clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

How quickly will Rich Rodriguez's latest major change pay off for Arizona?

New, comments

The Wildcats coach parted with his longtime tactical partner as his trademark offense continues evolving. Another bowl trip in 2016?

Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.

1. Known vs. unknown

Since 2002, Jeff Casteel spent 10 seasons as a Rich Rodriguez defensive coordinator. In those 10 seasons, Rodriguez is 90-38 as an FBS head coach. In four seasons without Casteel, Rodriguez is 18-30.

Casteel's unique 3-3-5 and Rodriguez's always-up-tempo offense have always made for a lovely combination. Rodriguez teams have been designed to have more speed and urgency, and the relationship has been fruitful over a long period.

Arizona's defense completely fell apart in 2015, beset by injuries and a sudden lack of playmakers. The Wildcats' Def. S&P+ ranking fell from 48th to 109th; a 7-6 record belied the true drop-off in quality.

Given the option of relying on his tried and true system or attempting to bring in more play-makers, Rodriguez chose the latter. He dropped Casteel and brought in Marcel Yates, Boise State's aggressive coordinator.

Rodriguez nearly left Tucson this offseason but stuck around. The man who more or less invented the run-first spread now mans a pass-first offense with a run-heavy quarterback. And now he's reinvented his defense.

"There's a tendency to say well, you change coaches, you bring new ones in, so that's why you were bad on defense," Rodriguez said.

"Those guys are good coaches. They didn't forget to coach. But as the head coach I've got the responsibility of trying to fix the problem, and it wasn't just the actual ‘coaching,' per se, it was the recruiting, it was a lot of things.

"So I just decided that instead of going piece by piece, I'm going to blow the whole thing up and start over again. And that was hard because of the loyalty and respect and the fact we'd won a whole lot of games together."

Yates is known as a dynamic recruiter, and has already helped lock up 18 commitments for Arizona's 2017 class; that includes three four-star prospects, per the 247Sports Composite, one more than Arizona signed in February's 2016 class.

Yates' early results at BSU were solid -- after a run of dominance, the Broncos' defense trailed off to 67th in Def. S&P+ in 2013, and Yates engineered a rebound to 38th in 2014 and 33rd in 2015. If you were to offer Rodriguez the 33rd-best defense in the country this second, he would probably accept it.

Still, Casteel's defense would have almost certainly rebounded. Rodriguez traded a known entity for a blurry promise of something more. That should not be a surprise. It isn't the first time.

In last year's preview, I said Arizona was probably going to suffer an off year but noted "Arizona isn't going away" and "When Rodriguez and Casteel are together, good things happen." In order to prove the former, Rodriguez ditched the latter.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 7-6 | Adj. Record: 6-7 | Final F/+ Rk: 77 | Final S&P+ Rk: 77
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
3-Sep UTSA 111 42-32 W 40% 54% -15.2 -22.0
12-Sep at Nevada 97 44-20 W 88% 99% +13.4 +12.0
19-Sep Northern Arizona N/A 77-13 W 87% 100% +27.6
26-Sep UCLA 28 30-56 L 22% 2% -18.6 -22.5
3-Oct at Stanford 6 17-55 L 7% 0% -19.4 -38.0
10-Oct Oregon State 107 44-7 W 82% 100% +36.2 +27.0
17-Oct at Colorado 94 38-31 W 67% 88% -6.2 -0.5
24-Oct Washington State 54 42-45 L 44% 35% -5.7 -10.5
31-Oct at Washington 13 3-49 L 2% 0% -38.0 -46.0
7-Nov at USC 17 30-38 L 33% 17% +15.3 +10.0
14-Nov Utah 22 37-30 W 79% 90% +17.8 +13.0
21-Nov at Arizona State 50 37-52 L 24% 11% -9.0 -15.0
19-Dec vs. New Mexico 99 45-37 W 79% 96% -0.1 +0.0

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 34.6 33 35.4 109
Points Per Game 37.4 20 35.8 107

2. WHEEEEEEE!

At first glance, it appears Arizona went through a roller coaster of a season. Knowing about the injuries -- All-American Scooby Wright III suffered a couple of them and only played in three games (UTSA, UCLA, New Mexico), just about every other linebacker got hurt at some random point, and quarterback Anu Solomon dealt with concussion issues all season -- that would make sense. An unstable lineup produces unstable results.

