The Wildcats improved their record to 2-1, and here are three things we learned during the win:
Dawkins earned the start vs. Washington
After the game, Rich Rodriguez was asked if Anu Solomon is going to be Wally Pipp'd, aka if Brandon Dawkins had effectively won the starting quarterback job while Solomon sits with a knee injury.
Rodriguez said he couldn't answer the question at the time, but that it was at least a fair question to ask.
I'll answer it for him — at the very least, Dawkins earned the right to start the Pac-12 opener against the Washington Huskies.
Dawkins did it all against Hawaii. He threw for 235 yards on just 21 pass attempts, and ran for 118 more, combining for four touchdowns (three rushing) in the process.
He made plays with his feet, and made all types of throws. He made short throws, he made throws that required scanning the defense, he made throws down the field, and he also made a ridiculous throw across his body for a 56-yard touchdown to Shun Brown.
The improvement from his first start was undeniable.
"I was a lot more comfortable," Dawkins said after the game. "The more reps I take the better I get. You just have to take every rep and learn from it. I definitely did that a lot this week, going off last week’s game and I finally got to showcase it a little bit."
Is Dawkins better than Solomon? I'm not sure, but I think it's fair to say that Dawkins' peak as a player is greater than Solomon's. Dawkins' ability to run is ideal for Rodriguez's offense — as it opens up the rest of the offense — and when Dawkins is making all the throws on top of that, it'll be tough for anybody to stop.
Will Dawkins always be completing 76 percent of his passes as he did against Hawaii? No. But the way I see it is this — Solomon is a known commodity. He'll be decent — sometimes good — and less sporadic than Dawkins. Solomon will often be better than Dawkins, too. But when Dawkins is on, he adds an element to Arizona's offense that Solomon — even at his best — can't provide.
And given how seemingly average this Arizona team appears to be, I think you have to go with the guy that has the higher upside, even if the floor is lower. Dawkins, if his improvement continues, could be a guy to lead this team to seven wins. He could also be a guy that struggles making basic throws and Arizona winds up winning just four games. However, with Solomon, it seems like Arizona would be destined to be a five or six-win team.
Do you settle for the guy that will win you five or six games, or do go with the riskier quarterback that could possibly take the team to a higher level? I say you do the latter, therefore Dawkins would be my guy to start Pac-12 play.
I don't think Rodriguez will see it the same way, though.
Arizona has some burners on its roster and it finally put them to use against Hawaii.
Of course we know that Dawkins can make plays and break off big runs as a quarterback, but his supporting cast showed it was no joke either in that regard.
The big story of the game was running back J.J. Taylor. With Nick Wilson being forced to leave the game with an injury and Orlando Bradford recently being dismissed from the team, Taylor got a significant workload and made the most of it, while making several defenders look silly in the process.
He carried the ball 18 times and managed to rack up 168 yards and a touchdown. Taylor flashed his big-play ability, tallying rushes for 26 yards, 30 yards and a long 61-yard touchdown run (as you can watch below).
This guy is fast isn't he. That's a 61-yard touchdown by the freshman.— Arizona Football (@ArizonaFBall) September 18, 2016
Arizona up 44-14 with 3:28 left in the 3rd.https://t.co/LQ3iKlVoHu
When Taylor gets in space, there aren't many people that can tackle him. He'll either zip right past them using his speed, or use his elusiveness to make the defender miss. Sort of like this:
Taylor summed up his performance about as well as anyone could.
"It was fun," he said after the game. "It was a lot of fun, actually."
Yes it was, and the speed-display didn't stop there. Tyrell Johnson joined in.
We all know the story, Johnson is a track-and-field athlete. He's fast — like really fast.
And Arizona finally utilized his speed, getting him the ball on an end-around. The wide receiver found open space, turned on the jets, and zoomed into the endzone untouched. No one was going to catch the guy.
Taylor, Johnson, and Shun Brown — who led the team in catches (5) and receiving yards (92) — showed that speed, indeed, kills. It can turn a good block or two into a long touchdown play and seeing how this Arizona team will need to score a lot of points to win games, being able to break off huge chunks of yards like that is paramount.
Injuries are becoming a problem
Remember when Arizona had a super clean injury report like two weeks ago? Well, that sure is a thing of the past.
Injuries have quickly piled up on the Wildcats.
Tellas Jones and Solomon have missed the last two games with leg injuries, starting right tackle Gerhard de Beer missed the game versus Hawaii, and Wilson, cornerback Dane Cruikshank, right guard Jacob Alsadek, and linebacker DeAndre' Miller all left the Hawaii game early with injuries.
It gave Rodriguez flashbacks of last season.
"Every time I turned around, there’s four or five guys injured, four or five guys in there that had to play different roles," he said after the game. "It was like a MASH unit. But we’ll take the win and know that we have a huge challenge in front of us."
This Arizona team doesn't have a lot of depth, to say the least, and if the injury picture is similar to last season's, it's going to be another rough year.
There's a good chance that some of the injuries to the players listed above are minor, and they were taken out for precautionary reasons, but regardless, it's a scary situation for the Wildcats.
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapireUA