The Arizona Wildcats fell for the eighth time this season and are in serious jeopardy of a 10-loss season, something a Rich Rodriguez-coached team has never done. In his 23 years of head coaching, Rich Rodriguez has lost eight games in an FBS season twice — 2009 Michigan (3-9), and 2001 West Virginia (3-8).
Here are three things we learned from another Arizona loss.
The Third Down Defense is Improving
Arizona has been in the bottom 30 in third down defense all season. In fact, there are only four teams worse than Arizona in this category at the moment as they allow opponents to convert 50% of their third down attempts (Michigan, by comparison allows opponents to convert only 19% of their third downs, best in the nation). Allowing opponents to convert every other third down and committing nearly 150 yards in penalties essentially gives the Wildcats no chance to win, especially with so many injuries on offense.
However this defense is improving. Meaningful reps for Dane Cruikshank, Jace Whittaker, and Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles will improve the depth of the secondary next season when it will receive an infusion of talent from incoming recruits and the many players the Wildcats are redshirting this season. Although Arizona is light years away from having a defense like Michigan, they aren’t that far off from being competitive, at least in the third-down category. The cutoff for having a top-50 third down defense is 38%, an obtainable number for Arizona. On third down in this game, Colorado converted seven of their fifteen attempts, or a 46% success rate. Take out one bad call on third down and Arizona would have held Colorado to a 40% conversion rate. Ten percentage points may not seem like a lot, but in this statistical category it is the difference between 75 spots in the rankings. Michael Barton even had a sack on third down, something that seems like hasn’t happened all season.
This warrants a flag for a late hit? pic.twitter.com/metLA7AuIH— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) November 13, 2016
The Red Zone Offense Needs Work
Arizona had converted 2 of their first 5 red zone opportunities. If those three missed opportunities were turned into touchdowns, Zach Green’s two-yard score in the fourth quarter would have put the Wildcats up three points. Arizona is 118th in the nation in red zone offense, getting points only 74% of the time. Arizona State is tenth in the nation in this category; the Sun Devils get a field goal or touchdown when they enter an opponent’s red zone 92% of the time. A number of Arizona’s 13 penalties came inside the red zone, and when you are trying to play with tempo and take advantage of a fatigued front four without a true running back, those penalties are killers.
Nathan Tilford and Braxton Burmeister have a great chance to play next season
Another week and another lackluster performance from Arizona quarterbacks. We haven’t seen much to suggest that any of the three quarterbacks on the roster have the ability to hold off the challenger Braxton Burmeister.
Arizona likes to utilize at least two backs and Nathan Tilford should also be in line for a few carries in 2017.
4-star RB commit Nathan Tilford ended the regular season with 182 carries for 1714 yards and 29 TDs. He'll get time as a true freshman.— Gabe Encinas (@Gabe_Encinas) November 5, 2016