The Arizona Wildcats have secured their first Pac-12 win of the season, matching their total from all of 2016, beating the Colorado Buffaloes, 45-42. Now sitting at 3-2, Rich Rodriguez and this team are halfway to a bowl game, which is weird to say after just five games.
More good than bad came out of Boulder this weekend, and there is a lot more hope than before for this program. So now let’s just get right into things.
Arizona has a quarterback that can run and throw
After Brandon Dawkins left the game after being roughed up by a late hit, Khalil Tate got his chance.
All he did was have a record-breaking night. Not only did he rush for 327 yards and four touchdowns, he went 11-12 for 142 yards and one touchdown. His one incompletion, probably should have been caught by Tyrell Johnson on an out route, too.
Things seemed to have slowed down for him. He was able to stay in the pocket for a good amount of time before taking off to extend the play. Whether it was designed or not, Tate was able to wiggle his way downfield all night long.
Colorado probably isn’t a top half defense in the Pac-12, but it’s hard to ignore the fact hat Khalil Tate absolutely torched the buffaloes after being “banged up” for much of the season. His shoulder looked good on the 60-yard pass to Tony Ellison.
Pass rush continues to bring pressure
Arizona really put the pressure on Colorado’s passing game. Arizona produced four sacks in the first half, which forced Colorado to rely on Phillip Lindsay even more.
While Lindsay got his, Arizona has shown that they can get to the quarterback.
DeAndre Miller’ looked good in his debut after nursing a foot injury.
But the youth has been coming up big too. Colin Schooler is playing an increasingly larger role at middle linebacker. Scholarship Justin Belknap is even better than walk-on Justin Belknap. Tony Fields II continues to be a bright spot in a very young defense.
These linebackers are able to hit the gaps and break up the pocket to disrupt the passing game, something that Rich Rodriguez has never really had at Arizona.
This team is so, so much better than last year
I don’t think Khalil Tate is the long term answer, and it’s hard not to overreact to his performance, but with all the moving parts, this team is in a much better position than last season.
Whether it was bad quarterback play, poor special teams execution or killer 3rd down conversions allowed, Arizona has a decent chance at being 5-0 right now, although still unlikely in the grand scheme of things.
No sense in looking back now, so looking ahead, Arizona has a real shot to beat any combination of UCLA, Cal, Oregon State, and Arizona State.
The defense took a step back, which I’ll get to later, but overall they’re much improved and the youth is leading this group, with Fields, Scottie Young and Lorenzo Burns leading the team in tackles once again.
Khalil Tate looks like he can operate a rich Rodriguez offense, even just being thrown in there cold, and that makes the offense so much more exciting and explosive, as we saw last night.
Rushing defense was garbage
The defense has been the best part of this team all season long. Last night, it was the offense that had to do much of the heavy lifting.
The’ Cats went up against one of the best backs in the conference in, an absolute workhorse who finished with 41 carries for 282 yards. The defensive line just got outplayed at times and Lindsay was able to slip through tackles.
This team is going to be playing against some good tailbacks this season, and this was the most vulnerable Arizona’s defense has looked. Colorado was able to concoct long methodical drives against Arizona and other teams will be watching this game film closely.
Sadly, there is still likely going to be a QB controversy
At this point, Tate is an 18-year-old kid with sky-high confidence right now and I don’t think there’s anyway you can’t name him as the starter to lead your offense.
But, I can’t help but think that there’s still a chance we see Brandon Dawkins starting against UCLA. I just can’t put that past Rodriguez. He loves to play these games where reps are being split even between Anu Solomon and Dawkins, or Dawkins and Tate, yet seemed to have no confidence, or all the loyalty in the world to his starter.
But even if Tate does get the start, you have to wonder how short his leash is before Rodriguez decides to go with his “experienced” quarterback. Given his dual-threat nature, Tate is going to be more susceptible to injury, so he’s one good hit away from coming out, just as Dawkins was on the opening drive. But you just hope that Tate can sustain the offense and end the “competition” talk.
Seven straight weeks of Pac-12 play
Arizona might have really benefited from the bye week, but now they’ll go seven weeks straight of Pac-12 play, including USC and Washington State, who are two of three top teams in the Pac-12.
And aside from the Trojans and Cougars, there’s still a shred of hope to win against any of the remaining opponents. The problem is, it’s going to be a battle for this team to come away with a win each week.
It took a record-breaking performance from Khalil Tate to beat Colorado on the road, and CU is suddenly finding themselves at the bottom of the Pac-12 South, one season after clinching the division title.
Arizona has stayed relatively healthy compared to years past, and with no break between now and the season finale, good health is imperative.
Tate showed what he can do when he’s given a fair chance, and it’s not reasonable to expect him to go off for 350-plus yards every game, but he certainly gives Arizona’s offense a better chance.
If the defense can rebound, then there’s a decent shot to go bowling this season.