Arizona Wildcats to look out for Saturday
For the second straight season, the Cougars will open their season against a Power Five opponent. The Arizona Wildcats may not share Oklahoma’s reputation, but the Cougars will need to hit the ground running if they want to win.
The Wildcats have already opened their season and are aware of areas they need to improve. The Cougars are fresh but untested after their season opener against UTSA was canceled.
Here are a few Wildcat athletes to look for during Saturday night’s game in Tuscon, Ariz.
Quarterback Brandon Dawkins
Brandon Dawkins took over at quarterback for the Wildcats last season when Anu Solomon went down with a knee injury. Dawkins was statistically strong in Solomon’s absence, owning the fifth best rushing yards per game (94.4) for a quarterback in all of the FBS.
Dawkins and the rest of the Wildcats struggled to a 3-9 record last season, two years removed from winning the Pac-12 South. But with Solomon’s transfer to Baylor, Dawkins has been able to spend the whole summer improving his game as starting quarterback.
However, one game into the year it appears Dawkins is still more of a threat as a runner than a passer. Dawkins had seven completions for 89 yards and one touchdown against Northern Arizona University of the FCS. On the ground, he nearly had his fourth career 100 yard rushing game, finishing with 92 yards and two touchdowns on seven carries.
For the Wildcats to have hope against the rest of the Pac-12, they will need stronger performances from Dawkins in the passing game.
Running back Nick Wilson
Arizona under head coach Rich Rodriguez has always featured strong running backs. Senior Nick Wilson is the latest running back expected to have a big year for the Wildcats.
A member of the Doak Walker Award Preseason Watchlist, Wilson is looking to bounce back after playing in only five games last season.
After rushing for over 1,000 yards and scoring 16 touchdowns as a freshman, Wilson’s statistics have dipped each successive season. Various injuries have limited him to just 11 games the past two years.
Wilson had a good start against Northern Arizona, rushing for 87 yards and a touchdown. Even with Dawkins continuing to run, Wilson is expected to be the number one back for the Wildcats offense. But with Dawkins running, and running well, Wilson will have more opportunities when he gets the ball.
If he can find the form that’s seen him rush for 100 yards eleven times, the Wildcats will once again have a strong running game.
Cornerback Jace Whittaker
An athlete predominantly used off the bench in his first two seasons, cornerback Jace Whittaker will look to take a more central sole as a starter on a defense that needs to improve quite a deal.
Whittaker started the final seven games of the season for the Wildcats as a sophomore. By the end of the season, he was leading the team in pass breakups, had grabbed an interception and had 35 total tackles.
The defense for the Wildcats gave up 24 points against Northern Arizona Saturday. For a team that in seven straight games gave up at least 35 points, and as many as 69, this news is only a slight improvement.
Second year defensive coordinator Marcel Yeats will need Whittaker and the other defensive players to perform stronger than they have if the Wildcats hope to compete in the Pac-12.