Even though the Arizona Wildcats lost on Saturday, I think most people saw that as a positive outcome.
But then people started to wonder where Cayleb Jones was the whole game. So we answer that, take our turn at addressing stealing signals, and wonder if American Pharoah is truly an Arizona athlete at heart.
It's this week's roundtable! Enjoy:
Jason Bartel: Encouraged, discouraged, or meh after that performance?
Gabe Encinas: Very encouraged. Considering the injuries of Freddie Tagaloa, Jacob Alsadek and Nick Wilson, going up against the USC defense, it wasn't looking good. And I figured USC was going to score on just about every drive. Arizona played a complete game, and probably their best of the season in terms of Pac-12 play, and that's all you can ask for heading into these next two weeks, fighting for bowl eligibility.
Anyone discouraged is probably just getting greedy at this point. Sure, they almost pulled off a big win and they didn't close it out, but going into the game I can't imagine a whole lot of people would have actually thrown money down on Arizona to win.
David Potts: Encouraged. If you look back at our predictions from last week, they were very, very pessimistic. The team significantly outperformed our expectations, and that's encouraging. It doesn't mean that our team is any good, and it doesn't even mean we'll be able to squeak out another win this year. But I certainly feel better about our chances after that performance on the road against a very good USC team.
Alec Sills-Trausch: Definitely positive. Vegas was giving us zero chance and we played tough or something along those lines, for 60 minutes. This was probably the best game Anu Solomon has had all season and should give us some momentum going into Utah and Arizona State. Furthermore, this goes to show how much potential/talent this team still has. Hopefully that talent will make more appearances during the final two games this season.
James Schlittenhart: It's amazing how offensive production makes up for a multitude of deficiencies on the other side of the ball. I will admit, even though Arizona gave up almost 40 points, my perception of the defense in this game was much more positive than negative. They got to quarterback Cody Kessler often, forced five punts, and generally kept the game within reach. They were clearly outmatched by the athleticism and size of USC up front and at the skill positions, but they still performed adequately. When it's a choice between "adequate" and "we just gave up 49 to Washington," I'll call the former an encouraging step in the right direction.
Ivan Leonard: Very meh to the outcome. They did better than everyone's expectations coming into the game, but they still might have blown their best chance to become bowl eligible. The defense showed some life for the first time in a while but they then remembered that they cannot tackle and planned accordingly. It is hard to be optimistic when the best team you have beaten this season is Northern Arizona.
Ryan Kelapire: I think it's hard to not be encouraged. After getting ravaged by Washington, it looked like the team had given up. As such, I expected this game to be extremely one-sided, and the fact that it was not only close, but Arizona had a lead for most of it, was nice to see. The team is still fighting despite the struggles, and I think that's all you can ask for at this point.
JB: How do you explain the lack of Cayleb Jones catches this year?
GE: The offense is just much shorter and simpler than last year. It's all about Johnny Jackson and Nate Phillips underneath in those short passing routes. And if Anu decides to go deep, it's usually to David Richards, presumably because Jones is being shadowed by a safety, and Anu doesn't want to force any throws.
But Cayleb Jones was in single coverage for most of the night vs. USC, and that was extremely disappointing to see his only catch come in the final minutes.
DP: I think it's a combination of factors. First, our quarterback play has been less consistent, and with Jerrard Randall seeing significantly more snaps, it's not surprising to see Jones get fewer receptions. Second, I think opposing defenses have keyed in on Jones a little more, and he hasn't been able to overcome that.
But if you take a step back, even though he's been a little disappointing, Jones hasn't been bad. He still leads the team in receiving yards and is second on the team in receptions (behind Johnny Jackson, of all people). The USC game was a pretty bad look, but Jones has been productive even with fewer catches this season.
AST: As DP pointed out, our QB play has been inconsistent but that's only part of it. When you have a mediocre offensive line like us, most of our plays are quick and uncomplicated. Cayleb Jones is a tremendous deep threat with his height and speed, but those types of plays take much longer to develop (see 3-step drop vs. 5-step drop) and when you've got 2 seconds until you've got to run for your life, a deep throw is not happening.
