Arizona-Grambling State preview: QB intrigue takes center stage - Tucson News Now

Arizona-Grambling State preview: QB intrigue takes center stage

Brandon Dawkins takes off with the ball vs. ASU. (Brandon Dawkins vs. ASU (Photo by Stan Liu/Arizona Athletics) Brandon Dawkins takes off with the ball vs. ASU. (Brandon Dawkins vs. ASU (Photo by Stan Liu/Arizona Athletics)

This week's injury report provides the primary reason to watch Arizona Wildcats' home opener against lower-division Grambling State.

Arizona listed starting quarterback Anu Solomon -- he of the uneven performance in the 18-16 loss to BYU in Glendale last weekend -- as questionable because of a knee injury. From what we've heard, he suffered the injury in practice Wednesday morning.

Considering practice is closed to the media, coach Rich Rodriguez could likely have kept that a secret until game time, but he put Solomon on his (completely voluntary) injury report on Thursday.

How serious the injury is remains the question.

Do not expect Solomon to play Saturday night, which means sophomore Brandon Dawkins will make his first career start and likely will go a long way. If the game is a rout, walk-on quarterback Zach Werlinger could get some mop-up time. It seems as if the plan is for freshman Khalil Tate to take a redshirt.

Dawkins' only extended playing time came last season at Arizona State, when Solomon was out because of a concussion and second-stringer Jerrard Randall was ineffective. Dawkins completed 16 of 30 passes for 301 yards (with a big assist from Trey Griffey's 95-yard catch-and-run TD), and he carried 21 times for 78 yards. That included lost yardage due to eight sacks.

Despite being ill at halftime, throwing up, Dawkins came back up and helped the Cats rally from down 31-10 to 38-30 ... before he threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns.

Still, a couple of weeks after that, quarterbacks coach Rod Smith reflected on Dawkins' performance and concluded: "To me, he kind of checked the box to say, 'Yeah, I can play.'"

And yet we haven't seen Dawkins play since.

He didn't play in a tight 45-37 bowl victory over New Mexico, and he didn't get off the sideline in Saturday's tight loss to BYU. That indicates the coaching staff's trust with the more-veteran Solomon, despite offseason talk of Dawkins being competitive at the position.

We know Dawkins is more athletic than Solomon, but how does he manage the game? Can he progress through his reads in the passing game? Can he be consistently accurate. Only time will tell, and now he'll get time.

"I love how he is very decisive," Solomon said of Dawkins last month.

"There's some mistakes here and there, but we can clean that up. But one I like about him is how decisive he is. If he doesn't have anything, he'll just make something out of nothing. He'll take off and run. He has athletic out-of-the-pocket skills."

5 things to watch

1. Grambling State QB Devante Kincade. The transfer from Ole Miss is a former three-star recruit from Skyline High in Dallas. He accounted for four touchdowns in the Tigers' 72-12 season-opening victory against Virginia University of Lynchburg last Saturday.

2. Tempo. Rodriguez says he wants to have 80 offensive snaps per game, a mark he has reached just over half the time at Arizona -- in 28 of 54 games. But the Wildcats managed only 56 against BYU and have had back-to-back games with just 56 snaps, including the 2015 New Mexico Bowl. RichRod said part of the reason for a slower tempo last week was being backed up near the goal line so much.

3. Three-and-outs. So, that brings us to this point. Rodriguez also talked this week about another statistical goal -- get six three-and-outs on defense per game. The Wildcats' defense forced only one against BYU, which resulted in consistently poor field position for the offense. UA's average starting position was the 20.3-yard line, which ranked 123rd out of 127 teams nationally in the opening week.

4. Arizona's depth at running back. Nick Wilson looked good against BYU, rushing 17 times, but backups Orlando Bradford and J.J. Taylor each had only one touch. If Arizona's offense gets close to its 80 snaps per game, these guys need to eat. "They'll get more going forward," Rodriguez vowed Monday.

5. The Grambling band. Halftime will be fun.

Catching on

Senior Nate Phillips led Arizona with seven catches for 69 yards against BYU. No surprise. He is the team's leading returning receiver from last season, when he made 44 catches for 564 yards and four touchdowns.

"Nate, from a mental standpoint right now, is just like a coach," said receivers coach Tony Dews.

"He knows every (receiver) position, where everybody is supposed to be, what everybody is doing. He knows the quarterback reads. He gets it. He grasps it. He understands it.

"I could go coach one side of the field and he could go to the other side and coach the other two guys."

Meanwhile, much of the offseason buzz was the potential of junior Cam Denson, the former Salpointe Catholic star who switched from cornerback to receiver after last season. When he signed, he was slated for offense, but the coaches tried him on defense because of needs in the secondary.

Denson, second team on the depth chart, barely played in the opener.

"I have to do a better job of monitoring that. He has to play," Dews said.

"Cam has played a lot of football for us. He was worked hard and he deserves to play. I have to make sure that doesn't happen anymore. That falls completely on me. I've got to get him in the game. Because he deserves it."

Like at the running back position, a lack of snaps was a factor in the coaches not going as much to their reserve players.

Most snaps, fewest snaps

There hasn't been a correlation between winning losing. Arizona is 2-3 in its five games with the most snaps in the RichRod era, and it is 4-1 in its games with the fewest snaps.

MOST

1t. 106 -- Boise State, Dec. 31, 2014

1t. 106 -- Cal, Sept. 20, 2014

3. 103 -- Stanford, Oct. 6, 2012

4. 102 -- South Carolina State, Sept. 15, 2012

5. 101 -- USC, Oct. 11, 2014

FEWEST

1. 47 -- NAU, Aug. 30, 2013

2. 52 -- Colorado, Nov. 10, 2012

3t. 56 -- BYU, Sept. 3, 2016

3t. 56 -- New Mexico, Dec. 19, 2015

5. 58 -- Arizona State, Nov. 28, 2014

Prediction

Grambling State had had some tough times recently, but the Tigers went 9-3 last season and were picked by Lindy's to win the Southwestern Athletic Conference this season in coach Broderick Fobbs' third year.

But the Tigers haven't done well in recent years when trying to punch up against FBS opponents, while Rich Rodriguez's guys have gone 3-0 -- winning 168-13 -- against lower-division foes.

Chances are, we'll be talking about the quarterback position and a blowout on Sunday morning.

Arizona 54, Grambling State 7.

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