Numbers don’t lie. But they can be deceiving.
Take the University of Arizona football team’s impressive offensive stats, for example. The numbers make the Wildcats look like a juggernaut on the ground.
Going into tomorrow night’s game with Utah, which will be its Pac-12 season opener, Arizona is ranked No. 6 nationally in total rushing offense. In three games they’ve racked up 984 yards.
But two of those games were against far inferior teams, which resulted in blow-outs. The Cats beat Northern Arizona University, an FCS program, in the season opener, 62-24. And last week, it was a 63-16 romp over UTEP, a team that hasn’t won a game yet this season. One local writer referred to the Miners as possibly the worst team in the FBS.
Sandwiched in between those laughers, however, is a loss to the University of Houston, a much more worthy opponent. Far different story here. Arizona’s defense held Houston to 19 points, but the Cats’ offense managed just 16 points of its own. And nine of those points came from field goals.
In that Sept. 9 contest, Arizona rushed for just 152 yards. That stat paints a different picture than the one that ranks Arizona among the nation’s top rushing teams.
Let’s face it. Arizona’s rushing game has not yet been tested.
Tomorrow, that will change. The Utes, who are ranked No. 23 in the nation, boast one of the best defensive fronts in the conference, if not the country. That impenetrable wall has enabled them to hold opponents to just 49 yards a game.
That pits the No. 6 rushing team against the No. 2 defenders of the run. Something will have to give.
An interesting side note to this game, a home contest for the Cats, is the part that each team’s quarterback plays in the run game. Both signal callers are dual-threat QBs who lead their team in rushing.
In fact, Arizona’s starter, Brandon Dawkins, needs just 46 yards in tomorrow’s game to become the school’s all-time rushing leader for quarterbacks. He would replace Ronald Veal‘s mark of 1,419 rushing yards, set back in 1958.
Last week against UTEP he ran for 143 yards, to go with 155 yards on 18-for-22 passing, to record his fourth career 100-yard rushing game.
But UTEP can’t be compared to Utah. The Utes are light years better than either UTEP, which fired its offensive coordinator following the rout by Arizona, or NAU. And also better than Houston. They will provide Arizona’s first true test of the 2017 season.
The Wildcats won’t be intimidated by the fact that Utah is a ranked team. They’ve beaten the Utes four out of the last five times they’ve met (Utah won last year), one of those wins back in 2015 when Utah was ranked No. 10 in the nation. But they haven’t won against a nationally-ranked team since then.
This will be the home conference opener for both teams, so each has a lot riding on the outcome. Having the home-field advantage should give Arizona a slight edge.
Kick-off is 7:30 p.m. Arizona time.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)