The Arizona Wildcats will head into Pac-12 play with at a 2-1 record after a solid win against a Power Five opponent in Texas Tech. After two shaky efforts to start the season, the team bounced back nicely in what was a confidence-building performance.
Let’s take a look at how each position group did against Texas Tech:
We got quite a bit of a mixed bag from Khalil Tate. There were some poor decisions that were made as a passer, and he was accountable for three bad turnovers. He had two bad forced balls which ended as interceptions, and he continues to run out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage rather than throwing the ball away. But the main takeaway is that Khalil Tate finished the day with 17 carries for 129 yards and a touchdown.
Tate had a decent amount of pressure throughout the night but looked good running out of the pocket and used his legs to extend plays and pick up yardage. There were also a fair amount of designed runs, including his 84-yard TD run.
Tate isn’t an elite passer, but his value tremendously increases when he’s able to run. And we got a small taste of the 2017 Tate in Week 3.
Running backs: B
The backs averaged over four yards a carry, and we saw some hard runs from them. J.J. Taylor got banged up early but finished with 11 carries for 39 yards, which statistically is one of his worst career performances, but he was involved in a lot of big collisions on some good runs.
Gary Brightwell had himself a nice day with 21 carries for 85 yards and two TDs. After failing to land a carry in week one, he has been extremely productive these last two weeks and continues to see the running lanes well.
The best carry for the running backs came from Bam Smith, who almost cribbed a run that netted him 40 yards. He was one yard short of having Arizona’s longest reception as well, picking up 46 yards on his one catch. Both of those plays helped set up Arizona touchdowns. He looked very fluid running the ball and is a nice compliment to the other backs as he continues to carve out his role.
Wide receivers: B+
Receivers appeared to have decent separation last night, and six receivers split 12 catches, totaling 142 yards. None had more than Tayvian Cunningham, who finished with five for 35 yards and was used early and often. He’s been great in the quick game and quickly cuts upfield.
The Tucson trio combined for five catches and 58 yards. Jamarye Joiner and Stanley Berryhill III had two apiece, with one for Drew Dixon, but Berryhill caught the lone receiving touchdown and finished with 34 yards.
We haven’t seen too much deep action this season, but Cedric Peterson made his lone reception count, hauling in 47-yarder to set up a Brightwell TD run on the goal line.
Offensive line: A
When you can rush the ball for 314 yards on a team and march down the field for a 99-yard scoring drive without attempting to pass you had yourself a day. I love the gap scheme and the pulls that the line has been executing to power downfield lately.
Pass protection could be a little better at times, but overall I think this group is starting to mesh well and play as a cohesive unit heading into Pac-12 play.
Arizona converted a fourth down attempt early in the game, but it was called back due to a holding call on Cody Creason. I was worried that it was going to just kill all the momentum, resulting in a punt, but aside from the hold this was a clean game by the line.
Defensive line: D+
The defensive line has been extremely disappointing this season. After fall camp it legitimately seemed like the unit had recovered from the loss of Dereck Boles and PJ Johnson. The size and the depth aren’t bad, but they are not generating any pressure. There was still a three-man rush for the most part with a few blitzes sending another on the line.
Trevon Mason had himself a couple of nice plays and Kyon Barrs got involved early. Jalen Harris played absolutely out of his mind and generated pressure all by himself, and also stopped the fake field attempt. Unfortunately it looked like Finton Connolly was getting blown back lined up over the center.
I was a big fan of the linebackers last night, especially with Tony Fields II and Anthony Pandy filling their gaps and making plays. And with Colin Schooler, the three linebackers led the team in tackles with a combined 24 out of 57 takedowns.
Pandy was smacking people all night, could have potentially been called for unsportsmanlike conduct after a big hit, but came away with an interception and a 27-yard return. Unfortunately Tate killed the momentum as a he fumbled on the next play, but nonetheless the defense snagged another turnover.
I feel like the corners were not very noticeable, which to me is a good thing. Christian Rolland-Wallace continues to get some reps and fight through some growing pains but for being week three there is a lot of potential there.
Lorenzo Burns made a heck of an athletic grab in the end zone to grab Arizona’s first interception on the day.
There were 311 passing yards for Texas Tech, and I’m curious to know how much of that went to the corners, but it seems like they were able to keep the plays in front of them.
Similar to the corners, I feel like safeties went unnoticed, which in this case doesn’t seem great because I’d expect safeties to be making plays as they roam across the field. I feel like Scottie Young Jr. was flying all over the field and found himself coming up to make a lot of plays near the box as the free safety. Christian Young probably could have had a better game and Tristan Cooper didn’t appear to get into much of the action.
Special Teams: C-
There was nothing notable on kickoff or kick return which I’ll net as a win. Arizona only fielded one punt and it was Berryhill who got dropped as soon as he caught it. The rest of the punts seemed to be bouncing favorably for Tech, which happens when you have a good punter, Austin McNamara, a punter from Phoenix that Arizona recruited. He finished with seven punts for 321 yards, a 46 yard average.
On the other hand, Matt Aragon had five punts for 181 yards, averaging 36.2 yards. There was a lot of talk this offseason about how Aragon had been stepping up and looked totally different, but here are in Week 3 with punting woes, and we’ll likely see scholarship punter Kyle Ostendorp against UCLA in two weeks.
For me this game is all about the results and not the process. Sure, Arizona wasn’t generating much pressure up front and scoring 28 points isn’t exactly what you’d expect. But at the end of the day a Power Five team was held to 14 points and that’s a heck of a defensive game for Marcel Yates after we were thinking Tech could hang 60 on us in what was projected to be a loss for the most part.
On offense, the play calling wasn’t head scratching this time. We saw smart calls all night long that seemed to be tailored for Tate’s skillset. And the staff saw that the run game was working and didn’t stray from it, running on every single play en route to a 99-yard scoring drive. If Tate had made some wiser choices and would have been able to hold onto the ball, this thing could have been a blown for the Cats.
Nonetheless, this was one of the best coaching performances by the staff.