It'd be great if we could give him more opportunities, but I think that would require moving him into the slot and I bet Jones wouldn't be too thrilled about that.
JS: This reminds me a bit of Austin Hill in 2014. Huge expectations going in, lack of results coming out. I'd hesitate to put much of the onus for this on Jones. One thing that we've always known about Anu is that he spreads the ball around, and the emphasis of the Arizona offense is the short, quick routes. Both of those work against the number of targets Jones is going to get. When he has had the ball thrown to him, he seems to make it count, as evidenced by DP's link above.
IL: I thought Cayleb Jones would be better statistically with another year and improved chemistry with Anu but it seems as if he is not on the field for stretches at a time. The offensive line has not helped with protection and he is vying for targets with six other receivers but it seems as if none of the receivers are on the same page with Solomon. Cayleb gets the most criticism for being the lead dog, but it seems as if they do not have chemistry with each other, as evidence by Solomon's interception in the first half.
RK: Pretty much what everyone else has said. It's a combination of the quarterback play being inconsistent, the offensive line not pass protecting well, and also because Cayleb just hasn't made those type of awe-inspiring plays that we were accustomed to last year. I thought he was going to have a monster season this year and then bolt for the NFL, but at least it looks as though he'll be back for another season.
JB: Is ASU stealing signals a story you care about?
GE: If they were actually stealing signs, they wouldn't be 4-5 right now. Todd Graham is a smart guy, and he's able to out coach a lot of guys in this conference, but he's also slimey enough to actually steal signs rather than game plan and prepare for their plays. He sent a text to his players at Pitt saying he was leaving for the Arizona State job -- his dream job -- so nothing would really surprise me at this point.
There's a reason why his name doesn't get thrown out in these coaching carousel discussions. He'll continue to lose credibility as long as these accusations keep rolling around, and Pac-12 coaches keep taking shots at him.
DP: No, but, because it's ASU, I'm going to pretend like I care and use it to talk smack to my friends who root for ASU. I'm also going to deeply enjoy every sick burn that opposing teams throw at Todd Graham and ASU because of their sign stealing ways.
AST: I think the story is how they are 4-5 after Coach Todd Graham talked National Championships. I'm just going to leave it there.
JS: Under normal circumstances, do I care even the least bit about this story? Not a chance. Stealing signals is smart, strategic, and advantageous. But it's Todd Graham. This is a guy who is so hated by one of his former schools that the marching band literally wrote a show scorching his memory. The money quote by the announcer of the show:
"You know, that reminds me of a joke: A priest, a nun, and a rabbi walk into a bar. Now, I forgot how the rest of it went, but I think in the end Todd Graham is a douchebag."
So is this a story I care about? Not at all. But I hope some petulant and particularly adamant representative within the Pac-12 or the NCAA decides it's worth a full-blown investigation, and eventually forces Graham to surrender all his wristbands as a penalty.
IL: This is a story I am very intrigued by because I never considered Arizona State smart enough to steal signals. Of course if they beat us I am going to use this as an excuse and call for the removal of that victory so it is a win-win scenario for me.
RK: Stealing signals isn't exactly illegal, rather it's just an unwritten rule. So while ASU doing it is kind of tacky, there's nothing wrong with it. Heck, maybe Arizona's defense should start stealing signals if it would help them get more stops.
JB: Do you consider American Pharoah an Arizona athlete?
DP: Yes. Is the connection tenuous at best? Yes. But if the Miami Heat can retire Michael Jordan's jersey, then I feel like we can consider American Pharoah an Arizona athlete. Then again, I still consider Brandon Jennings an Arizona athlete and he never even made it to campus, so maybe don't listen to me.
AST: Na, but we can still take credit! There's nothing wrong with an adopted son.
JS: I say we take him on official recruiting visits. "Oh, you say you're considering Oregon? Yes, they do have some original uniforms. Say, are they able to offer you a ride on the TRIPLE CROWN WINNING HORSE?"
IL: We are not called "the conference of champions" for nothing.