The Arizona Wildcats finished non-conference play in a big way, beating Southern Utah 62-31.
This was the type of game that the team needed. They now head into conference play with some momentum and confidence as they travel to Corvallis next week.
Let’s take a look at three things that we liked, and three we didn’t.
Up: Offensive efficiency, production
Saturday night showed what the offense can do when it is clicking. The ‘Cats ran only 60 plays (compared to 100 last week) and scored 62 points (18 last week). They also were 6-for-6 in the red zone, with four touchdowns and two field goals. They finished with 626 yards, 358 passing and 268 rushing, and averaged 10.4 yards per play. Oh, and Khalil Tate was 13-for-20, 349 yards, and five touchdown passes.
If the ‘Cats can keep up this type of efficiency and production, they will be sitting pretty in the Pac-12 South.
Down: Defense still has work to do
As well as the offense played, the defense didn’t. They couldn’t get off the field and allowed Southern Utah to run 98 plays. The Thunderbirds were also 10-for-22 on third downs and 5-for-6 on fourth (yikes!). These types of numbers are nightmarish and have plagued Arizona defenses for a long time now.
Up: Boxes checked
The Wildcats checked a lot of boxes on Saturday. Establish the run. I’d say so, UA finished with 268 rushing yards with 7.1 yards per carry. Not to mention the line looked a lot better run blocking.
Win special teams. Yep, that too. J.J. Taylor had a pretty fun 84-yard touchdown return on a squib kick. And he had another really nice return in the second half.
Negative plays. Yes. Arizona’s defense had seven tackles for loss, including two sacks. Speaking of sacks, those two check off that box as well.
Create a turnover? Absolutely. It came later in the fourth quarter when a pass was tipped and Jarrius Wallace just sat back, waiting, and casually caught the team’s first interception of the year.
Arizona was killing itself all night with penalties that were not needed. There were a surprising amount of personal fouls and unsportsmanlike penalties against the ‘Cats. Overall UA had 10 penalites for 98 yards, and that’s not including the off-setting ones. Some of them were drive extenders that kept the defense on the field.
Of note, I did not agree with Lorenzo Burns’ “roughing the kicker” penalty at the end of the first quarter. He barely tapped the heel of the Thunderbirds kicker, who should get an Oscar for his performance.
The penalties will have to lessen for Arizona to be successful in Pac-12 play.
Up: Khalil Tate, the receivers, and the offensive line
Arizona fans will have to face facts: Khalil Tate wants to be a QB that runs occasionally. And when that niche is working, it works well. He was accurate, calm, patient, and very aware in the pocket all night.
It also helps that his receivers were on point all night. Tony Ellison was extremely effective all night. He did uncharacteristically drop two passes though, including one for a touchdown. Poindexter caught a beautiful touch pass and outran the defender for a 75-yard touchdown. Shun Brown was wide open along the hash, caught a great pass, shamed a defender with a nice side-step, and outran everyone for a 65-yard touchdown. And finally, Devaughn Cooper’s lone catch was a 53-yard bomb down the field that was difficult by any means, but he did it.
Finally we come to the offensive line. Tate had all day to throw. The pass protection was fantastic all night. But it doesn’t stop there. The run blocking was much improved as well. Holes were open all night for Arizona runners and they made the most of them. Even when the second team line came in against the Southern Utah starters, they still owned the line of scrimmage. It was an overall complete performance by the UA offense.
Down: Defense gap discipline
It’s been a problem all year and it reared it’s ugly head again Saturday night. One reason the Thunderbirds were able to sustain long drives was due to the running backs gashing the Wildcat defense on the ground. The issue was more noticeable in the first half and it did improve in the second. That doesn’t, however, take away the fact that it is something that has plagued the defense and will cause for a long conference schedule if not remedied.