This train wreck of a season is over. That’s something to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving weekend.
Up 19 points early in the fourth quarter, the Arizona Wildcats played its worst 15 minutes of football in a season full of disappointing moments. The result was a 41-40 home loss to the Arizona State Sun Devils, allowing the Territorial Cup to go back to Tempe and officially end Arizona’s season at 5-7.
No one saw this coming back in August, back when Khalil Tate was on the cover of Sports Illustrated—HAND HIM THE HEISMAN!—and the Wildcats were projected to win eight, nine, heck maybe even 10 games in Kevin Sumlin’s first season in Tucson. With all the talent he inherited from Rich Rodriguez, what could go wrong?
Where do we start?
Rather than go down that season-long rabbit hole, let’s just focus on what we learned about Arizona on a painful Saturday afternoon at Arizona Stadium, one where the only good thing ending up being that it sure was nice to have a game played in the daylight.
The Noel Mazzone era was a disaster
We can only assume that Kevin Sumlin will have a new offensive coordinator for his second season at Arizona. Whether that’s because Noel Mazzone gets fired or, more likely, ends up hanging up his headset after a long and (mostly) successful coaching career, his time with the Wildcats has to be over.
Arizona’s offense was supposed to be its strength this season, what with a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback as well as a workhorse running back and a slew of capable receivers. Yet the Wildcats finish the season averaging 31.3 points per game, 10 fewer than in RichRod’s final year.
They averaged 6.23 yards per play, which will end up in the top 40 nationally, but moving the ball and doing something with it are two very different things.
Mazzone’s play calling all season with mind-boggling, and in the Territorial Cup it came to a head. Arizona got into the red zone four times, scoring on every occasion, but the first three resulted in only field goals. The Wildcats managed only 23 touchdowns on 45 red zone trips in 2018.
Yet it was the shift to super conservatism while leading by 16 with 13 minutes left that was the most frustrating thing to watch. At one point Arizona handed off to JJ Taylor eight straight times over the course of two possessions, the desire to chew up clock blinding it from actually trying to, ya know, keep drives alive.
It’s time to make a change, Coach. Hey, Kliff Kingsbury might be available. He’s pretty good developing quarterbacks …
Colin Schooler picked a really bad time for his worst college game
A freshman All-American and, barring some major injury, a future NFL player, Colin Schooler had a heck of a sophomore year. He finishes with 119 tackles and 21.5 tackles for loss, each figure the most by an Arizona player since Scooby Wright’s award-winning season in 2014.
Yet in what ended up being the biggest game of the 2018 season, Schooler was shockingly bad. No, really.
The linebacker finished with five tackles, tied for the fewest in any game this season. He would have had several more had he not gotten juked out by various Sun Devils in the open field, an issue that plagued Arizona’s defense this fall but had somehow not afflicted Schooler until Saturday.
Schooler also got called for a roughing the passer penalty that helped ASU score early in the second quarter. Not the kind of game he’ll want to go into the offseason with.
The seniors deserved better
Earlier this week we got to speak with a quartet of Arizona players who have put in thousands of hours of work over the last several years. None of them wanted this to be their final game as a Wildcat, and their collective efforts in the Territorial Cup were indicative of this.
Yet wide receivers Tony Ellison and Shawn Poindexter, left tackle Layth Friekh, safety Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles and all the other seniors who were honored before Saturday’s finale just saw their college careers end by choking a 19-point lead.
That’s just not right.
Ellison had two touchdown catches, giving him six for the season and 11 for his career. Poindexter had six receptions for 99 yards, ending his amazing streak of consecutive catches for TDs but hauling in one score—by Mossing an ASU defender, to wit—to tie the school single-season record of 11.
Friekh, outside of a false start in the fourth quarter, was his usual stellar self in opening holes for JJ Taylor and Gary Brightwell. And Flannigan-Fowles had four tackles, including a big one in the open field early on when Arizona’s defense seemed like it was going to put forth a stellar effort.
Other seniors who went out with a bang—while the team did so with a thud—included receiver Shun Brown (five catches, 76 yards, and a few nice punt returns); defensive tackle Dereck Boles (a half sack and numerous QB pressures); punter Dylan Klumph (49.3 yards per kick on three punts) and Josh Pollack (four field goals).
If you in any way blame Pollack for missing that 45-yarder at the end, you are far too results-oriented. Arizona should have never needed to be in a position to where that kick even had to be attempted.