Time to head down to the desert! Scott Moran from AZ Desert Swarm was kind enough to sit down (virtually) with us for another installment of 7 Questions.
1. What’s up with the Wildcats thus far in 2018?
Last season was a pleasant surprise - Zona was actually the team who most exceeded preseason fan expectations in my 2017 Prediction Project. This year some thought with an improved defense that Arizona might be a contender for the South, but it’s been a discouraging start – how much responsibility does new head coach Kevin Sumlin bear for this? Or do the issues lay somewhere else?
I’ve been one of the last people to finally jump on the “It’s Sumlin’s Fault” bandwagon, but I finally have made that jump. I was pretty vocal in my belief that Arizona was pretty underrated in the preseason, but that belief was pretty much gone by Week 2. Rich Rodriguez was not a great recruiter, but he seemed to be able to make undersized and sneakily atheltic guys work in Tucson. Sumlin, with those same players, clearly has an issue. Khalil Tate has been injured for most of the season, and that has hampered his running, but even in the BYU game when he was healthy he was forced to look like a statue in the backfield. I think once Sumlin and OC Noel Mazzone (who deserves even more blame than Sumlin) have their personnel here, Arizona might be a decent program. But it’s disconcerting how much talent and goodwill they’ve wasted in year 1.
2. Most Pac-12 watchers are familiar with Tate, but it’s looking like the ankle injury might sideline him another week. Can you gives us a quick scouting breakdown of his backup Rhett Rodriguez?
It’s looking like Tate won’t be on the field this weekend, which is actually a bit relieving to me as I feel Tate needs to rest. The other reason is that RhettRod fits the Mazzone offense much better than Tate. I don’t know if a quarterback can ever be great when his playcaller wants to throw bombs into double coverage every other play, but Rodriguez is a good passer who seems to have quick mind, making his reads quick and making good decisions. That’s pretty rare for a sophomore, and combining that with the legitimate weapons surrounding him Rodriguez should be a solid player for us through these next few years. Expect to see a solid passer who’s a bit on the immobile side, and who’s surprisingly sharp for such a young QB.
3. Who’s another Arizona player for us Oregon fans to watch on offense, and what should we look for? Not necessarily your most prolific offensive player - let’s hear about guys that provide something unique for your team or are otherwise instructive.
Shawn Poindexter is my go-to answer when someone asks for a unique Arizona offensive player, and it’s for a bit of an odd reason. Arizona under RichRod earned a reputation for being undersized, and that’s lived on in 2018. Nonetheless, Poindexter is our one tall weapon at 6’5” and 218 pounds. In terms of who’s the most explosive receiver, it’s Shun Brown, but if you want a guy who brings a unique edge, it’s Poindexter and his height. If Mazzone keeps the passing game predictable, Poindexter will be key in catching passes in coverage or even playing a defender if Rodriguez throws too close to an Oregon player.
4. And how about one on defense?
Defense is a bit trickier, just because it’s been even less impressive than the Arizona offense. Ultimately though, the answer is definitely linebacker Colin Schooler (ed note: if you couldn’t already tell by the hair, yes, this is Brenden Schooler’s brother). Another young player with promise, Schooler was one of our best players last year as a freshman, and is one of the few defenders who truly got better over the offseason. He leads the team in tackles, and he’s just about the only player who’s reliably gotten to the quarterback when he does blitz. Seeing him try and stop CJ Verdell should be fun to see no matter the outcome of the game.
5. What’s an advantage Zona might be able to exploit against Oregon this Saturday?
I’m not sure this roster with this staff has a single advantage over Oregon this week, but the one shot they have is invoking Tucson magic. Weird stuff has happened in Arizona Stadium before, and Arizona was one of the few teams who was able to beat Oregon in the Chip Kelly era. This team isn’t nearly as good as the Nick Foles or Anu Solomon teams, but they’ll have a rowdy and probably full student section behind them and weirder things have happened.
6. What’s a weakness or disadvantage specific to this matchup that you guys are worried about?
Specific to this matchup, it’s our youth on defense vs Justin Herbert. Herbert would scare me if I went to Alabama and knew we had to play him, because he’s got so much experience under his belt and has the talent to use that experience. Compare that to our back seven on defense, where four of our starters are sophomores, and the only quarterback they’ve seen of Herbert’s caliber is Sam Darnold. Maybe RhettRod could provide a spark at home and this could turn into a shootout, but if Herbert really shows his stuff and just picks us apart than there is really no hope of a victory.
7. And the obligatory predictions - let’s do the final score, plus one other key team or player stat. What say you?
I’ve already moved onto saying the classic “there’s always next season” at this point. Oregon is probably 7-0 if Gameday doesn’t go to Pullman or if literally anything after the high snap goes differently in the Stanford game. Arizona is 3-5 and probably on their way to 3-9 if you ask me. Because it’s in Arizona I’ll say the key to the game is for Oregon to start hot. If this game is close heading into the second quarter or if Arizona is forcing some turnovers, I and everyone else in the ZonaZoo will be losing my mind and making lots of noise. If I had to bet though, I’d say the Ducks go up early and never look back. Give me Oregon 45-24. This one is either an Oregon blowout or a close toss-up, and I’m picking the former 9 times out of 10 even in Tucson.
Thanks for your time, Sean! Also, if anyone’s interested you can find my Q&A at AZ Desert Swarm over here.