TUCSON, Ariz. -
This week's burning question in the desert concerns the health of Arizona quarterback Matt Scott and his status for Saturday's game against Colorado. The bigger question among Wildcats fans: Is the Pac-12 Conference's total offense leader really needed against the severely 'D' deficient Buffs?
Their gut answer is no, and Scott is considered doubtful after suffering a concussion last weekend. But in the remote chance he's cleared to play, Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez might believe he needs him.
A glance at the Pac-12 stats shows why. Arizona is the only team ranking lower than CU in total defense (497.3 yards a game to 498) and pass defense (293.1-314.9). CU is allowing 46.2 points a game, Zona 35.0, stationing them at Nos. 12-11, respectively, in the conference.
But on the flip side, behind Scott's 357.4 yards a game - 316 of it passing - the Wildcats put up 520.7 yards and 35.9 points a game to the Buffs' 293.0 yards and 16.1 points. A Tucson columnist wrote earlier this week: "Minus Matt Scott, Arizona is Colorado. That's the personnel difference between the two teams: a skilled quarterback. That should tell you two things. One, how important quarterbacking is in football and, two, how well Rich Rodriguez and his staff have coached this season."
So here's what might have crossed Rodriguez's mind over the last several days: Even with a backup quarterback - that would be junior B.J. Denker - making his first college start, what are the chances of Arizona's offense successfully moving the ball and punching up a load of points against CU? Um, odds would seem pretty good and the oddsmakers agree; the Wildcats are 30-plus point favorites.
And this certainly enters the afternoon's equation: for the first time in nine games, the Buffs' offense will open under a new quarterback - either Connor Wood or Nick Hirschman. CU coach Jon Embree said he would make his starter known on Friday or Saturday.
Hirschman has one college start on his resume (last season at Arizona State), Wood none. Both have played in out-of-hand losses over the past month and both have attempted 29 passes. Hirschman has hit 13 for 160 yards and one score, Wood 14 for 160 yards. Both have been intercepted twice.
In five games for Arizona, Denker has completed 13 of 23 passes for 123 yards and a TD. He struggled against the Bruins, completing two of five passes for 12 yards and rushing eight times for seven yards. He fumbled once.
In addition to the teams' QB questions, there are plenty of others hovering on what is expected to be a cool (low-60s) and possibly rainy afternoon here. For starters:
- After upsetting No. 10 USC 39-36 the previous weekend, Arizona was hammered 66-10 last Saturday at No. 25 UCLA. How to explain the night-and-day swing and are the Wildcats resilient enough to rebound, possibly minus Scott?
- At 5-4 overall (2-4 Pac-12), Arizona needs one win to become bowl eligible in Rodriguez's first season. The Wildcats' final two games are at Utah (Nov. 17) and against in-state rival Arizona State (Nov. 23). Guess which of the final three games the Wildcats believe will get them to the postseason?
- After losing five straight (badly) and dropping to 1-8 overall (1-5 Pac-12), how much do the Buffs have left in the tank? They defeated the Wildcats last season in Boulder (49-28), but there's little similarity this year on either team. Said Embree: "We're a way different team and I think they are, too . . . I think all those (CU) guys playing Saturday were getting ready for the state playoffs last year. So saying we beat Arizona doesn't mean anything to them."
- Will CU get DB Parker Orms back? He's also been out with concussion symptoms but returned to practice on Wednesday. Orms expects a game-time decision, but said, "I feel good and my head feels fine . . . but you can sure get out of shape quick."
Last season, Orms returned to the lineup against Arizona after serving a four-game suspension. Getting back on the field was reason enough to celebrate, then winning amplified that. Even though the Buffs haven't won this season since their Pac-12 opener at Washington State on Sept. 22, Orms said, "We're not going in there thinking we're going to lose; we're playing to win. That's how we approach every game."
Whether Rodriguez uses Scott or Denker at QB is immaterial, claimed Orms. "I think they're good with either guy," he said. "They're both good players and they've got good athletes at receiver and running back."
Sophomore Austin Hill needs six receiving yards to reach 1,000 for the season; he's made a team-best 59 catches for 994 yards and seven TDs. Hill is tied for fourth in the Pac-12 with USC's Robert Woods for number of receptions, and senior teammate Dan Buckner is seventh in the conference in catches (54, 678 yards, three TDs).
The Wildcats' ground game features sophomore Ka'Deem Carey, who averages 112.8 yards a game (199 carries, 1,015 yards, 13 TDs).
Embree believes his team matches up fairly well with the Wildcats in both lines. He has forewarned the Buffs that the 56-point loss last week at UCLA will still be eating at Arizona, and that the prospect of bowl eligibility also ups the afternoon's ante. "Know what they're playing for," Embree advised.
As for his team, Embree said sampling any success at this point would "mean a lot, especially going into these last three games for our seniors . . . they have been through a lot as a group."