clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Wildcat Radio’s 2017 Arizona football midseason review

New, comment

Which preseason predictions did they get right and what did they get wrong?

Arizona v Colorado Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Before the 2017 season, Wildcat Radio released a 92-page Pac-12 football preview. It was glorious. It was funny. And, oftentimes, it was wrong. That’s the best part of the offseason — wild speculation (you can view the full preview here).

Now, half the season has already flown by.

Most Arizona fans hadn’t noticed. We were too busy pouring salt in our eyes after every errant pass. Still, particularly after Khalil Tate went full Khalil Tate on the entire city of Boulder, it’s a good time to regroup.

It’s time to see, team-by-team, what we got right, what we got wrong, and wildly speculate on what we can expect the rest of the Pac-12 football season, starting with the Arizona Wildcats.

This is part one of the Wildcat Radio Completely Uncalled for Pac-12 Midseason Review.


Arizona: The Possibly(?), Formerly Rudderless Carnival Cruise

If you have never been on a luxury cruise run by the Carnival company, you are missing out…kind of. They’re fine. You’re on a real cruise ship. There is a pool on the top deck. And you can enjoy all-you-can-eat dinners with required dinner dress.

But then you realize that the “caviar” you are eating tastes similar to the chicken fingers and that, while the fraternity bro at your table may have a tuxedo on, he reeks of vodka and poor decisions.

You can still have a great time on a Carnival Cruise. But not if the captain is shooting seagulls with a musket while lighting his couch on fire.

Enter the first half of the Arizona Football season. Let there be no doubt: this is a functioning football team.

Sure, the offensive line is questionable and maybe the shine on that running back corps isn’t as bright as you remembered, but it should be a decent squad. It wasn’t. Because the team was captained by Brandon Dawkins, and somewhere, right now, he just turned the ball over again.

Let’s review where the Arizona Football program is position by position.


Quarterback

Last season, the Arizona quarterback situation was a disaster.

It had not improved when Brandon Dawkins took over again in 2017. By all indications, Dawkins is a nice person and will likely succeed when he graduates — but not as a quarterback.

Dawkins singlehandedly cost Arizona wins against Houston and Utah. He turned the ball over during critical drives, and his numbers drop significantly when he plays quality competition (58 percent completion rate, 1 touchdown, 3 interceptions, and 3 yards per carry vs. Houston and Utah).

Rich Rodriguez stubbornly stuck to Dawkins despite his offense screeching to a halt.

It’s possible that Khalil Tate was injured and unable to play the first half of the season. But Rodriguez notoriously refuses to comment on injuries. So long as he sticks to this policy, he opens the door for rampant speculation, and Wildcat Radio speculates with the best of them.

Rich Rodriguez’s refusal to make a change at the quarterback position cost this program two wins and, possibly, his job. Whether or not Tate was truly injured these last few weeks, there was no excuse to start Brandon Dawkins against Colorado.

The Buffaloes’ tendency to maliciously harm defenseless quarterbacks when they run out of bounds, which apparently is a thing with that team, may have saved Rodriguez his job.

With that said, Colorado game planned for Dawkins, and Tate will not have that advantage in future weeks. Let’s see if he keep the momentum going in the back half of the season.

Wildcat Radio’s Preseason Wild Speculation Grade: C-

Wildcat Radio Mid-Season Reality Check Grade: Uncertain put probably not an ‘F’ anymore


Running Back

To be fair to Dawkins, he didn’t receive much help from the running game.

But, to be fair to the running backs, it’s hard to break through when the opposing team stacks the box because your quarterback can’t hit a slant route.

At first glance, the Arizona’s rushing stats look great. Everyone is on track, from J.J. Taylor’s 4.4 yards per carry to Nathan Tilford’s 9.7 yards per carry.

On closer inspection, however, the numbers drop dramatically. Outside of Taylor, no Arizona player, including Dawkins, averaged more than 3.5 yards per carry against Utah and Houston. Not good, considering Arizona’s stable of running backs was supposed to be one of the strongest in the Pac-12.

