The Arizona Wildcats headed to El Paso, Texas on a short week and left with a sizable 63-16 win while rotating guys.
The win is something that Arizona as a program should expect, and as a young team there’s a lot of room to grow in what looks to be a suspect conference this season.
However, against a team like UTEP, there are still some things that stick out and need to be corrected before heading into Pac-12.
Brandon Dawkins’ bounce back
I know it’s only UTEP, which ranks in the bottom five of almost every defensive category, but it was nice to see Dawkins come in and respond in a near flawless night after getting roasted all week after his performance vs. Houston.
The redshirt junior went 18-for-21 for 155 yards and three scores through the air, adding 133 rushing yards and three more touchdowns on the ground.
It would have been really easy for Dawkins to come out and struggle on the road in a game against a team that doesn’t draw a lot of excitement, so I’ll give him props there.
For better or worse, it seems like Dawkins is the guy to run Arizona’s offense. But it’s really unclear where Khalil Tate falls in line.
A tight end leading the team in receptions
True freshman Bryce Wolma has 11 catches through three games. In four years at Arizona, Trevor Wood has come up with seven catches.
In 2016, Arizona tight ends had 12 receptions. The year before that, they came up with nine.
Wolma, a three-star recruit ranked just outside the top 700, wasn’t exactly seen as a guy who would have a huge immediate impact, if any at all. Now he leads the team in receptions.
This was supposed to be Trevor Wood’s year, with Rodriguez stating that he was the healthiest he’s ever been, only to have been set back by an ankle injury that has kept him out thus far.
Instead, Wolma has been shaping up to be a reliable pass catching option for Dawkins, as he now accounts for 22 percent of all completions.
For years now, Arizona and Rich Rodriguez have been trying to implement the tight end. Now, Wolma is making the position relevant again.
Young defense holding up
The defense is young, but it’s shown improvement from last season. The staff has been rotating about six true freshmen in, all of whom have been making plays. There are also a lot of guys who have stepped into bigger roles as well.
Arizona’s opponents haven’t been offensive juggernauts, but the defense has stepped up big in the second half, where they have only allowed 17 points in three games.
Considering how young this defense is across the board, it’s been a nice development in year two of the defensive scheme.
We’re starting to see Kylan Wilborn, Colin Schooler and Scottie Young Jr. all make plays consistently, and that’s really exciting for Arizona’s future.
Offensive line still not consistent
The depth just isn’t there and there seems to be a lot of inconsistencies throughout games.
The play design isn’t the best, when a lot are designed to roll out to one side, taking away half of the field. Add the pressure that comes through and Dawkins doesn’t have a lot to work with.
The lack of protection also doesn’t help when Dawkins still seems like a run first quarterback.
Luckily, the line is able to open up a long run every once in a while, but if Arizona doesn’t get those explosive plays off, the running game is going be stagnant, fast.
Quarterback depth chart
The quarterback situation is absolutely fascinating to me.
Rich Rodriguez will say Brandon Dawkins is nicked up, but will continue to play him into the fourth quarter in a game that was easily out of hand, risking injury.
Meanwhile against Houston, Khalil Tate gets put in some ugly situations and isn’t able to get into rhythm. Or in the case of UTEP, wasn’t inserted at all. His name was no where on the injury report, he made the trip and was fully dressed.
I don’t think Khalil Tate is the answer to Arizona’s offensive problems, but it’s puzzling to see all of this unravel.
I just don’t get it.
Wide receivers lacking production
Arizona lost three extremely productive receivers in Samajie Grant, Trey Griffey and Nate Phillips.
Rodriguez said he wasn’t worried about the state of the position group heading into this season, but against UTEP, wide receivers accounted for less than half of Arizona’s total catches, grabbing nine out of 20 balls.
It’s really come down to Shun Brown, who holds so much big play potential, and Tony Ellison, who has finally been given an opportunity in game. Tyrell Johnson has been healthy, which is a pleasant surprise, and gives Arizona another explosive playmaker.
But overall, this group has left much to be desired. You wish Shawn Poindexter would be involved more given his 6-foot-5 frame and Cam Denson is still battling injuries.
But it’s not necessarily the receivers’ fault. Dawkins looked good against UTEP, but it was clear against Houston that the receivers were frustrated they couldn’t get a ball delivered to them cleanly.
And Dawkins is going to be rushing the ball 10-plus times a game which is fine, but you just wish he would look downfield and set his feet, not bail on his receivers. Or most importantly, not throw the ball away when the defense is drawn offside.
A lot of this does fall on recruiting. Rodriguez hasn’t really brought anyone in over the last four years that’s a real difference maker.