Having already exceeded last season’s win total already, this Arizona team is clearly trending upward.
Let’s get into three up and three down from the UCLA game.
Khalil Tate picks up where he left off
Just when everyone was saying to temper their expectations, Khalil Tate comes out with yet another astounding performance. Albeit, these have been two defenses ranked toward the bottom of the Pac-12, but the offense has completely taken a 180-degree turn, scoring 45-plus points in the last two outings.
Tate has come a long way from his first career start against USC in 2016. He looks in shape, is able to make the right throws, and make some incredible plays on the run.
It’s crazy to see Tate leading this offense and think that he is a guy that completely change a program.
Guys look so much different on the field now. There’s a new energy suddenly, and it’s all because of what Tate has done.
Youngsters continue to outperform expectations
Arizona’s young group of players continue to come up big. The depth just wasn’t there and we knew a lot of freshmen were going to have to play meaningful reps early. But no one could have expected the performances they’ve showed off.
Kylan Wilborn was playing like a freshman All-American against UCLA, recording four sacks and forcing a fumble. 247Sports had him ranked No. 1869 in the country coming out of high school. He started to grow on me the more I watched him throughout his senior season, but he was one of the linebackers I expected to start.
Colin Schooler really seemed to have played the majority of the snaps at middle linebacker, and I feel like he’s quietly having a strong freshman campaign. And Tony Fields II has been leading the team in tackles since week two, and has really been an aggressive piece.
Although he’s a junior and has proven that he can play tight coverage, Jace Whittaker had a tall task this offseason to take over as the No. 1 corner after Dane Cruikshank moved over to spur, and he came away with two interceptions vs. UCLA, taking one of them back for a score.
Teams are attacking Lorenzo Burns a little more than you would like, and he leads the team in solo tackles, but as a redshirt freshman I’m not sure you could ask for more consistent play. A couple of guys have gotten behind him, but Arizona hasn’t exactly been burned by the deep ball this season.
This offense finally works
When Rich Rodriguez accepted this job six years ago, this is what you imagined he would bring to the offense.
Tate and J.J. Taylor look like the Pat White and Steve Slaton combo that built West Virginia. Nick Wilson has been healthy and running hard all season, and it has quickly made us forget about four-star freshman Nathan Tilford.
Arizona is ripping huge chunk plays and running the two-minute offense that is finally leading to points. Under Dawkins, the two-minute offense usually resulted in a punt or turnover.
Tate is able to float a ball right into Tony Ellison or Shun Brown’s hands downfield, he’s finding easy intermediate throws in the middle of the field, and of course can dart downfield when he’s finally out of time.
Remember that Khalil Tate is only playing because of injury
If Brandon Dawkins doesn’t get hurt on the opening drive last week, I feel confident saying that he’s still Arizona’s starting quarterback.
By no means was Tate Rodriguez’s choice, which is disheartening considering all that the sophomore quarterback has done. What’s even more odd about it is that players say that Tate does things like we’ve seen in practice.
So if he’s doing that practice, and Dawkins had struggled mightily in two games that Arizona probably could have won if the offense could sustain a drive, I don’t see what the hold up was. He was never listed on the injury report, though some folks will say the injury was way worse than anyone really knew. And at this point, I’m not sure what I believe.
Defense still trying to rebound
Colorado really did a number on Arizona’s defense, and UCLA followed up with a pretty strong performance themselves. If it weren’t for four takeaways, UCLA probably wins the game.
Both Colorado and UCLA were able to easily drive the ball down the field. While Arizona’s front was able to get some pressure on both quarterbacks, the middle of the field and secondary has their fair share of holes.
You don’t appreciate a good long snapper until they are gone
The special teams unit, particularly the field goal unit, has seen much better days. Long snapper Nick Reinhardt suffered a torn ACL earlier this season and the snaps to Josh Pollack have been errant ever since.
Pollack missed a PAT and a 28-yard field goal against UCLA, which led Rodriguez to sub Trevor Wood in to long snap.
Arizona had some special team miscues against Houston and Utah, losing those games by a combined 9 points, which could have ultimately been the difference.