Arizona Football

Arizona Wildcats Notebook: Rushing Production a Must Against Washington

Beat Washington? Run the ball.

In Washington’s two Pac-12 losses to Cal and Stanford, those teams combined to rush for 341 yards.

Normally, the Huskies’ suspect defense against the run would be beneficial to Arizona, which led the Pac-12 in rushing last season. But in the Wildcats’ last two games — both wins — against UCLA and Colorado they have rushed for only 99 and 83 yards, respectively.

Prolific running back J.J. Taylor (lower-leg injury) did not play against the Bruins and had only one carry against the Buffaloes. He is questionable to play against Washington.

Nathan Tilford (Arizona Athletics photo)

Before the season, Arizona boasted of being deep at the running back position, but yards have been tough to come by for Gary Brightwell, Nate Tilford and Bam Smith in Taylor’s absence the last two games.

Brightwell has rushed for only 60 yards on 18 carries in those games, an average of just 3.3 yards per carry. Tilford rushed only eight times for 56 yards against UCLA and Colorado. Smith has been more of a threat as a receiver. He rushed for 39 yards on eight carries in he last two games.

Cal’s running backs combined for 152 yards on 23 carries in Seattle last month. Stanford rushed for 189 yards Saturday. The Cardinal also passed for 293.

Arizona, which always has quarterback Khalil Tate as a running threat as long as he stays healthy, is ranked No. 26 nationally averaging 221 rushing yards a game.

On the flipside …

Because of its aggressive front that includes defensive end Jalen Harris and linebackers Colin Schooler, Tony Fields and Anthony Pandy, Arizona has shown its best ability to stop the run with Marcel Yates as defensive coordinator starting in 2016.

Arizona’s run defense has improved each year under defensive coordinator Marcel Yates (Arizona Athletics photo)

The Wildcats presently rank No. 55 nationally and fifth in the Pac-12 allowing 141.6 yards a game on the ground. Arizona was 64th last year (162.6 yards allowed a game), 86th in 2017 (185.1) and 83rd in 2016 (194.2).

Not reassuring: Arizona’s pass defense ranks No. 128 out of 130 schools allowing 336.2 yards per game. Only UCLA (340.7) and New Mexico (386.0) are worse.

Washington quarterback Jacob Eason is No. 8 in passing yards in the Pac-12 with 245.7 a game.

The Seattle Times had a headline that read the “Huskies’ passing game is broken” after the loss at Stanford. After Eason completed all five of his attempts in the Huskies’ opening drive, he went 11 of 31 for 150 yards with an interception the rest of the game. He was sacked twice.

Stanford ranked No. 115 nationally against the pass entering the game.

“(There were) dropped balls, and we’ve got to give our quarterback more answers, too,” Washington coach Chris Petersen told reporters after the game. “I know a couple times he was standing back there without answers.”

The game may come down to which is more susceptible to defeat: Washington’s rushing defense against an Arizona team that must break out of its funk and show its strength running the ball with or without Taylor or Arizona’s passing defense against an ineffective Washington passing game.

Homecoming for Matteo Mele of Salpointe

Former Salpointe offensive lineman Matteo Mele, a redshirt freshman with the Huskies, makes his first return to Tucson since his senior season with the Lancers in 2017.

He played extensively at center against Eastern Washington this season and has also played in the Huskies’ games against Hawaii and BYU. He was a lead blocker for Salpointe and Bijan Robinson, when Robinson was a sophomore. The Lancers, who also had Mario Padilla in 2017, rushed for 3,779 yards and 52 TDs that season.

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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