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Arizona vs. BYU: Grading the Wildcats’ position groups

How did each group do in the opener?

NCAA Football: Arizona vs Brigham Young Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

After an underwhelming offensive performance, and a somewhat surprising performance from the Arizona Wildcats defense, there are now some new questions that must be answered when Pac-12 play rolls around.

But for now, let’s take a look back and grade out how each position group performed in an 18-16 loss to the BYU Cougars:

Quarterback: D+

Yes, the offensive line did not allow Anu Solomon to work effectively and allowed the Cougars to get into the backfield with ease. But when faced with having to make quick decisions, Solomon struggled, just as we saw the last time he played in Glendale in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl.

The worst offense came at the end of the first half. Sure, the BYU defensive line just ran straight past Arizona’s offensive linemen, but instead of getting rid of the ball to keep a 36-yard field goal attempt in play, Solomon sprinted backwards, eventually getting dropped for a 16-yard loss. This set up a 52-yard Josh Pollack field goal attempt to end the half, which he missed wide. Arizona lost by two points. Those three points turned out to be pretty important.

Running back: B+

While the total team rushing yards may only show as 115 thanks to sack yardage, Nick Wilson had himself a pretty good night. In addition to his TD runs of 49 and 15 yards, he put up a total of 138 rushing yards on 17 carries, good for an average of 8.1.

Other than Wilson, there wasn’t a lot going on, which was a little surprising. Orlando Bradford and J.J. Taylor only had one carry each. Bradford gained a yard, while Taylor took a four-yard loss. After the game, Wilson said he was feeling healthy and good out there, and if Arizona gets that for an entire season, nothing but good things can come from it.

Wide receiver: C

It’s tough to judge the receivers in this game because of the shaky line play. It’s hard to differentiate sacks being either a lack of protection, receivers not being able to get open, or a combination of the two.

Nate Phillips had himself a nice game, leading all pass-catchers with 69 receiving yards on seven receptions. Trey Griffey also got targeted early on, hauling in four catches for 66 yards.

Seven different players caught passes on the night, including one to tight end Josh Kern. Shawn Poindexter picked up his first career reception on a throw that he bobbled. Samajie Grant, Tyrell Johnson and Nick Wilson had multi-catch games.

Offensive line: F

This was the biggest thing standing between Arizona and a win on Saturday night. There were several instances where the communication was obviously lacking, allowing BYU players to get to Solomon without any resistance whatsoever. Also, there were times when the guys were flat-out overmatched by the old Cougar defensive line.

There were plenty of issues on the offensive side of the ball for the Wildcats, but most of those issues start and end with the shoddy play up front.

It probably shouldn't go unspoken that this group is still dealing with the loss of their close friend and teammate Zach Hemmila. How much that factored into the game, no one will ever know. But on the bright side of things, there were no wild snaps from Nathan Eldridge in his first collegiate game.

Defensive line: B

With all of the talk heading into the year that this would be the position group holding Arizona back, that didn’t happen in the first game, especially with the first-team crew. The line of Sani Fuimaono, Parker Zellers and Justin Belknap certainly did a good job of containing both Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams for the most part.

It was when Marcel Yates and Vincent Amey sent the second-team squad of Luca Bruno, Aiulua Fanene and Jack Banda onto the field that the Cougars were able to start moving the ball. Those three were vastly inferior, and it allowed BYU’s offense to gain what little confidence it needed in the last part of the first quarter and into the second quarter.

All in all though, Arizona fans are probably pleased with the pressure the front put on BYU throughout the night, even if it wasn’t necessarily coming up with big plays.

Linebackers: C+

Even though Paul Magloire had a team-high ten tackles, I wouldn’t necessarily say he had a great game. It seemed like he missed a decent amount of tackles which gave BYU little chunks of yards it needed to extend drives. A guy like Cody Ippolito played the majority of the game in the middle, and only had three tackles. DeAndre’ Miller looked pretty good, but as far as edge rushers are concerned, Tellas Jones was more effective in that role before he suffered a knee injury.

On the bright side, Carrington Vaughn got the team’s first sack of the year. It also appeared to be one of the few snaps that the unheralded walk-on played in the game.

Secondary: B

BYU didn’t have a passing play of longer than 19 yards on the night. That is something that we are not used to seeing from Arizona’s defense, even if Taysom Hill is more of a running than throwing quarterback.

One guy that really stood out was Dane Cruikshank. He was able to make plays on the ball, though there were a couple of instances when he kind of lucked out because he didn’t get his head turned around. As mentioned above, Jones was crucial before he was injured.

After Jones came out, Anthony Mariscal came in, and the secondary didn’t miss a beat. Mariscal finished the game with six tackles (one for loss), and a pass breakup. Also, Jarvis McCall looks much more comfortable as a safety rather than a corner. Overall, I think people have a lot to be happy about with the Arizona defense.

Special teams: C

The reason Arizona doesn’t get a higher grade here is because of a couple of iffy kick returns that resulted in poor field position.

Josh Pollack did indeed handle field goal and punting duties, and did them pretty well. He did miss a 52-yard field goal, but knocked a 46-yarder through the uprights in the third quarter. He was also 2-for-2 on PATs. On the punting side, he had four opportunities, and ended up with an average of 47.5 yards on those kicks, with a high of 55. After the Beanie Bowl, I wasn’t expecting a ton out of the punting game. This came as a pleasant surprise.

Tyrell Johnson had a kickoff return of 33 yards, which in Arizona terms, is almost like a 60-yard return with how poorly the kick return game has performed in recent years. Punt coverage was poor too, as BYU was able to down two punts on the one yard line, though those also have to do with how the ball bounces.

Coaching staff: D-

As several people have pointed out, the playcalling was extremely vanilla from Rich Rodriguez, and BYU knew what was coming. With a third-year QB and a group of receivers that have been with him that entire time as well, the playcalling has to be better than that.

On the defensive side, playing the lesser defensive line in crucial spots didn’t make a ton of sense. And then Taysom Hill even said after the game that after the first quarter, BYU’s offense knew what they were going against as well since the Wildcats didn’t change things up for the last part of the game.

There’s a lot that Arizona left on the table in this one, and hopefully with two lesser foes coming to Tucson in the next couple of weeks, they will be able to rectify that before facing a much-hyped Washington team to start Pac-12 play.