Every week throughout the season, we’ll take a look back at the Arizona Wildcats’ previous game after re-watching it via the TV broadcast and present five key takeaways.
Here are the five from Arizona’s 28-23 loss to BYU on Saturday night:
1. TATE’S TROUBLES
Arizona fans were up in arms during and after the game because quarterback Khalil Tate didn’t run the ball more. His eight rushing attempts tied for the fewest he’s had since becoming the Wildcats’ starter. While it’s true that offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone didn’t call many designed QB runs, other factors have to be considered. For example: the way BYU defended Tate. More often than not, the Cougars deployed a “mush rush” – a conservative approach meant to keep the quarterback contained. They also limited Tate’s ability to get to the edges, a la Oregon last year, and used 6-9, 275-pound defensive end Corbin Kaufusi as a spy. (Not only is Kaufusi freakishly large, he’s also freakishly athletic.) UA coach Kevin Sumlin suggested afterward that the Wildcats needed to run the ball more effectively between the tackles to counteract that – a challenge given their green offensive line (more on that shortly). Whether it was play design or Tate’s reads, Arizona tried to exploit BYU deep. Unofficially, Tate threw 11 passes that traveled at least 38 yards in the air. Three drew pass-interference penalties. The other eight were incomplete. All but one deep throw came after the first quarter.
2. BLOCKING BREAKDOWN
The offensive line had an up-and-down night – exactly what you’d expect from a unit featuring only one (part-time) returning starter. On the second play from scrimmage, the starting guards ran into each other. On a run early in the third quarter – when Arizona had consecutive three-and-outs and got outscored 21-0 – the right side pulled to lead for J.J. Taylor but completely missed their blocks. BYU also at times was able to push the pocket back into Tate, forcing him to scramble. Starting late in the third quarter, the line began to get comfortable. Blocks by Bryson Cain and Cody Creason sprung Taylor for his game-long 26-yard run. In the fourth quarter, Creason pulled and found his target, freeing Taylor for a 16-yard gain. Plagued by blown assignments early, the line showed promise late. It’ll need to be sharp from the start against Houston, whose defensive line features All-American Ed Oliver. The star defensive tackle merely had 13 tackles, including 3.5 for losses, in Houston’s 45-27 victory over Rice.
3. LEVELING OFF
Arizona’s defensive line was supposed to be vastly improved – bigger, stronger and stouter. But for the most part, the Cougars manhandled the Wildcats when BYU had the ball. Whether it was fatigue – several UA players succumbed to cramping – or bad technique, Arizona’s defensive linemen far too often played with poor pad level. The also lacked discipline at times, flying upfield and losing their gap integrity. Meanwhile, BYU tailback Squally Canada ran low and hard, pile-driving his way to 98 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries. Because of the D-line’s struggles, the linebackers ended up making far too many tackles too far down the field. Colin Schooler, Tony Fields II and Anthony Pandy combined for 28 stops, but only two went for losses. Those were the only TFLs the Wildcats had. Even when Arizona penetrated the backfield, BYU managed to make a play. On a critical third-and-12 in the third quarter, Jalen Harris and JB Brown pressured QB Tanner Mangum. Brown might have even gotten a hand on him. But Mangum escaped and completed a 22-yard pass to Dylan Collie, who made a miraculous catch after safety Isaiah Hayes batted the ball.
4. THIS TIME IT’S PERSONNEL
Every week we provide some notes on individual players, so here goes … While Tate didn’t have his best game, he did make some magnificent throws, including an under-pressure gem for 19 yards to Stanley Berryhill III in the second quarter. … Receiver Shawn Poindexter showed how his game has progressed, making a nifty sideline catch (initially ruled incomplete) and high-pointing a ball thrown slightly behind him to convert a fourth-and-10 in the fourth quarter. … Tailback Gary Brightwell looked shifty and ran hard but wasn’t in the game much when the rushing lanes opened up late in the second half. … Cornerback Lorenzo Burns had one of his best games as a Wildcat, breaking up three passes and regularly mirroring receivers. He easily could have had two interceptions. … If fellow corner Tim Hough is going to continue to play in place of the injured Jace Whittaker, the grad transfer from UNLV will need to improve his tackling technique, which was lacking.
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5. KEVIN CAN’T WAIT
As bad as the game looked and felt at times for Arizona, there were plenty of positive performances. As Sumlin said afterward, “All is not lost.” He spoke with the perspective of a coach who has endured the ups and downs that accompany every football season. He knows that one game doesn’t – or at least shouldn’t – derail an entire campaign. He also acknowledged that the Wildcats need to get to work immediately to fix their mistakes. On paper, they have the talent and experience to have a good season – which, minimally, would mean qualifying for a bowl game. But no one expected Arizona to start 0-1, and there’s real danger of the Wildcats coming back from Houston 0-2 if they don’t make significant progress this week. This is the first true test of Sumlin’s tenure. Will he and his staff rally the troops and make the adjustments necessary to end Arizona’s four-game losing streak? Or will his Wildcats wilt in the Houston heat?