That said, there's a correlation between the bad performances and the good opponents on the schedule, one that may have helped Rodriguez to conclude he needed to raise his recruiting game.

  • Arizona vs. F/+ top 50:
    Record: 1-5 | Average percentile performance: 28% (~top 90) | Yards per play: Opp 6.7, UA 5.3 (-1.4)
  • Arizona vs. everyone else:
    Record: 6-1 | Average percentile performance: 70% (~top 40) | Yards per play: UA 7.5, Opp 5.3 (+2.2)

No matter who was in the lineup, when Arizona was playing a pretty bad team, the Wildcats looked the part of a top-40 team, using their athleticism advantage to great effect.

When they played a team with a pulse, they had almost nothing to offer. The offense went from unstoppable to mediocre, and the defense went from decent to horrid.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.39 17 IsoPPP+ 111.3 37
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 42.9% 49 Succ. Rt. + 100.1 73
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 29.1 54 Def. FP+ 29.5 60
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.9 25 Redzone S&P+ 100.3 74
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 22.7 ACTUAL 20 -2.7
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 16 41 73 37
RUSHING 23 45 67 34
PASSING 30 51 74 46
Standard Downs 66 82 63
Passing Downs 18 58 12
Q1 Rk 51 1st Down Rk 25
Q2 Rk 52 2nd Down Rk 24
Q3 Rk 46 3rd Down Rk 24
Q4 Rk 12

3. When your best down is third-and-long...

Arizona's 2015 offense was ... strange. Even with Solomon battling injuries, backups Jerrard Randall and Brandon Dawkins both looked Solomon-esque in their ability to provide a steady run threat. But the UA attack remained pass-first no matter who was behind center. It also remained rather inefficient.

Arizona averaged 6 yards per carry on first downs but ranked just 66th in Standard Downs S&P+, in part because the pass wasn't as efficient as it perhaps should have been. Meanwhile, the Wildcats were fantastic at throwing the ball on passing downs. Legitimately good.

  • Arizona's passer rating on first downs: 139.6 (63% completion rate, 12.2 yards per completion)
  • Arizona's passer rating on third-and-7 or more: 144.7 (56% completion rate, 16.9 yards per completion)

The Wildcats dug themselves holes, then pulled themselves out. At least, they did against lesser defenses. A wait-till-third-and-long approach doesn't tend to work very well against good teams.

Arizona had big-play ability but was dreadfully inconsistent. Stability at quarterback will help immensely, but in receiver Cayleb Jones and backup running back Jared Baker, the Wildcats have lost a couple of their better big-play guys.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Anu Solomon 6'2, 215 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.8716 205 330 2667 20 5 62.1% 20 5.7% 7.3
Jerrard Randall 47 95 518 5 3 49.5% 1 1.0% 5.3
Brandon Dawkins 6'3, 201 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8647 20 38 338 2 2 52.6% 10 20.8% 6.3
Zach Werlinger 6'1, 188 So. NR 0.7667
Khalil Tate 6'2, 212 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9177

4. Competition is good

Solomon's full-season numbers were impressive. Despite injuries, and despite missing most of three games, the then-sophomore completed 62 percent of his passes for nearly 2,700 yards, threw just five interceptions to 20 touchdown passes, and gained at least five yards on 51 percent of his carries.

As a freshman, Brandon Dawkins was a rawer Solomon -- more explosive passing, more explosive rushing, more incompletions, and more sacks. He evidently had a good spring, and Rodriguez and his co-coordinators Rod Smith and Calvin Magee proclaimed Solomon was in no way entitled to the starting job.

Between Solomon, Dawkins, and incoming four-star freshman Khalil Tate, one assumes the competition level will be pretty strong in fall camp. This is unquestionably good, as even though Solomon is still the odds-on favorite, issues with head injuries don't go away. Even if Anu remains the starter, Arizona will have reason to make sure that the backups are ready to roll. Dawkins is a tantalizing backup at the moment.

Regardless of who's behind center, balance will be interesting. Solomon is a better passer than Dawkins, and Dawkins is a better runner, but it appears Arizona's pass first (or, at worst, balanced) attack will remain. But it was already suffering from efficiency issues before losing Jones, Johnny Jackson, and David Richards, three of last year's top four targets.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Nick Wilson RB 5'10, 215 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9039 133 725 8 5.5 5.5 40.6% 2 2
Jared Baker RB 132 798 9 6.0 7.8 36.4% 1 0
Jerrard Randall QB 77 710 5 9.2 10.2 53.2% 3 1
Anu Solomon QB 6'2, 215 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.8716 47 295 3 6.3 4.7 51.1% 8 1
Orlando Bradford RB 5'8, 206 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8454 47 208 3 4.4 4.4 27.7% 0 0
Brandon Dawkins QB 6'3, 201 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8647 22 217 2 9.9 16.2 40.9% 2 0
Jonathan Haden RB 7 44 0 6.3 3.3 57.1% 0 0
Zach Green RB 5'10, 220 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8463 7 43 0 6.1 4.2 42.9% 0 0
Tyrell Johnson WR 5'7, 164 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8591 5 21 0 4.2 3.1 40.0% 0 0
Samajie Grant WR 5'9, 180 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8547 4 21 0 5.3 7.9 50.0% 1 1
Jamardre Cobb FB 6'0, 257 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9173
J.J. Taylor RB 5'6, 155 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8396
Russell Halimon RB 5'10, 180 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8424







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Cayleb Jones WR 93 55 908 59.1% 21.5% 9.8 60.2% 49.5% 1.81
Nate Phillips SLOT 5'7, 180 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8166 75 44 564 58.7% 17.3% 7.5 62.7% 49.3% 1.40
Johnny Jackson SLOT 73 50 612 68.5% 16.9% 8.4 52.1% 49.3% 1.67
David Richards WR 60 42 547 70.0% 13.9% 9.1 65.0% 58.3% 1.42
Samajie Grant SLOT 5'9, 180 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8547 51 31 301 60.8% 11.8% 5.9 72.5% 47.1% 1.18
Jared Baker RB 18 11 101 61.1% 4.2% 5.6 55.6% 33.3% 1.65
Trey Griffey WR 6'3, 209 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8534 14 11 284 78.6% 3.2% 20.3 50.0% 57.1% 3.29
Josh Kern TE 6'5, 235 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8481 13 8 59 61.5% 3.0% 4.5 61.5% 38.5% 1.01
Tyrell Johnson SLOT 5'7, 164 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8591 8 5 41 62.5% 1.8% 5.1 37.5% 25.0% 2.33
Nick Wilson RB 5'10, 215 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9039 6 4 52 66.7% 1.4% 8.7 50.0% 50.0% 1.69
Shun Brown SLOT 5'8, 175 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8562 6 4 24 66.7% 1.4% 4.0 33.3% 16.7% 2.26
Tony Ellison WR 5'11, 178 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8316 3 1 13 33.3% 0.7% 4.3 66.7% 33.3% 0.99
Matt Morin TE 6'2, 235 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8156
Cam Denson SLOT 5'11, 179 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9314
Trevor Wood TE 6'5, 261 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8590
Cedric Peterson WR 5'11, 199 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8560
Shawn Poindexter WR 6'6, 210 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8093
Devaughn Cooper WR 5'11, 175 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8624

5. Plenty of big-play threats

In Jones, Arizona must replace one of the Pac-12's better big-play receivers. Baker was quite the all-or-nothing threat out of the backfield. In the absence of efficiency, Arizona had to rely on explosiveness to bail it out of trouble, and two of the bigger sources of explosiveness are gone.

There's still obvious potential. Running back Nick Wilson isn't as explosive as Baker but had seven carries of 20-plus yards in 133 carries last year. Plus, he's a little bit more efficient. Slot receiver Nate Phillips caught a ton of shorter passes but still gained 25-plus yards on eight of 44 catches, and while Samajie Grant was held in check last year, he averaged 16 yards per catch as a sophomore in 2014. And while he missed half the season in 2015, Trey Griffey has still caught 42 passes for 689 yards (16.4 per catch) over the last two years.

So yeah, there should still be big plays, and especially with Solomon, Arizona should be dangerous on passing downs. The question will be whether the Wildcats are any better at avoiding passing downs to begin with.

