The Arizona Wildcats fell just short of upsetting the No. 9 Washington Huskies on Saturday night at Arizona Stadium, losing 35-28 in overtime.
The Wildcats dropped to 2-2 on the season and 0-1 in Pac-12 play, but here are three things we learned from the game:
The Brandon Dawkins experience
When Brandon Dawkins is your team's quarterback, your offense is going to be unpredictable — both in a good and bad way.
When things are clicking for Dawkins, Arizona's offense proved it can move the ball with relative ease, even against a defense that has multiple future NFL players.
In the first quarter, for example, Dawkins and the Wildcats effectively dinked-and-dunked down the field.
Dawkins completed his first nine passes for 51 yards, while running back J.J. Taylor and Dawkins combined for 85 rushing yards on 16 carries (5.3 yards per carry). The Wildcats didn't have any "big plays" so to speak, but they were averaging around five yards per play, stayed on schedule, and produced manageable third down situations.
Then, in the second quarter, Dawkins found more success on the ground, including a 79-yard touchdown run to put Arizona up 14-7.
Dawkins' ability to throw and create plays with his legs was on full display and Washington — even with their NFL-caliber talent — didn't have an answer at the time.
"Anytime you have a running quarterback like that, it is really hard and frustrating [to defend]," said UW head coach Chris Petersen after the game. " The three guys that we played up to this point don’t run like he runs. They are frustrating because you can cover guys right, then he starts scrambling around, and guys come out of coverage and they are hard to tackle in space. When a guy is that fast and you miss him, he makes you pay."
Arizona got Dawkins' peak in the first half, but then got his valley in the second half.
Dawkins didn't complete a single pass in the third quarter — well, he sort of did as one was caught by Washington — and the Wildcats as a whole only picked up 12 yards.
Things did pick up a little bit for Dawkins in the fourth quarter and overtime though, as he'd finish with a line of 19-31 for 167 yards with a touchdown and an interception, along with 176 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns on 13 carries.
It was just a strange game altogether. Dawkins made some outstanding plays both as a passer and a runner, but at the same time he failed to make some simple reads and throws.
His inconsistency aside, Arizona still put up 28 points against a tough Washington defense. Sure, it happened in a sporadic manner, but that's something you're probably going to have to live with if Dawkins is at quarterback.
And as frustrating as it can be, the upside Dawkins provides as a runner and passer still makes him a better fit as Arizona's quarterback than Anu Solomon, in my opinion.
We're onto Plan D at running back
The Wildcats' running back depth evaporated in about a week and a half.
Second-stringer Orlando Bradford got arrested and kicked off the team last Wednesday, starter Nick Wilson hurt his ankle three days later, and then third-stringer J.J. Taylor broke his ankle a week after that.
Injuries are part of the game, but only to a certain extent. Losing your top three rushing options in such a short amount of time is something that a team can't anticipate nor prepare for.
"Obviously we hate to see a guy go down, but you don’t want to look at it as bad luck either," Dawkins said after the loss to Washington. "It’s the next man up, whoever it may be, it becomes their opportunity."
We don't know when Nick Wilson is going to return as the updates on his injury have been few and far between, so who's going to get the opportunity next week at UCLA if he can't play?
It's going to be a combination of Zach Green, a power running back, and Tyrell Johnson, a burner. Plan D.
It sounds like an intriguing combination, but neither player has much experience, and neither has proven to be effective. Green has 29 career carries, averaging just 4.0 yards per rush, and Johnson is a converted wide receiver who, by the way, coughed up the ball in limited action against Washington.
In short, Arizona's options at running back are dire at the moment and it could be that way for the foreseeable future knowing Wilson's injury history.
Rich Rodriguez has proven that he can maximize running backs, but this will be a tall task even for him. The result? Dawkins will likely be leaned on heavily to churn out yards both in the air and on the ground.
Arizona’s defense is serviceable
Is Arizona's defense good? No. The talent just isn't there.
The defensive line is small and prone to be over-powered by bigger offensive lines — aka the ones Arizona will see nearly every week in the Pac-12 — while the secondary and linebackers are... eh.
Safety Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles has quickly become a standout and Tellas Jones — when healthy — is an impact player, but other than that there just aren't many playmakers on that side of the ball.
That said, Arizona's defense isn't as bad as people thought it would be. It's actually kept them in a few games while the offense has sputtered — crazy, I know.
And I think that's all you can ask for: that it gives the team a chance to win. The defense has trouble getting stops for sure, but it also has gotten its fair share of turnovers and red zone stops to make up for it.
At the end of the day, Arizona's defense isn't going to be one that gets three-and-outs often or one that stymies opposing offenses for long stretches at a time. But if it can at least keep the game within striking distance for Arizona's offense, it's done its job.
And so far it has.
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapireUA