You didn’t need a PHD in football schedules to decipher the biggest problem with last season’s Arizona Wildcats attack.
The line was a mess.
For reasons that remain a confused Wonky pandemic season? Josh McCauley’s Pre-Season Knee Injury? Guys playing in the wrong places? the line fell back in 2020.
Arizona allowed the most sacks (18) in the Pac-12 despite playing only five games. The Wildcats also lost the most meters on sacks (118).
Those numbers per game have increased significantly compared to 2019. Arizona allowed 2.8 sacks per game that year, 3.6 last year. Yardage lost climbed from 15.9 to 23.6.
With their quarterbacks under siege regularly, the Wildcats’ overall offensive output plummeted. Arizona fell from third in aggregate offense in the Pac-12 (440.1 yards per game) to 11th (369.4) and from seventh in scoring (26.9 points per game) to last (17.4) .
Considering that Arizonas’ bag-adjusted rush average in 2019 was pretty much the same at 5.5 yards per attempt, 5.4 last season the problems can be traced mainly to pass protection.
Jedd Fisch chose Carroll to coordinate Arizonas’ attack and coach the attacking line. Carroll has never been a full-time line coach, but he has interned with some of the best, including Tom Cable and Mike Solari.
Other than the quarterback, no position group carries more intrigue in 2021 than the offensive line. During the spring training, which starts on Tuesday afternoon, no games are won or lost, but then the foundation must be laid. We explore that idea in the last of our series of burning questions about the Wildcats heading for the spring ball:
How crucial is it for Arizona to establish a cohesive line of attack during spring practice?
It is of the utmost importance. It’s everything.
The Fischs scheme will not work if the offensive line is not functioning at a high level. Whoever the quarterback is will struggle if they don’t have time to throw. Wildcats’ promising group of skill players won’t thrive if they don’t have room to operate.
Carroll inherits a group that is largely unchanged from last season, for better or for worse. Considering that the line remained largely unchanged last season, it’s hard to make that decision.
Spring additions include freshman center guard JT Hand and veteran tackle Edgar Burrola, who is back after being suspended last season. Fisch and his staff did not mine the NCAA transfer portal for attacking linemen. Growth therefore comes more from coaching and schematic changes than from a personnel review.
One player who will not be part of the team in the spring is Davis DiVall. DiVall, a transfer from Baylor, was announced in December as part of Arizonas 2021 drawing class. But DiVall ran into an academic problem that made him ineligible to enroll in January.
DiVall, who is from Scottsdale, had no previous relationships with the current UA staff. While his family tried to navigate the fitness issues, DiVall got lost in the shuffle.
DiVall is currently taking UA-approved classes at Scottsdale Community College and is on track to qualify later this spring. It is possible that he will end up in Arizona later this year. The Wildcats have another scholarship available for 2021.
Carroll will no doubt shake up the deck and try different combinations in the spring. He’s not averse to playing more than five linemen and said he even preferred it.
We don’t know exactly what Fisch’s offense will look like. But we do know that the quarterback will sometimes be below center, creating the possibility of play-action passes.
That’s one way to help an offensive line. Another is to include tight ends as blockers and receivers. Fisch plans to do the same.
Carroll is in favor of the wide zone lockout scheme. Zone blocking in general can have an integer-greater-than-sum-of-its-parts effect that should serve Arizona well.
We will always keep it very simple to start with, Carroll said. We would push them as far as possible in terms of learning and then withdraw if it goes too far.
But it starts very simple, very simple, so that our boys can start early. We don’t want to say: three years after the start of the program, they are ready. We need to be able to win and compete now, so that’s our goal.