That's probably more likely with Solomon healthy, and it could in part depend on the line. Two multi-year starters (center Cayman Bundage and tackle Lene Maiava) are gone, but Arizona does return five players with starting experience. The Wildcats weren't great in short-yardage situations but did a decent job of keeping opponents out of the backfield. Experience should be a plus up front, even if depth is not.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 95.6 2.82 3.64 41.8% 64.8% 18.5% 102.8 5.7% 7.0%
Rank 94 74 28 29 74 48 57 81 57
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Cayman Bundage C 13 39
Jacob Alsadek RG 6'7, 318 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8351 12 23
Lene Maiava RT 13 20
Layth Friekh LT 6'5, 282 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8633 9 9
Freddie Tagaloa LG 6'8, 320 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9001 9 9
Zach Hemmila C 6'3, 310 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8904 6 6
Gerhard de Beer LG 6'7, 311 Jr. NR NR 3 3
T.D. Gross LT
0 0
Kaige Lawrence RG 0 0
Levi Walton C 6'3, 290 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8194 0 0
Christian Boettcher RG 6'2, 274 So. NR NR 0 0
Cody Creason OL 6'4, 294 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8747

Michael Eletise OT 6'4, 295 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9213

Bryson Cain OT 6'4, 270 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8375

SIGN UP FOR OUR COLLEGE FOOTBALL NEWSLETTER

Get all kinds of college football stories, rumors, game coverage, and Jim Harbaugh oddity in your inbox every day.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.30 86 IsoPPP+ 87.4 106
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 44.1% 91 Succ. Rt. + 94.3 88
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 29.8 66 Off. FP+ 29.3 82
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 5.2 122 Redzone S&P+ 85.2 120
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 18.9 ACTUAL 16.0 -2.9
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 115 99 88 106
RUSHING 101 65 83 52
PASSING 115 121 91 125
Standard Downs 81 76 76
Passing Downs 123 104 128
Q1 Rk 79 1st Down Rk 78
Q2 Rk 123 2nd Down Rk 50
Q3 Rk 74 3rd Down Rk 120
Q4 Rk 63

6. Talent vs. tactics

"I wasn’t looking so much for a scheme than a personality, a guy who was confident enough in his scheme to be open enough for new ideas and new parameters."

A lot of coaches believe you can lure better offensive prospects with a supposed pro-style offense that would, in theory, prepare guys for the next level. There is some level of evidence, though it's hard to tell for sure -- schools like Alabama are going to recruit well no matter the system. Still, of the top eight teams in last year's 247Sports Composite rankings, six run what we would probably call pro-style attacks (whatever that means at this point). Only Ohio State and Ole Miss are the holdouts.

You could make the case that Rodriguez is casting his lot with a pro-style defense. When you've got a unique system like Casteel's 3-3-5, it's like running the triple option -- opponents don't get to practice against it very much, and you pretty much know how they're going to try to attack it. Being tactically flexible can be good, but it can also mean you don't know what your go-tos are or what your identity is.

You could interpret some of Rodriguez's offseason quotes as him saying Casteel's sytem was too rigid to attract high-end talent. That Wright, the Wildcats' biggest recent star, was a two-star recruit while four-star signees like tackle Marcus Griffin and linebackers Jamardre Cobb and Marquis Ware have struggled to see the field early might indirectly reinforce that. If you want to attract better talent, you have to offer that talent a clear chance to thrive.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 97.6 2.93 3.39 39.2% 78.3% 16.8% 72.6 2.6% 7.3%
Rank 77 76 84 76 117 101 108 116 66
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Reggie Gilbert DE 13 36.5 4.5% 8.5 3.5 0 1 1 0
Luca Bruno DT 6'4, 300 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8314 11 23.5 2.9% 1.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Jeff Worthy DT 12 20.5 2.5% 4.0 3.0 0 0 1 0
Sani Fuimaono DT 6'1, 294 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8100 13 18.5 2.3% 3.0 1.5 0 1 0 0
Parker Zellers DT 6'1, 247 Jr. NR NR 12 16.0 2.0% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jack Banda DE 6'3, 240 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8025 13 7.0 0.9% 4.0 3.0 0 0 0 0
Calvin Allen DE 6'6, 281 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8382 12 6.0 0.7% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Anthony Fotu DE 6'2, 275 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8708 5 3.5 0.4% 0.0 0.0 1 0 0 0
Marcus Griffin DT 6'0, 302 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8608
Finton Connolly DT 6'5, 280 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8457
JJ Allen DE 6'4, 250 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8681
Justin Holt DT 6'4, 285 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8362








