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Washington vs. Arizona: Grading the Wildcats’ position groups

How did each position do in the almost-upset?

Washington v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats took the No. 9 Washington Huskies to overtime on Saturday night, but fell short of the upset by a score of 35-28.

It was a very inconsistent night from both teams throughout, which resulted in a couple of interesting game trends, ending with a late Arizona touchdown to even the score at 28 before the end of regulation.

With this inconsistent performance comes a difficult job of assessing everything in the moment, but we’ll try right now with our position group grades:

Quarterback: B-

Brandon Dawkins got his third-consecutive start as Anu Solomon continues to recover from a knee injury sustained in practice after the BYU game. Dawkins started the game off on a tear, completing his first ten pass attempts to go along with his running threat.

After his 79-yard TD run, things kind of went downhill performance-wise.

“I was a little tired, but I wouldn’t call it winded,” Dawkins said after the game. “All the credit to the strength and conditioning coaches.”

He was seen throwing up into a trash can behind the Arizona bench after that run.

Dawkins finished the night 19-of-31 for 167 yards with a TD and an interception. He also tallied 13 carries for 176 yards and two touchdowns. All in all it was a pretty good game for the redshirt sophomore, but there was some room for improvement to be desired as well.

Running back: B

The big news to come out of the night was not the close loss, but true freshman J.J. Taylor suffering a broken ankle in the second half. Before that moment, Taylor had compiled 98 yards on 19 carries, and also scored a touchdown.

For the remainder of the game, Zach Green and Tyrell Johnson split the carries evenly. Between the two, they had 11 carries for 35 yards, and failed to have a single rush of longer than seven yards. Green does not look like a back that can handle a huge workload, and Johnson has ball security issues. It’s a huge drop off from Taylor to these two, but they’ll now have a week to try and shrink that gap.

All is not lost with Dawkins running the ball effectively though.

Wide receiver: B+

I’d say Arizona’s receivers had a pretty good game. Ten different Wildcats had a reception paced by Shun Brown’s seven, and there were no real drops. The incompletions and interception were totally on Dawkins. The receivers also get a bit of extra credit for the way Trey Griffey came all the way across the field on Dawkins’ 79-yard TD run to get the final block that allowed the touchdown to happen.

Offensive line: C-

The speed of Dawkins and Taylor cover up a lot of the offensive line’s shortcomings, and that was certainly the case against Washington. The blocking up front looked pretty sloppy at times, but was made up for with nice plays by other guys.

Then that bad-snapping thing came back at the worst possible time...overtime. I understand nerves come into play when Nathan Eldridge is in his first pressure-packed overtime situation, but you have to get the ball right in the middle of the strikezone at that time more than any other. It’s a very anti-climactic way to lose a ballgame when the quarterback is scooping up a bad snap and just throws up a lob because of the broken play.

Defensive line: D

This is the first time this year that Arizona’s lack of size up front was truly exposed. Washington was able to run the ball up the middle with ease, and Jake Browning had forever in the pocket. This is alarming moving further into conference play, but the pre-snap movement did at least help a little bit, particularly at the end of the second quarter.

Linebackers: D+

The middle of the field was left open too many times for Browning to find easy completions. Opposing offenses took advantage of Arizona’s inability to cover short, over-the-middle routes last year, and it looks like it’s going to start happening again this year.

Also, the tackling still has a long way to go. Too many times a run that should not have gone for more than five yards ended up finding its way into the next level of Arizona’s defense. The Wildcats’ two leading tacklers in this game were safeties. That can’t happen.

Secondary: C-

Not only was the pass coverage average at best, but there were a lot of miscommunications between the corners and the safeties. It’s always an adventure in Arizona’s secondary, but on Saturday it was more like a safari. There were some nice plays made (Dane Cruikshank’s interception for example), but there’s plenty more that can be done with this group.

Special teams: D

The kicking was fine, but the returns...what is going on? Nate Phillips made a couple of questionable decisions. One almost turned out to be great, but was brought back by a block in the back. The next one turned out worse, as Washington got the ball back after the Arizona defense forced a rare three-and-out. Phillips went to field a bouncing punt, but was hit just as he gained control of the ball, resulting in a muff. Luckily for him, UW missed the ensuing field goal.

The kick return game wasn’t much better. On the one he tried to return, Tyrell Johnson put the ball on the ground and forced Arizona to start right around its own five. Return games on both sides continue to plague the Wildcats.

On another note, I ran into Casey Skowron at halftime. He did the pregame radio show, and says he’s taking two last classes before he graduates in December. His replacement, Josh Pollack, continues to do just fine though. Pollack connected on all four extra points, and averaged over 51 yards per punt on his three boots.

Coaching staff: C

I liked the gutsiness of going for it on fourth down in a couple of crucial spots, even if the gamble on fourth-and-goal from the two didn’t pay off at the end of the second drive of the game. I also don’t think you go for two when you’re the home team scoring the game-tying touchdown with 30 seconds left in regulation.

I didn’t like the change of philosophy at the start of the second half where the offense started relying on its passing game. This resulted in a lot of stalled drives that weren’t happening early in the game. And the defense continues to give really good receivers plenty of cushion. That I’ll never understand.

Overall, it was a better game than most people were expecting, but it also shows where this team will need to improve as Pac-12 play rages on.