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Arizona Wildcats position group grades vs. Houston

The quarterbacks were the weak link

Houston v Arizona Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats fell to the Houston Cougars by a score of 19-16 on Saturday in Tucson.

Here’s how we thought the Wildcats’ position groups fared.

Quarterbacks: D

Rich Rodriguez doesn’t buy into the “if you have two quarterbacks, you have none” argument, but that dogma perfectly exemplifies where the Wildcats are right now.

Rodriguez went to Khalil Tate in the fourth quarter with Arizona down by six after Brandon Dawkins battled some inconsistency, and Tate proved to be just as erratic.

He helped orchestrate a 10-play, 30-yard drive that led to a 42-yard field goal for Josh Pollack with 8:32 left in regulation, but then threw a costly interception on the next drive after moving UA back into field goal range.

Still, Arizona got one more opportunity to tie or take the lead and Rodriguez went back to Dawkins, who generated -3 yards on Arizona’s final drive.

Here were the quarterbacks’ final stat lines:

Dawkins — 17-29 for 178 yards, 13 rushes for 26 yards

Tate — 5-8 for 41 yards and 1 interception, 4 rushes for 24 yards

Dawkins’ passing numbers aren’t horrible on the surface, but he left several plays on the field, including his overthrow of a wide open Tony Ellison in the corner of the end zone.

Tate’s throws were crisper and more accurate (he also ran better), but right when he looked like he was getting into a groove, he threw a questionable ball down the middle of the field, which was picked off, derailing UA’s comeback attempt.

Both quarterbacks were dealing with injuries — Tate hurt his shoulder last week, Dawkins was “nicked up”, per Rodriguez — but neither look like a long-term solution.

So yes, Arizona may play two quarterbacks, but neither are reliable. And who knows who the better player is at this point.

Running backs: B+

Nick Wilson was listed as questionable and was in full uniform, but did not get into the game. That meant J.J. Taylor got the start, and he fared well, tallying 87 yards on 17 carries against a stout Houston run defense.

Zach Green had five carries for 15 yards and a touchdown.

Having Wilson surely would have helped, since he’s probably Arizona’s most complete running back, but Taylor and company did a good job filling his void.

Taylor continues to be a joy to watch and a nightmare to tackle.

Wide receivers: B

Being a wide receiver on this Arizona team is not easy because even when you’re open there’s still two problems. One, Arizona’s quarterbacks might not see you. And two, even if they do see you, there’s a good chance their throw won’t be on target.

Aside from Tony Ellison dropping a pass from Dawkins on a slant — he got lit up and looked woozy afterward — UA’s wide receivers didn’t leave many plays on the field.

The only other not-so-good play was when Shawn Poindexter couldn’t maintain control of the football after hauling in what looked like a 30-yard touchdown from Dawkins in the back of the end zone (it looked like a catch to me).

Shun Brown had a quiet game as a receiver against NAU with just one catch for five years, but he emerged in this game, snagging five passes for 79 yards, including an acrobatic catch on a deep ball from Dawkins.

Poindexter had four catches for 38 yards and Ellison had three catches for 25 yards.

Cam Denson evidently isn’t redshirting either, hauling in a five-yard reception.

Tight ends: A+

We’re grading on a serious curve in this case, but true freshman tight end Bryce Wolma had five catches for 38 yards, the most production from an Arizona tight end in recent memory.

He stepped in for the injured Trevor Wood.

We’ve heard about tight ends being used in Arizona’s offense before, and it’s never come to fruition, but this year seems to be different with Calvin Magee coaching the unit.

Offensive line: B

Aside from one sack, the offensive line did a pretty good job of giving Arizona’s quarterbacks time to throw, which was easier said than done against a tough Houston d-line.

Unfortunately, Houston’s defensive line did control the run game — which was expected — holding Arizona to just 3.9 yards per carry. Dawkins had the lowest rushing game of his career, tallying just 26 yards on 13 carries.

Houston Preseason All-American defensive tackle Ed Oliver was as dominant as advertised, with 11 tackles (1.5 for loss).

Defensive line: B

Arizona’s defense was the biggest surprise of the game and I thought it played pretty well on all three levels.

True freshmen Kylan Wilborn and Kurtis Brown had their moments and Finton Connolly made a nice stop near the goal line.

Arizona only gave up 4.3 yards per carry, but also didn’t record a single quarterback hit.

Linebackers: B

True freshmen stepped up here too, specifically Tony Fields II and Colin Schooler.

Fields was Arizona’s leading tackler (11) while Schooler had three tackles. Houston had a couple long runs (one for 33 yards and another for 26 yards), but the linebackers mostly helped keep Houston’s run game in check.

None of them were able to get to the quarterback, which was a team-wide issue.

Cornerbacks: C+

It was kind of a hit-or-miss night for the cornerbacks.

There were many good plays, like Lorenzo Burns picking off Allen in the fourth quarter and Jace Whittaker making a nice tackle on a 3rd-and-1 bubble screen, but Houston receivers were able to create separation rather consistently.

Linell Bonner had 9 catches for 59 yards and a touchdown, while Steven Dunbar had 6 catches for 72 yards. Kyle Allen threw for 225 yards.

Arizona got flagged for its fair share of defensive pass interference penalties, but mostly the cornerbacks did a better job in coverage than their rough outing vs. NAU.

Safeties: B+

Only once did Arizona get beat by the deep ball, which was one of Rodriguez’s main gripes about his team’s performance vs. NAU, as Keith Corbin made a 49-yard catch on a post route.

But Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, who is very good at football, picked up his third interception of the season and Dane Cruikshank, now at spur, forced a fumble.

Scottie Young Jr. had a tackle for loss, too, as he was second on the team in tackles (7).

Allen tried taking a few shots down field, but most were well-covered. He did most of his damage on intermediate routes.

Special teams: C

One of the most important plays of the game was Arizona surrendering an 81-yard kick return just after Zach Green’s rushing touchdown tied the game at 10.

Houston scored a few plays later and took a 17-10 lead — and the momentum — into halftime.

The other forgettable special teams play was Josh Pollack’s 30-yard field goal attempt that fell embarrassingly short of the upright.

But it looked like the snap was low, which would make sense since UA long snapper Nick Reinhardt was out with an injury.

Pollack had a solid game otherwise, making his other three field goal attempts, including one from 42 yards out and another from 45 yards out.

UA punter Jake Glatting had an interesting day. His first punt went for 23 yards, but his other two punts averaged 49.5 yards and one was dropped inside the 20.

Arizona’s return game was essentially non-existent. Tyrell Johnson returned a kickoff for 23 yards (which was also aided by a 15-yard penalty) and Shun Brown had one punt return for two yards.

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire