The score won’t necessarily show it, but the Arizona Wildcats played the UCLA Bruins much closer than it appeared. While both offenses were dismal and Arizona eventually broke down on defense as the game went on, this was a hard fought game coming off an overtime loss against a much bigger Washington Huskies team.
There’s a lot we learned in Rich Rodriguez’ fifth straight loss to UCLA, like how little trust Zach Green seems to have, special teams issues, corner back play, and so on.
But here are the three big things we learned this week:
Arizona has three true starting quarterbacks
Brandon Dawkins was taking some solid shots all night long and battled through them for as long as he could. At one point it just seemed best to pull him out of the game entirely for the sake of his health going forward.
We saw Zach Werlinger go in for a couple of quick drives and it was clear that there wasn’t going to be much production with him under center behind a depleted offensive line.
So in comes Khalil Tate, and the offense starts moving the ball with some consistency. It should also be noted that when Tate was in, the running plays were actually designed to go outside instead of straight up the middle. Seems like a pretty smart idea to utilize Tyrell Johnson in that matter.
Tate made his presence felt as a runner, extending plays and running guys over. He also had two nicely placed touchdowns to help make the score respectable.
Tate seemed extremely frustrated with his opportunities — or lack thereof — to see the field, and he finally got his chance, burning his redshirt five games into the season. That’s a pretty big statement for Rich Rodriguez to make.
Based on what I had seen and heard, I thought Tate was on his way out, ready for a fresh start elsewhere. Now you figure he at least gets a shot at a series or two if Rich Rodriguez does choose to use him situationally.
Once we find out more on the injury report Thursday, things could get interesting going forward.
Defense fights to the finish
We talk about how there’s not a whole lot of talent left on defense, yet that unit continues to keep Arizona in games. Whether it’s the new scheme, different packages, new play calling, Marcel Yates has done a phenomenal job this season working with what he has.
When the offense goes three-and-out, taking about a minute of game clock off and maybe two minutes of real time, the defense is going to start to break after holding teams up. We started to see that in the second half.
Unfortunately, the corners have not been good this season. While the defensive line is getting pressure now, the secondary is failing to hold up their part of the deal. Now I understand why Arizona brought in five safeties in the 2016 recruiting class and now has six defensive backs, three of which are corners, in the 2017 recruiting class.
One odd phenomenon is the absence of Paul Magloire. Seems as if he’s hardly on the field and it’s odd to me that you’re not putting your best players on the field.
Strength and conditioning is a big problem
Maybe this isn’t something entirely new that we learned last night, but there just seems to be way too many injuries with this program, especially over the last two years. Having more late games also doesn’t help with player receiving proper treatment after games.
Players just can’t stay healthy and I don’t think that’s just a wild coincidence. Of course there is some bad luck involved with it, like a J.J. Taylor broken ankle,
But when you start having Brandon Dawkins tap out, Nick Wilson constantly missing games, Scooby Wright missing an entire season, DeAndre’ Miller missing time and so on, there definitely has to be an underlying issue here.
Pace of play seems to have some sort of role in this epidemic, and the team prides themselves in being one of the most well-conditioned teams, especially when guys are out due to injury and have to try and get back to Arizona speed.
But then you look at the team getting beaten with pure speed against Grambling State, out-matched by Washington, and now just worn out against UCLA. I noticed it the most with Khalil Tate, who did most of his work early using his feet. But on the first drive he looked absolutely gassed, hands on his hips, and heavy breathing.
It seems to be a team-wide issue here.