San Diego State Football: First Look At The Arizona Wildcats

San Diego State Football: First Look At The Arizona Wildcats

Mountain West Football

San Diego State Football: First Look At The Arizona Wildcats

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San Diego State Football: First Look At The Arizona Wildcats


The Aztecs will open up a new era at Snapdragon Stadium by hosting the Pac-12’s Wildcats in early September.


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After bottoming out last year, is Arizona in better shape to bear down?

San Diego State has high expectations in 2022 after securing the West division crown last fall, and chief among those expectations is debuting brand-new Snapdragon Stadium with a win against the Arizona Wildcats this September.

There’s little doubt that the new era of Wildcats football had a bumpy start, but a successful off-season has both laid the groundwork for a newly promising future and the opportunity to steal some wins in 2022.

Location: Tucson, Arizona

Conference: Pac-12

Series History: Arizona leads the all-time series, 10-6.

2021 Record: 1-11 (1-8 Pac-12)

Head Coach: Jedd Fisch (second year at Arizona, 1-11 overall). After the Wildcats program crumbled under Kevin Sumlin, bringing in Fisch, who’d served as the New England Patriots’ quarterbacks coach in 2020, was seen by many national prognosticators as something of a head-scratcher. That their only win in his first year at the helm came against a Cal team depleted by COVID protocols, and that they were outscored on average by two touchdowns per game, only served to reinforce the idea that the move had gone wrong.

Look closer, though, and you’ll recognize that Arizona was just 1-3 in games decided by eight or fewer points. According to 247Sports, the Wildcats also put together the third-best recruiting class in the Pac-12 this off-season, a group which included five four-star prospects, and hit the transfer portal hard to shore up some of its most pressing concerns. 2022 may have a few more ups and downs, but fans have reason to believe the program could be back on its feet soon.

Key Players

Jayden de Laura, QB

One of Arizona’s most important transfer imports arrives from Washington State, where the furor around the Nick Rolovich controversy meant that de Laura didn’t get to have the season he wanted out of the run-and-shoot. Even so, he was still the Pac-12’s freshman of the year in 2021 after completing 63.2% of his throws for 2,789 yards (7.8 yards per attempt) and 23 touchdowns with nine interceptions.

Chris Roland-Wallace, CB

With 25 career starts under his belt already, Roland-Wallace might just be the anchor Arizona needs in its defensive backfield. He finished fourth on the team with 48 total tackles and also contributed three pass breakups, three tackles for loss and an interception, cementing himself in the conversation as the conference’s best overall cornerback.

Kyon Barrs, DT

One of just three Wildcats named to the postseason all-Pac 12 team last year, Barrs had good reason to earn a second-team nod from his sophomore campaign. He led Arizona with five sacks and finished second with eight tackles for loss, so it’s a safe bet he’ll lead the way in whatever havoc the Wildcats are able to create in 2022.

Jacob Cowing, WR

Cowing was one of the biggest contributors to UTEP’s resurgence last fall, solidifying his case as perhaps the best pass catcher in Conference USA before transferring to the Wildcats this offseason. In three years with the Miners, Cowing averaged a whopping 18.4 yards per reception on 141 catches and caught 13 touchdowns, so the Aztecs will need to be prepared for one of college football’s premier deep threats.

Tetairoa McMillan, WR

Unlike Cowing, McMillan is brand new to the college football scene, but he was also the top prize in Arizona’s 2022 recruiting class after the Wildcats flipped his commitment from conference rival Oregon back in December. At Anaheim’s Servite High School last year, he caught 88 balls for 1,302 yards and 18 touchdowns, so while no one’s expecting him to step in and be the WR1 right away, it would be a shock if he wasn’t a factor of some kind right away.

Overview:

Offense

What do you get when you start three different quarterbacks, four different running backs, and eight different pass catchers over the course of the season? An offense that averaged just 4.9 yards per play (116th in FBS) and scores just 1.36 points per drive (121st). Much of the relief of Wildcats fans, though, regression to the mean and reinforcements probably mean they’ll be able to avoid a similar fate in 2022.

It starts with de Laura, but if he’s not up to the task then the aforementioned trio of quarterbacks — Will PlummerJordan McCloud, and Gunner Gruz — are all back, as well. More stability at quarterback should help Michael WileyDrake Anderson and the rest of the running game, too, as none of the team’s running backs cracked 4.5 yards per carry in 2021.

Cowing and McMillan will go a long way toward re-establishing the passing game, too, though they won’t be able to do it alone. Tight end Alex Lines and sophomore wide receiver Dorian Singer (18 catches, 301 yards) could also see an uptick in their production. If the offensive line can stay healthy and successfully replace departures like Donovan Laie, Arizona should be much improved on this side of the ball.

Defense

The Wildcats defense wasn’t great last year since they ranked 100th in points allowed per drive and 77th in available yards percentage allowed, but they were clearly ahead of the offense and don’t have too many to try and replace.

Up front, Barrs and defensive end Jalen Harris (5.5 TFLs, three sacks) are back but they must find replacements for Mo Diallo and Trevon Mason and their combined 16 tackles for loss. Other less-heralded transfer portal arrivals like Tiaoalii Savea (UCLA), Hunter Echols (USC), and Jason Harris (Colorado) could help replace that production.

Behind them, the linebacker corps and secondary are in much better shape for improvement, especially if Jerry Roberts (33 tackles, four TFLs) can stay healthy and Gunner Maldonado takes to the hybrid STAR position. Roland-Wallace leads a defensive backfield that brings back all of last year’s starters, so if new defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen can hit the ground running in the desert, this unit might key an upset or two this fall.

Early Predictions

There’s no question that the infusion of talent will bring Arizona some better overall results this fall, but the Aztecs have brought in a few new faces of their own and will be motivated to use their typical defensive strength to hold serve on their new home turf. That being said, the result will probably be closer than last year’s contest, but the Wildcats will need to look elsewhere for victories.

San Diego State 27, Arizona 20

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