaching the 100-yard mark in every game this season. In fact, Carey has put up 14 straight 100-yard performances dating back to last season. He is now Arizona’s all-time leading rusher.

Despite the accolades for Carey, opponents would be foolish to overlook quarterback B.J. Denker. The 6-foot-3, 184-pound senior has been running Arizona’s rollout pass/run option offense with precision in recent games. Against Oregon, Denker raised eyebrows by hitting 19 of 22 attempts for 178 yards and running for 102 additional yards.

While Denker isn’t known for lighting up the scoreboard with his passing ability (he’s only thrown for 2,066 yards this season) he has been able to avoid turnovers with only four interceptions. The left-hander is somewhat unique in that he is more adept at throwing the ball while rolling out than firing from the pocket. Denker has great mobility — not just on the run — but in extending a play behind the line of scrimmage.

With the loss of star player Austin Hill to an ACL injury prior to the season, there was concern in the UofA camp about finding a suitable replacement at the wide receiver position. Those worries have been erased by the emergence of young WRs Samajie Grant and Nate Phillips. Grant leads the team with 44 receptions, while Phillips is close behind with 39 catches for 486 yards.


Last season, Arizona’s defense was roundly criticized for its inexperience, ineffectiveness and overall lack of depth. It appears that second-year defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel has turned the corner with this unit, implementing a 3-3-5 stack scheme that can penetrate the opponent’s backfield and play havoc with read zone offenses.

Casteel’s opportunistic 3-3-5 defense places a heavy emphasis on the nose tackle position, lining up over the opposing center and trying to drive him off the ball. The nose tackle is also responsible for taking on any A-gap blocking in order to free up the linebacker.

When the Wildcats bring pressure, they commonly use an outside linebacker twist with the defensive end assigned the B-gap rush. They may also have an outside linebacker speed rush the edge, or, in some cases, ask the middle LB to bull rush the A-gap.

Headlining the fast and physical Arizona defensive unit are freshman Scooby Wright, a 6-foot-1, 235-pound outside linebacker who is second on the team in tackles with 76; and senior Jake Fischer, a compact but active middle linebacker who’s always around the ball. Fellow LB Marquise Flowers has gained a reputation as a big hitter.

Arizona’s defensive line won’t cause opposing teams to lose any sleep, but it has shown itself to be effective with blitz packages based on the aggressive 3-3-5 scheme. The line is spearheaded by defensive end Reggie Gilbert, who leads the ‘Cats with four sacks. DT Sione Tuihalamaka has eight tackles for loss and two sacks.

In the Wildcat secondary, at the all-important “spur” position, junior Tra’Mayne Bondurant is a force to be reckoned with. The 5-10, 188-pound, third-year starter is a versatile defender who combines athleticism and toughness with playmaking ability. Plus, cornerbacks Jonathan McKnight and Shaquille Richardson have both been solid in pass coverage.