Choose your own adventure when trying to describe the Arizona Wildcats’ performance (or lack thereof) in Pullman on Saturday night as the Washington State Cougars just flat boatraced the team from Tucson.
WSU scored 55 points before halftime, and kindly did not score that many in the second half, taking the game by a final score of 69-28.
Arizona was outplayed in every way possible as WSU flexed its muscle as it makes a case for the College Football Playoff. Meanwhile, the Wildcats are left needing a win against arch-rival ASU to reach bowl eligibility.
So what was the worst part? And were there positives? Let’s dive into our report card for this abomination of a football game.
Khalil Tate actually did not play all that poorly. He finished with 18 completions for 294 yards and four touchdowns. He also brought back his leg game a little bit, breaking off two big rushes, including a 33-yarder.
He made one horrible decision on the first drive, which resulted in a pick. There was also another play where he was called for intentional grounding after just kind of flipping the ball over his back into the middle of the field while being pursued by the Cougs’ defensive line.
Other than though it was a solid performance. He made some throws that not a lot of guys in the game can. There was some serious zip on a few of them too, and like I already mentioned, he was able to escape the pocked and actually make plays with his legs.
Running backs: C
J.J. Taylor ran through a safety so hard that his helmet came off. That was cool.
Other than that I didn’t think the running game was all that impressive. Take out the sack yardage and Arizona finished with 164 yards on 33 attempts, which is good for just under five yards per carry.
Now if you look at just the running backs, there’s 108 yards on 28 carries, or 3.85 yards per attempt. Not as impressive.
I feel this falls more on the offensive line than anything, but nothing the running backs did really impressed me nor did they have any massive failures, so we’ll keep them right in the middle of the road for this week.
Wide receivers: B+
As good as Tate was, there were some great plays by the likes of Shawn Poindexter and Devaughn Cooper. Poindexter now only catches TDs (his last six catches have all resulted in points), and Cooper racked up 97 yards on just three receptions.
Not to be outdone, Shun Brown hauled in eight of his ten targets.
It wasn’t just the catches either, On Tate’s two long runs, there was some decent blocking downfield that helped get the quarterback a few more yards out there in the open field. If there’s been one group this year that has consistently gotten better, it’s this one.
Offensive line: D+
Washington State’s defense was just in the backfield way too much on this particular night. The Cougs had four sacks and eight TFLs. Those eight tackles resulted in 51 yards lost, which is a disturbingly high number.
When Arizona loses to Leach WSU teams, it’s because they are outmatched up front. And this game was no exception.
Defensive line: D+
Again, this is the best offensive line Arizona will play against all year, and WSU proved their worth in this one. It didn’t help that the Wildcats were constantly only rushing three — more on that later — but those three were also never able to make anything happen, and even if they were in a position to make a play, they didn’t do it.
When you give Gardner Minshew all that time in the pocket, you’re going to get picked apart, there’s no way around it.
I actually thought Tony Fields II was the best Arizona defender in this game, as he seemed to be able to make plays when he was in position to. He had some great, clean tackles, and definitely looked like the most energized guy out there.
Colin Schooler had another great numbers game (13 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks), but I think he’d be the first to say that it wasn’t his greatest game out there. Multiple times he missed the initial tackle, allowing WSU to get a few more yards than they would have had otherwise.
There was also the issue of poor pass coverage. More often than not, Arizona was only rushing three, so that put linebackers back in the zone coverage scheme. And more often than not, Cougar receivers would get free in that empty space in between the linebackers and safeties.
Defensive backs: F+
This is more than 482 passing yards on 44 completions. It’s more than a new school record of seven passing touchdowns by Minshew.
It’s a systematic problem.
No one was ever in position to make a play. And if they were, they committed a penalty or missed a tackle or just straight up got hurdled.
And when you combine a subpar secondary with a defensive line that’s unable to get pressure on one of the best QBs in the country with a three-man rush, you get this game.
More on the secondary issues in a little bit.
Special teams: F-
You automatically get this grade when you allow a touchdown on a regular kickoff by that team.
What happened you may ask? This:
And you can almost make an argument that there were worse kickoff returns than that.
When you give up ten touchdowns, you get a lot of kickoff return practice. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to work out. There were six returns, and four different Arizona players averaged ten yards on those returns. Ten.
Special teams isn’t the reason this team lost, but man it definitely did not help the matter.
It’s time to move on from Marcel Yates.
I understand why Kevin Sumlin kept Yates when he took over as head coach last winter. Yates was popular with the players, and offered continuity for a young group that was showing some promise.
But he is overmatched in today’s Pac-12.
Not only was Arizona unwilling to bring more blitz packages to potentially help out its struggling secondary, it went the other way and almost always dropped eight into coverage.
Which WSU receivers found the gaps in every single time.
After the first couple of drives, you have to adjust and know that if you don’t start bringing more pressure, you’re going to get eaten alive. But there was no recognition of this. Just the stubborn response that kept failing to the tune of seven passing touchdowns and 69 points allowed for the second straight trip to Pullman.
You know what Mike Leach is and how he takes advantage of you, so do something different.
The problem with Yates doesn’t end with just scheme though. He played defensive back. He’s supposed to be best at coaching defensive backs.
The defensive backs are the worst defensive group as far as skills and knowledge goes.
Corners never turn their heads back to the ball when it’s in the air, resulting in pass interference penalties on a regular basis. Safeties are not able to read routes and know where the ball is going. And no one can tackle....well, legally at least.
Yates is not the man to be left in charge of the defensive side of the ball moving forward.
The coaching also failed on special teams again, as best evidenced by the kickoff return struggles. The offensive playcalling was fine.
But then there’s the overall decision making.
When you have the ball on the opponent’s side of the field, down five touchdowns, and with 11 minutes left in the third quarter, you treat that as a four-down situation. That’s just what you do.
But on third-and-six at the WSU 44, Arizona went pass, which was an incompletion to Stanley Berryhill.
So on 4th-and-6, Arizona punted. They didn’t set up a more manageable fourth down. They didn’t go for it instead of getting just 26 yards on the ensuing punt. Just another horrible mismanagement in a season full of those instances.
And there’s also the whole penalty issue this year which extends drives because there’s no discipline being exhibited by anyone on this team.
This coaching staff gets in its own way far too often, and no one should be surprised to see some changes once this first season of the new era comes to an end.