Wildcat Radio’s Preseason Wild Speculation Grade: A-

Wildcat Radio Mid-Season Reality Check Grade: B


Offensive Line

Quick! Name the Pac-12 team that has given up the fewest sacks and fewest tackles for a loss? If you guessed Arizona you are a total homer and are also correct. Arizona’s pass defense has been surprisingly strong. Part of this is due to the mobility of Brandon Dawkins and Khalil Tate but the same guys were under center last year. If this offensive line could open a few more holes from J.J. Taylor and Nick Wilson they would be one of the better units in the Pac-12.

Wildcat Radio’s Preseason Wild Speculation Grade: C

Wildcat Radio Mid-Season Reality Check Grade: B


Wide Receivers

Arizona was in the same situation it was last year.

Are Arizona’s wide receivers good? It’s hard to tell when you are in the fifth row catching a pass intended for Shun Brown.

It’s hard to make plays when your quarterback can’t get you the ball. Let’s see if Khalil Tate can continue the accuracy we saw against Colorado

Wildcat Radio’s Preseason Wild Speculation Grade: C

Wildcat Radio Mid-Season Reality Check Grade: A big hug


Defense

Four of Arizona’s top five tacklers are freshmen. That points to a promising future. It also points to how far Arizona’s recruiting and scouting had fallen before defensive coordinator Marcel Yates was hired.

Credit Rich Rodriguez. A change was needed on the defensive side of the ball. He not only made the change; he made a great hire. Outside of the Colorado game — and there are lots of red flags there — Arizona’s defense has shown up and kept the team in every game.

Defensive Line

This unit will not blow anyone away. Arizona doesn’t have the personnel to do that. But it’s not ASU’s defensive line either, and that’s a good thing. This unit was supposed to be Arizona’s biggest weakness. In fall camp, Rich Rodriguez continued to tout three walk-ons.

The true change, however has come from the addition of true freshman Kylan Wilborn, who leads the line in tackles, tackles for loss, and forced fumbles, and Boise State transfer Dereck Boles, who has proved some much needed muscle in the center of the line.

Arizona fans were so used to nothing happening in the opposing backfield that, during the NAU game, five fans burst into flames after Arizona recorded two sacks. The growth and production of this unit is a bright spot this season.

Wildcat Radio’s Preseason Wild Speculation Grade: C-

Wildcat Radio Mid-Season Reality Check Grade: C+


Linebacker

Before the beginning of the season, the injury to Arizona’s lead returning linebacker, DeAndre’ Miller, looked to be a death blow to Arizona’s thin linebacking corps.

But then true freshmen Tony Fields II and Colin Schooler decided to blow up some fools. Fields and Schooler already have a combined 55 tackles, six tackles for loss, one forced fumble, and one interception.

And those tackles, by the way, aren’t the “OH NO! THE OPPOSING RUNNING BACK HAS BROKEN THROUGH OUR DEFENSIVE LINE PLEASE, GOD, SOMEONE CATCH HIM!!!”

Nope, Fields and Schooler have shown great field vision and decision making. They are consistently in the right spot on defense. Brandon Rutt is pretty good too.

Wildcat Radio’s Preseason Wild Speculation Grade: D+

Wildcat Radio Mid-Season Reality Check Grade: B-


Secondary

The Arizona secondary hasn’t been challenged yet, but they look to be improved and have yet to be a disaster.

On the safety front, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles already has three interceptions and 27 tackles, true freshman Scottie Young Jr. looks like the real deal, and Dane Cruikshank has been fine.

While corners Jace Whittaker and Lorenzo Burns haven’t been lockdown guys. they haven’t been burned too much.

Of all the defensive units, the secondary has the highest probability to see its production drop as Arizona faces the gauntlet of quality quarterbacks and innovative coaches during the back half of the schedule, but they will likely not self-destruct like last year.

Wildcat Radio’s Preseason Wild Speculation Grade: B-

Wildcat Radio Mid-Season Reality Check Grade: B


Conclusion

There is hope!(?) This football team has seen enough improvement in enough units that, save for one position, it looks to have placed the ship back on course.

So relax. Enjoy that watered-down Pina Colada and the view from the top deck. It’s not bad. Just be glad that you didn’t look at the other side of the boat. Before the shift change, the captain was drunk, shirtless, and headed at top speed to Mexico. There were no brakes.


Wildcat Radio is the premiere podcast for Arizona Basketball and Arizona Football. We release episodes every Monday on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, TuneIn Radio, and all other podcast catchers and release episodes on AZDesertSwarm.com on Tuesday. Click here to listen to our latest podcast.