© 2023 BSN LIVE, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Arizona Wildcats coach Jedd Fisch said something during fall camp that got me thinking.
The offensive line, he said, “is a strength for our team.”
That wasn’t the part that got me thinking. He’s right about that. Kind of a no-brainer.
Then he added:
“I don’t know how many times that’s been said in Tucson over the years.”
Well, that’s a good thought experiment. Yeah, how many times?
You might be satisfied with answering that question by saying, “Not damn often enough!” – and you’d be right – but it did send me down a bit of a rabbit hole to figure out just how substandard the Wildcats collectively have been on the offensive line since … oh, I don’t know, since before their current players were born.
It’s been that long. It’s been that rare.
The Wildcats have had pockets of time with solid play up front, but since 1998, Arizona’s total of first-team all-conference offensive linemen is … drum roll … um … cancel the drum roll. It’s one. The answer is one. Just one. Uno.
Eben Britton, offensive tackle, 2008.
I promise, all this might have a happy ending, but, first, let’s pile on some misery. You can handle that, right?
In the past 24 seasons, there have been 126 first-team All-Pac-10/12 selections on the offensive line (accounting for some years in which there were ties and, therefore, six first-team picks). Here is the total selections by school:
- USC — 25
- Stanford — 19
- Oregon — 16
- Washington — 14
- ASU — 10
- Cal — 10
- Oregon State — 9
- *Utah — 9
- Washington State — 8
- UCLA — 5
- Arizona — 1
- *Colorado — 0
*Joined league in 2011
(Random thought: UCLA? Five?)
OK, so, now that we have established the depths to which the Wildcats’ offensive line play has plummeted, let’s build them back up.
The Wildcats have a potential 4,000-yard passer in Jayden de Laura, two future pro receivers in Jacob Cowing and Tetairoa McMillan, four versatile running backs and two tight ends who are weapons, but I’m most intrigued that the offense can be even better than last season’s 30.8 points per game due to the growth of the offensive line.
Left tackle Jordan Morgan is a 2024 potential first-rounder, right tackle Jonah Savaiinaea could join him there in another year or two, redshirt freshman left guard Wendell Moe had a strong 2023 debut, true freshman right guard Raymond Pulido has the look of a future star, and center Josh Baker is now a veteran with 19 career starts. In Savaiineaea, Moe and Pulido, Arizona has three big, young ‘uns who are ahead of the curve.
Unless pro projections are really, really wrong, this will be the first time since 1998 (Edwin Mulitalo and Manu Savea) that Arizona starts two NFL-bound offensive tackles. That line also featured All-American guard Yusuf Scott, center Bruce Wiggins and guard Steven Grace. You might remember that 1998 season as something special for the Cats. No coincidence.
Here is one reason why: Arizona started the same offensive line group in all 13 games. That kind of injury-free, high-level continuity almost never happens.
It already hasn’t happened in 2023.
Pulido was unexpectedly unavailable last Saturday against NAU due to what Fisch said was a late-week bike accident. He might be back Saturday at Mississippi State.
In any case, Fisch has done major work at this position. He has some dudes. They look the part. And they can play the part.
But don’t take my word for it.
“When I was out there (early in fall camp), when struck me was the technique work,” Arizona great Glenn Parker, a 12-year NFL veteran, said on Mike Luke’s PHNX Sports podcast. “I wouldn’t have said that one year today. The technique was not there. They were doing things that weren’t even the basics and now these kids are so much more advanced.”
Things are definitely changing.
Go ahead and say it, because you haven’t been able to say it with as much conviction in about a quarter century: The offensive line is a strength for Arizona.