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
DeAndre' Miller SLB 6'3, 236 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8656 11 43.0 5.3% 8.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
Cody Ippolito
(2014)
MLB 6'2, 242 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7863 14 42.5 4.8% 6.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Jake Matthews SLB 6'3, 230 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 11 38.5 4.7% 2.0 1.5 0 0 0 0
Sir Thomas Jackson MLB 13 33.0 4.0% 1.5 0.5 0 1 0 0
Scooby Wright III MLB 3 19.5 2.4% 3.5 2.0 0 0 0 0
Derrick Turituri WLB 6'1, 265 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8207 4 11.0 1.3% 2.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Haden Gregory SLB 8 10.5 1.3% 0.0 0.0 0 2 0 0
Tre Tyler MLB 5'11, 205 So. NR NR 12 8.5 1.0% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
RJ Morgan WLB 6'1, 232 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7973 6 8.0 1.0% 2.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Brandon Rutt LB 6'1, 215 So. NR NR 12 7.5 0.9% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Antonio Smothers Jr. WLB 10 4.5 0.6% 2.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
John Kenny
(Iowa)
LB 6'1, 230 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8625
Marquis Ware LB 6'0, 229 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9213
Jamardre Cobb LB 6'0, 257 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9173
Kahi Neves LB 6'4, 240 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8560
Jacob Colacion LB 6'1, 210 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8462
Jalen Cochran LB 6'4, 225 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8429








7. Any havoc left?

With Wright leading the way in 2014, Arizona's three-man linebacking corps combined for 42.5 tackles for loss and 19 sacks. In an injury-riddled 2015, those totals fell to 27.5 TFLs and seven sacks. Consequently, Arizona's havoc rate fell from 15.9 percent (basically the national average) to 12.6 (119th in FBS).

Any system with a three-man line is going to try to take advantage of its speed before you can take advantage of its lack of size. Casteel's was no different. But while this was never the most disruptive of systems, Arizona's 2015 defense was not even slightly disruptive.

Yates' 2015 Boise State defense generated a havoc rate of 21.5 percent, fourth in the country. Think about the difference between 21.5 percent and 12.6 percent -- that means that on an extra 8.9 percent of plays (about one in 11), Boise State was making a tackle for loss or breaking up a pass or forcing a fumble. You think that might make a difference?

Yates wants to unleash hell, attack the ball, and force opponents to adjust before Arizona has to. The question is whether he has any horses to pull that off. Wright is gone, as is leading end Reggie Gilbert. Of the returnees listed above, only three made more than even three tackles for loss last year, and three isn't very many.

There is potential, of course. Jack Banda made three sacks among his seven tackles as a reserve last year, linebacker Cody Ippolito is back after missing 2015, and reserve LBs like Derrick Turituri and RJ Morgan were each disruptive in limited action. Plus, there are the aforementioned four-star sophomores, for whom it isn't too late to break through.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Will Parks SPUR 13 64.5 7.9% 7 0 0 7 2 0
Paul Magloire Jr. S 6'1, 221 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8543 13 63.0 7.7% 4 0 0 1 1 0
DaVonte' Neal CB 5'10, 178 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9731 12 56.5 6.9% 2 0 1 5 0 0
Jamar Allah FS 13 53.5 6.5% 2 0 3 1 0 1
Tellas Jones BANDIT 6'0, 199 Sr. NR NR 11 48.5 5.9% 7 3 0 2 1 0
Cam Denson CB
13 35.5 4.3% 1 1 3 1 1 0
Anthony Lopez SPUR 13 31.0 3.8% 4 3 1 0 0 0
Jarvis McCall Jr. CB 6'2, 202 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8600 12 24.5 3.0% 0 0 1 5 0 0
Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles FS 6'2, 199 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8179 13 24.5 3.0% 1 0 1 0 1 0
Jace Whittaker CB 5'10, 163 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8100 11 22.0 2.7% 1 0 0 4 0 0
Carter Hehr S 5'10, 191 Jr. NR NR 12 16.5 2.0% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Kwesi Mashack CB 5'8, 206 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8280 7 6.0 0.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Devin Holiday CB 5'10, 170 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8385 13 5.0 0.6% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Sammy Morrison CB 5'9, 169 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8327 12 2.5 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jarek Hilgers S 6'0, 207 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7926 9 2.0 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Devon Brewer CB 5'10, 171 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8232 8 2.0 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Dane Cruikshank CB 6'1, 204 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8428
Anthony Mariscal S 5'10, 194 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8519
Chacho Ulloa S 6'0, 190 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8857
Isaiah Hayes S 6'0, 175 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8533
Gavin Robertson S 6'2, 200 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8367
Lorenzo Burns CB 6'0, 165 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8327

8. Plenty of competition in the back

Arizona's pass defense was miserable last year. The Wildcats weren't particularly aggressive but still gave up 27 passes of 30-plus yards in 2015, 116th in FBS and second-to-last in the Pac-12. Without Wright, the pass rush was totally nonexistent, and Arizona was one of the worst in the country at defending passing downs.

