There were some bumps and hiccups in the Arizona Wildcats’ 62-24 win over the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks, but that is to be expected with such a young team and it being the first game of the season.
I’ll take a look at how I thought each position group fared in Saturday night’s contest.
There were some things to like, there were some things to not like.
We’ll start with Brandon Dawkins. Dawkins makes plays with his legs, which he did with success Saturday night. Fans are interested in seeing if his passing ability has improved. I will say that his has, but there are still some things to work on. He did a much, much better job progressing through his reads and finding the open receiver. It wasn’t perfect, but it was improved.
Secondly, he needs to work a little more on his touch. He had a wide open Shawn Poindexter running full steam down the field and overthrew him.
Dawkins actually looked comfortable in the pocket, though.
Moving on to Khalil Tate. He had some big runs and looked way more comfortable than he did last year.
He didn’t pass much but when he did he actually had some nice reads and touch on his passes. He threw a beautiful ball down the middle of the field to Tyrell Johnson for a touchdown that was unfortunately called back due to a penalty.
Tate ran for 63 yards, but got injured after he tried to run somebody over. Rich Rodriguez wasn’t happy.
“That’s not a good idea when you’re a quarterback,” he said.
Rhett Rodriguez replaced Tate and it appears he will be the third quarterback for the Wildcats this year, though Rich Rodriguez said Rhett and Donavan Tate are “3A and 3B.”
Rhett Rodriguez didn’t attempt a pass since the game was out of reach when he entered, but he rushed for a 1-yard touchdown.
Not too bad for his first collegiate game.
Running Backs: A+
I really don’t think I need to explain why.
Nick Wilson, J.J. Taylor, and Zach Green all had solid games. Branden Leon and Nathan Tilford made their way onto the field in the second half and produced, too.
Tilford’s second career collegiate carry was for 65 yards, Leon scored his first career touchdown, and Wilson and Green had long touchdown runs, 46 and 37 yards respectively.
Taylor rushed for 44 yards on nine carries, and was the only running back to not have a long run.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B
Arizona only threw 14 passes all game, limiting the chances the wide receivers had to make a play.
Tony Ellison was the breakout player, hauling in five catches for 79 yards and a score. I still think that the unit will be solid as the year progresses and they had a decent game.
No passes were thrown to the tight ends, but I don’t think Arizona fully opened the playbook either. Trevor Wood was a lead blocker that sprung Dawkins into the end zone on his first rushing touchdown.
Offensive Line: A-
The o-line actually looked pretty good. They gave Dawkins plenty of time for the most part and opened up nice holes for the running backs. Even when the backups came in, they dominated the line of scrimmage.
What lowers their grade is the fact that three UA touchdowns were called back because of penalties.
Defensive Line: B
I’ll get to the point. The d-line looks improved. They got some really good push. Even when NAU quarterback Case Cookus completed throws, they were made with a d-linemen in his face.
There is still a little work to be done but the line was solid for the first game of the season.
The linebackers were a little inconsistent. There are loads of talent in the unit but also loads of inexperience. It’s clear the athleticism at the position is better, but there were times when the linebackers were caught off assignment or just burned outright.
Kylan Wilborn is a monster at the Stud position and he crushed Cookus, which forced a fumble. There were numerous times he was in the backfield being a disruptive force.
At the Mike and Will spots, players were flying all over the place. At the beginning of the game it looked like there may have been some hesitation or nerves that caused some problems. However, as the game progressed, the unit settled in and started making plays.
I expect that the linebacker unit to be one of the strongest on the team by the end of the season.
Some might think this is too high of a score, but hear me out.
Yes, there were mistakes. Yes, there were blown coverages. Yes, there were penalties.
But this group is really talented. Multiple times throughout the night the corners were in the right spot at the right time. Sometimes they made good plays, sometimes they had good coverage. It worked at times and it didn’t at times. But that isn’t because the group isn’t good. They are young and NAU has 6-foot-4 receivers. It happens.
Jace Whittaker’s name was barely called tonight. That’s because he was locking his side down. Lorenzo Burns had a ton of action, and held up for the most part.
Redshirt freshman Antonio Parks proved to be a hitter.
Saturday was a strong performance for Jahmile Addae’s group.
Like the linebackers, safeties were flying all over the field, it didn’t matter who was playing. DFF had two interceptions and freshman Scottie Young Jr. showed he was not afraid to come up and smack people in the mouth. And of note, Dane Cruikshank made some nice plays from the Spur position.
There were some missed tackles, but the group is young and, stop me if you’ve heard this before, it was the first game of the season.
Special Teams: A
Lucas Havrisik kicks really far. That kinda says it all. The true freshman had 9 out of 10 touchback, and he even made a PAT at the end of the game.
Jake Glatting had some nice punts, pinning NAU twice inside the 20-yard line.
The punt and (lone) kickoff coverages were solid.
Really, the only blemish was a missed extra point by Josh Pollack.