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Grading Arizona’s win over Cal

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Not pretty but a win’s a win

NCAA Football: California at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes you gotta win ugly.

That’s exactly what the Arizona Wildcats did on Saturday against the California Golden Bears to get back to .500 overall for the season and improve to 2-1 in conference play.

In a game where the defense outscored the offense, Arizona didn’t look great, but it’s hard to argue against the results.

So what worked and what didn’t? Let’s explore in this week’s report card and, as always, let us know what you think below.

Quarterbacks: D+

I think we know who Khalil Tate is now, and it’s not a guy who’s going to win you a lot of games with his arm.

Couple that with the fact that it’s obvious that his ankle is giving him some problems after the first decent hit he takes each game, and you’re at a point where you need to win relying on other guys.

The thing that I actually liked most about Tate’s performance was his tenacity despite not looking like the guy we saw last October. He was still out blocking on occasion. He still did turn on the ground engines when the team needed it most. He did enough.

He just does not look great when forced to throw the ball more than ten yards downfield. It’s always been that way with him though so expecting something different at this point is kind of silly.

We also saw Jamarye Joiner get in for a series. He did not get a chance to throw the ball in his three plays and frankly the offensive line did him no favors.

Running backs: C-

Arizona essentially had 139 yards on 30 carries, which is not horrible. J.J. Taylor’s game-long 25-yard scamper certainly helped those numbers, but overall the running game just did not look very impressive.

A lot of that has to do with the offensive line’s performance, but Taylor’s ball security worries me.

He had another crucial fumble in this game. After a big fourth down stop near the goal line, the offense had moved the ball back out to midfield with a chance to put the game away. But Taylor coughed up the ball, giving Cal new life.

Now, a tipped interception to Scottie Young Jr. on Cal’s ensuing offensive play made it irrelevant, but in that particular game situation, ball security has to be the biggest point of emphasis.

Oh and shoutout to Gary Brightwell for the big time tackle on punt coverage.

Wide receivers: B-

I felt like the receivers were fine in this one. Five different wideouts caught balls, with Shun Brown leading the way hauling in four passes for 38 yards. The passing game was just meh overall. Nothing really jumped out that was horrible from the pass catchers, but nothing really stood out that was great either.

I do wonder what has happened to Bryce Wolma this year. He looked like Gronk Jr. last year and now we never hear his name called.

Offensive line: D+

There definitely needs to be some more consistency from this group and less noticing them during the game.

A couple more really weird penalties on Bryson Cain and Layth Friekh are what I mean by not noticing them as much. The Arizona offensive line seems to get called for a lot of meaningless penalties and that needs to stop as this team likely plays in plenty more close games over the next two months.

Cal only had two TFLs and one sack so it’s not like there was always a ton of guys in the backfield, but the run blocking looked more like it did in the first two games than it has with Friekh back in the lineup. That hurts a guy like Brightwell who is much better in between the tackles than on the edge. He had just 26 yards on 7 carries.

A Friday night game at Utah will be a big challenge for these guys and it’ll be interesting to see if they live up to it.

Defensive line: B-

Had it not been for one boneheaded penalty by Dereck Boles, this group probably would have had the highest grade.

PJ Johnson may be the best defensive lineman this program has had in a decade. Even though he only had two tackles, the way he disrupts the other team’s offensive front can’t be understated. When a guy that big can move that well, you’re going to free up other guys to make plays, and that’s exactly what Johnson does.

Arizona had two sacks and five TFLs thanks in large part to how the defensive line played and how that setup the linebackers.

Linebackers: B+

Colin Schooler will be playing on Sundays.

But he also has some things to improve upon.

On Cal’s two touchdown runs it appeared that Schooler was out of place, allowing Brandon McIlwain to get those points with ease.

That’s about the only complaint I have about the linebackers in this game.

Anthony Pandy’s return was actually important as he was involved in some crucial plays. Obviously Schooler had the pick that started the craziest defensive play you’ll see for a while, and Tony Fields II was all over the place as well. I’m really encouraged with how the defensive front seven is coming along and what that will look like moving forward as the defense will likely have to win this team a couple more games.

Secondary: C+

Jarrius Wallace’s emergence at safety has been huge for this team as it looks to limit other team’s passing games. I feel that he’s become the best player in the secondary and has honed his ball skills to end up in the middle of so many plays.

I just wonder what this group would look like if Jace Whittaker were healthy. Tim Hough is not the answer at corner, and will never be the answer. Lorenzo Burns has been playing well, but I think he would be so much better if Whittaker were there to take on the bigger challenge on each play.

Scottie Young Jr. ended up with two interceptions including a pick-six, but besides those two plays he looked very underwhelming. He missed plenty of tackles that were right in front of him, and there were multiple instances where the coverage seemed to breakdown around him. It feels like he and Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles have regressed a bit while others around them grow their game.

Overall the secondary was good enough to win this game, but put them up against a more talented passing team and there may have been some very big problems.

Special teams: D-

What is happening here?

Lucas Havrisik lost his job to Josh Pollack, but Pollack didn’t do much better.

He did make a 46-yarder in his first attempt, but proceeded to smash a 40-yarder off the left upright.

Dylan Klumph started his night with a 57-yard punt, but it went downhill from there booting kicks of 43, 36, and 38 yards with the last two going out of bounds.

So Jake Glatting got a crack at the last punt attempt, and put a 39-yarder at the Cal 14-yard line with 3:21 left in the game. No one’s job is safe on special teams.

Shun Brown also has ball security issues when returning punts. Special teams have not been the strength they were presumed to be heading into the season.

Coaching: C+

Arizona went into the game with the intention of putting Jamarye Joiner in at quarterback for the third series no matter what, and I’ll give them credit for at least getting a young guy some meaningful game action.

But it turned out to halt all offensive momentum this team had early on. The Wildcats scored on each of the first two possessions, jumping out to a 10-0 lead.

The offense never scored again.

Overall the playcalling on both sides of the ball was much better than it has been. On offense there’s only so much you can do if the offensive line isn’t getting its job done and you have a quarterback that’s unsure if he can take off and run when there are no passing options.

Defensively it seemed like guys were put in the right place at the right time for most of the game, and the rotation allowed important guys to be fresh at the end when it mattered.

Arizona is definitely going in the right direction as a team, but needs to keep going that way as more divisional games approach quickly.