Friday night’s wild 42-34 win for the Arizona Wildcats over the Colorado Buffaloes saw the home team fall behind 10-0 and then score on eight consecutive possessions, making just enough defensive stops along the way to get the job done.
It was far from a perfect performance, though after the emotions of the blowout Homecoming victory over Oregon it wasn’t surprising to see a bit of a letdown. But rather than fall into that trap, Arizona rallied in-game to win for the second time in less than a week and kept itself in line to qualify for a bowl game (and, amazingly, still alive for the Pac-12 South title).
There were some amazing individual performances by Arizona against Colorado. We expound on those below while also breaking down how each facet of the Wildcats fared on Friday.
Khalil Tate threw for a career-high 350 yards, tying his best touchdown tally with five. He needed only 21 attempts (and 17 completions) to do that, routinely connecting with his receivers on deep passes for big gains. He had tremendous accuracy on most of his deep balls, though his sure-handed receivers certainly helped that cause.
But it was far from a flawless game for Tate. He still tried to make something out of nothing once, overthrowing his target for an interception that could have proved fatal had Arizona’s defense not stepped up late. At least he threw the ball on that one, as opposed to a couple times when he ran out of bounds at or behind the line of scrimmage.
Tate’s unwillingness to run, even though he appears to be as close to 100 percent as he’s been since the opener, is a concern. He broke off a 25-yard run late but there were several other opportunities for him to take off.
Running backs: A+
This grade is for the entire position group but it’s really just for J.J. Taylor. So it goes when one guy gets 40 of the 47 carries.
Taylor was masterful, rushing for 192 yards to become the first Arizona back with three straight 100-yard games since Nick Wilson in 2015. And his longest run—21 yards—was the last one, clinching the victory a few carries after his tremendous balance and lower-body strength on a 15-yard run on 3rd and 9 deep in Wildcats territory.
The heavy load was a necessity with Gary Brightwell and Darrius Smith both hurt, and if Arizona didn’t have a bye coming up that overuse would be troublesome. Those injuries did make it possible to see the 2018 debut of Nathan Tilford, who was on the field for two plays near the goal line that included a 1-yard run.
Wide receivers: A
Khalil Tate targeted eight different players and all of them caught at least one pass. That included a 17-yard catch to Bryce Wolma, proof that the tight ends do still exist on this roster.
Shawn Poindexter continues to be money, catching touchdowns on both of his receptions. That’s four TDs in four catches the past two weeks, if you’re scoring at home.
Shun Brown has established himself as the go-to guy close to the line of scrimmage and Tony Ellison is the quick slant specialist. Throw in Cedric Peterson and Stanley Berryhill and Arizona has a complete set of role players at receiver.
Offensive line: A-
Arizona’s line gave Khalil Tate a clean pocket most of the night, though he did roll out a fair amount and that’s when he faced more pressure. That group did its job in the run game for Taylor, getting only one holding penalty (on what would have been a touchdown) and consistently sealing the edges.
The starting lineup included Michael Eletise at right guard in place of an injured Bryson Cain. Thiyo Lukusa got some run at left guard when left tackle Layth Friekh briefly went out, moving Donovan Laie to left tackle and Cody Creason to right tackle.
Defensive line: B+
Colorado quarterback Brian Montez was routinely flustered by Arizona’s defensive line, and it was again a collective effort. JB Brown grabbed two sacks, continuing his game-over-game improvement, while Dereck Boles had a tackle for loss and PJ Johnson recovered a fumble.
This group is showing more and more its ability to not just plug holes and occupy linemen for the linebackers to come in but to make plays themselves. The Buffaloes ran for just 40 yards, a week after Oregon managed only 84 yards on the ground.
Tony Fields II and Colin Schooler. Rinse and repeat.
The sophomore duo combined for 19 tackles, four for loss, and two sacks. Schooler’s three TFL gives him 19, second-most in the country, and his 101 tackles are 10th nationally.
Just as important, though, was the play of Anthony Pandy. Not that he had two tackles but that he was on the field for enough snaps to enable Fields and Schooler to get much-needed rest in order to be fresh late in the game.
After a tremendous performance the week before against Oregon, this group took a step back. Colorado threw for 343 yards, most by an Arizona opponent this season, and three touchdowns. Safety Jarrius Wallace was personally responsible for giving up all three, which led to him getting pulled in the second half.
The secondary did have five pass breakups as well as Troy Young’s key fourth-quarter interception, but there were also three pass interference penalties. Even if those calls may have been questionable, Arizona’s DBs have to do what they can to avoid a flag coming out.
A shoulder injury to Scottie Young Jr. late in the first half kept him out the rest of the game. Hopefully he’ll be able to come back after the bye.
Special teams: B-
This was a mixed bag, one filled with several big performances but also some iffy ones.
The most positive development came from Lucas Havrisik, who had been benched as the placekicker after going 4 of 9 on field goals. But he was brought in for a pair of long kicks in the first half, making both, including a 55-yarder to end the second quarter.
Josh Pollack made his only field goal try, from 41 yards out, but he also missed a PAT that could have been critical had Arizona and Colorado kept trading leads.
Punter Dylan Klumph was once again solid, though not that active, averaging 47.5 yards on two kicks. On one he looked like he was going for a fake but ended up booming it away for 53 yards.
Klumph’s first punt outkicked the coverage, allowing Colorado to return it 59 yards.
As for Arizona’s return game, Shun Brown wasn’t able to attempt one on a punt and Stanley Berryhill probably shouldn’t have as JJ Taylor’s replacement on kickoffs. He fair caught a few but on one he fielded it at the 5-yard line and ran directly into the pack 10 yards ahead.
The offensive creativity was much better than a week ago, and not just because a tight end was targeted. There was far less predictability, particularly on third down, though a few more designed runs for Khalil Tate would have been nice instead of only ones where he got to choose whether to take off or not.
Defensive coordinator Marcel Yates has become more aggressive with his calls, and that’s a pleasant sight. That meant leaving a wide-open target on a safety blitz, resulting in a touchdown, but sometimes that risk is worth it.
If he can find a way to slow down Washington State’s pass attack on Nov. 17, Yates’ job security may no longer be an issue.