The Arizona Wildcats erased a 21-3 deficit to Grambling State, scoring 28 unanswered points to escape with a 31-21 victory to avoid what would have been an embarrassing upset at Arizona Stadium.
It was a disappointing performance to say the least, but here are three Wildcats that stood out from the rest.
Offense: Brandon Dawkins
Brandon Dawkins certainly looked like a player making his first career start. He was shaky to start the game and wasn’t seeing the field well, as he missed quite a few open receivers. And, even when he did see open receivers, his passes were often inaccurate.
Rich Rodriguez said the goal was to have Dawkins convert on short, quick passes to start the game to get him into a rhythm, but that didn’t work and it halted Arizona’s offense.
"If you can’t execute the easy rhythm plays, that can make you sputter for a while," Rodriguez said.
At the end of the first half, Dawkins was 6-for-15 for 114 yards, though he did have seven rushes for 73 yards.
Perhaps the play that was a microcosm of Dawkins’ first half performance was when he overthrew a wide open Nick Wilson, who was crossing into the end zone on a wheel route. Rather than cutting Grambling State’s lead to 14-7, the Wildcats had to settle for a Josh Pollack field goal, which made it 14-3.
The second half was a different story for Dawkins. He still made some errant throws, but he had much better success on quick-hitting plays as a whole. He also threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to Trey Griffey, floating the ball to the receiver in stride in the end zone. Dawkins’ touch is iffy for the most part, but not on that play.
Dawkins was 9-for-14 for 109 yards and a touchdown in the second half, and finished 15-for-29 for 223 yards and three total touchdowns.
"It was a little shaky to start as everybody saw," Dawkins said. "We just had to make a couple of minor adjustments that took us up until the second half to make. Once we got that ball rolling, [we] played much better than we did in the first half."
Of course, I can point out Dawkins' flaws as a passer, but it'd be a mistake to overlook his running ability. Dawkins had 97 yards on 16 carries, including two rushing touchdowns.
Unlike Anu Solomon, Dawkins can turn broken plays into positive plays with his legs, and we saw that on Dawkins' first touchdown run.
Center Nathan Eldridge sailed the snap a bit, but Dawkins was able to corral it and then used his speed to beat the defense to edge for the two-yard touchdown to cut Grambling State’s lead to 21-10 with 12:07 left in the third quarter.
Later in the game, he evaded pressure and scampered for a 21-yard touchdown run, making a few defenders miss (and getting some nice blocks) in the process.
Overall, it wasn’t a great game for Dawkins by any means, but he got better as the game went on — and that’s understandable since he’s an inexperienced player.
He also showed that he likely has a higher ceiling than Solomon as a player, given his ability to create with his legs and throw the deep ball. Plus it seems like Solomon has hit a plateau as a player — a plateau that Dawkins isn't far from reaching, and one that he could eventually surpass even if he hasn't already.
At the same time, Dawkins' lack of accuracy on relatively easy throws and inability to see the field at times is concerning, but it’s something you have to live with with him, not to mention that he should improve with more playing time.
"His competitiveness and ability to create was what I thought, but there are a lot things that he could do better," Rodriguez said after the game. "We know some of the things right now that we have to fix, but after watching the film tomorrow, we’ll be able to be a lot more critical ad give approval of some of the things he did."
With Anu Solomon in a full leg brace — though surgery won't be required, according to Rodriguez — it's highly likely Dawkins will start in Arizona's next game against Hawaii, giving the sophomore another chance to become Arizona's No. 1 quarterback.
Defense: Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles
Arizona’s tackling was poor in this game, and Rodriguez didn’t hesitate to admit it.
"That's as bad of tackling as we've ever had," he said. "Bad, bad."
One guy that didn’t have trouble making tackles was Flannigan-Fowles, who finished with a team-high nine tackles, including one for a loss.
Flannigan-Fowles also accounted for the first takeaway from Arizona’s defense all season.
Shortly after Arizona cut the deficit to 21-10, Flannigan-Fowles intercepted GSU’s Trevon Cherry, creating the first of six turnovers for the Wildcats in the game.
And it was that avalanche of turnovers that kick-started Arizona’s offense, which ultimately helped the Wildcats complete their comeback.
Flannigan-Fowles, only a sophomore, has quickly become one of the secondary’s most reliable players, and he’ll be leaned on heavily in the coming weeks with Tellas Jones out with an injury.
Special Teams: Josh Pollack
It was another solid night for Pollack, who has seemingly erased any special teams concerns that were prevalent throughout the offseason.
Pollack boomed four punts for 192 yards (48-yard average), including a 55-yard punt. He also dumped two punts inside the 20-yard line.
He wasn’t tested much from a place-kicking perspective, however he did make the only attempt he was given, which was a 31-yard field goal to give Arizona its first points of the game.
Pollack is now 2-for-3 on the season as a kicker, and his only miss was the 52-yarder in Glendale against BYU.
So far, so good.
You can follow this on author on Twitter at @RKelapireUA