As good as Solomon was on passing downs in 2015, opponents were better, completing 35 of 59 passes for 591 yards, two touchdowns, and only one pick on third-and-7 or longer. Passer rating: 151.3. Yuck.

The good news is that there are plenty of experienced options returning. Safeties Tellas Jones and Paul Magloire Jr. combined for 11 tackles for loss and three passes defensed, and cornerbacks DaVonte' Neal, Jarvis McCall Jr., and Jace Whittaker combined for 16 passes defensed. And Rodriguez signed four relatively well-regarded freshman DBs; he probably doesn't intend to redshirt all of them.

In a more aggressive defense, Arizona is probably still going to allow a ton of big plays. But opponents also completed 62 percent of passes with only 11 interceptions; if those numbers improve, then the turnover and field position averages improve, too.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Drew Riggleman 52 45.3 6 3 15 34.6%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Casey Skowron 87 60.5 33 4 37.9%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Casey Skowron 59-61 11-13 84.6% 7-9 77.8%
Josh Pollack 5'10, 184 So. 1-1 0-0 N/A 0-0 N/A
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Tyrell Johnson KR 5'7, 164 Jr. 16 25.5 0
Nate Phillips KR 5'7, 180 Sr. 8 19.5 0
Nate Phillips PR 5'7, 180 Sr. 7 17.3 1
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 52
Field Goal Efficiency 18
Punt Return Success Rate 83
Kick Return Success Rate 114
Punt Success Rate 87
Kickoff Success Rate 70

9. An all-or-nothing return game

Here's a pretty good example between averages and efficiency. Arizona averaged a decent 22.8 yards per kick return (36th in FBS) and 16 yards per punt return (sixth) in 2015. That pretty clearly exemplifies the potential that Tyrell Johnson and Nate Phillips have in the back. But Arizona's efficiency numbers -- 83rd in punt return success rate, 114th in kick return success rate -- were pretty dreadful, suggesting that for every big return, there were quite a few tiny ones.

Still, all-or-nothing is better than simply nothing, and with the loss of place-kicker Casey Skowron, Johnson and Phillips are the closest thing to proven entities that Arizona has in special teams.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep vs. BYU 35 -5.7 37%
10-Sep Grambling State NR 35.9 98%
17-Sep Hawaii 118 19.6 87%
24-Sep Washington 10 -10.8 27%
1-Oct at UCLA 12 -17.3 16%
8-Oct at Utah 39 -8.6 31%
15-Oct USC 8 -11.1 26%
29-Oct Stanford 16 -9.2 30%
5-Nov at Washington State 48 -5.8 37%
12-Nov Colorado 82 8.4 69%
19-Nov at Oregon State 86 2.0 55%
25-Nov Arizona State 57 2.5 56%
Projected wins: 5.7
Five-Year F/+ Rk 11.3% (44)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 44 / 44
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -4 / -3.8
2015 TO Luck/Game -0.1
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 63% (61%, 65%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 6.9 (0.1)

10. Beat BYU

Because of last year's sudden drop to 77th in S&P+ (almost entirely due to defense), Arizona isn't a numbers darling. Projected 64th, the Wildcats start on the bottom of the non-OSU/Colorado pile in the Pac-12. Consequently, they are projected to finish right on the border of bowl eligibility.

Rodriguez's reinvention offers a chance to thwart these projections, for better or worse, but there's some work to do. S&P+ says Arizona has between a 26 and 41 percent chance of winning in six games, then finishes the year with back-to-back tossups against Oregon State and Arizona State.

If offensive health and defensive changes help to move Arizona back into the top 40, a 7-5 or 8-4 season becomes the most likely outcome. And there would be no better way to prove you've rebounded and stabilized than by taking down BYU in Glendale to start the year. (Glendale is graded as a "neutral site" -- you could adjust that to move another point or two toward Arizona if you wanted, though the crowd will be very mixed.)

Rodriguez has reinvented himself before, and 2016 appears to be the beginning of his second act in Tucson. The gambles might not pay off, but they certainly have before.