The Arizona Wildcats’ cornerbacks have received their fair share of criticism as the team has stumbled out to a 2-4 record to begin the season, but they certainly weren’t the reason Arizona lost to Utah last Saturday.
In fact, Jace Whittaker, who made his first start of the season against the Utes, outperformed every other cornerback in the country, according to Pro Football Focus.
The sophomore posted an 89.7 Pro Football Focus grade for the game, leading him to be named to PFF’s Team of the Week for Week 6.
With four passes defensed and only 11 yards surrendered on nine targets, it was a career day for Whittaker, even with a touchdown surrendered in the fourth quarter.
In addition to the numbers above, Whittaker finished last Saturday’s game with four tackles and a career-high five pass breakups, plus he nearly had an interception in the end zone.
"I do think he played pretty well, not just for being a young guy playing extended time, but against some pretty good folks," Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez said of Whittaker on Monday. "We thought he played really well and competed really well. He is young, but he is going to keep getting better."
Whittaker started for DaVonte’ Neal, who’s been scuffling, but Rodriguez said the team still plans to use Neal in their cornerback rotation, and Whittaker’s emergence simply gives them more options to pick from depending on match-ups.
"I think it helps because we will need him, Dane [Cruikshank] and DaVonte’ [Neal] to have three guys that we can rely on out there," Rodriguez said.
Whittaker is listed as a co-starter with the Neal on the depth chart for the upcoming game against USC, while Dane Cruikshank still owns the other cornerback spot.
We’ll see if Whittaker can continue his success Saturday against a talented Trojan receiving corps that includes JuJu Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers.
Kickoff against USC is set for 12:30 p.m. PT and the game will be televised on Fox Sports 1.