Saturday was an important day for the Arizona Wildcats and new head coach Kevin Sumlin.
UA was able to secure a win to open conference play, Sumlin’s first Pac-12 win, by beating the Oregon State Beavers 35-14, The Wildcats now have some more momentum heading deeper into their conference schedule.
Let’s take a look at three things that went well, and three things that didn’t Saturday.
Up: The offensive line and the running game
Man, the offensive line did a phenomenal job on Saturday. Khalil Tate had all day to throw. In fact, both sacks were Tate’s own doing. The first came as he was rolling/chased out left and didn’t chuck to ball out of bounds. The second was when there was pressure and instead of stepping up in the pocket, he back-peddled and threw an intentional grounding-inducing pass.
Run blocking was where the line made its money, though. It is by and far the biggest area of improvement. They opened massive holes for the running backs to to their thing. There were times that the backs weren’t touched until 20 yards downfield. Shoot, J.J. Taylor wasn’t touched at all during his 62-yard dash for a touchdown. The line was incredibly impressive, but they did make two mistakes that I’ll talk about below.
Down: Head-scratching penalties
As excellent as the line played, they made two mistakes that cost the ‘Cats points.
In the second quarter, the ‘Cats were driving into the redzone and ran an RPO that was incomplete. However, UA lineman Cody Creason was too far downfield, resulting in a 5-yard penalty. The ‘Cats gained that yardage back on the ground, no harm, no foul.
Next play, Tate ran another RPO and dropped a beautiful pass to Tony Ellison, who made a beautiful catch for a touchdown...or so we thought. This time Bryson Cain was tagged for being around 10 yards downfield. We’ll get into the end result of that drive later, but those types of mistakes drive coaches and fans crazy. Yes, it is a side effect of running RPOs, but with how many UA ran those were the only two instances of ineligible receivers downfield in the game.
Up: The Wildcat defense production
Other than two or three rough drives (out of 10 OSU possessions) the defense played dang near lights out.
They forced four three-and-outs. They had 11 tackles for loss and three sacks. But that’s not all!
They also held the Beavers to 238 yards of total offense. That’s 141 yards passing and, even more impressive, 97 yards rushing. That’s Arizona’s first sub-100 rushing yard performance of the year defensively.
The pass rush showed a marked improvement. OSU quarterback Conor Blount was under duress for a large portion of the game. Even if he completed passes, the Wildcat pass rush was the best it has been all season. Besides the three sacks, UA also had three QB hurries and flushed Blount out of the pocket multiple times.
Overall, it was Arizona’s best defensive performance of the season.
Not really much to say here. We all saw what happened. Lucas Havrisik’s field goal woes continued Saturday and kept the game closer at halftime than it should’ve been.
Earlier in the week, he stated that he wasn’t happy with his placekicking, and this sure didn’t help that feeling. I’m actually surprised at his inconsistency. This is something that could end up biting the ‘Cats in the backside if it isn’t remedied.
Up: Overall play-calling
Agree or not, Noel Mazzone called a great game. He used the fear of Tate’s running ability to Arizona’s advantage. The multiple RPO calls was exactly what the doctor ordered. Not to mention the pass plays were what the ‘Cats needed to keep the chains moving.
Another thing that can’t be overlooked are the outside runs for J.J. Taylor. During a coaching change the new staff needs to figure out what the strengths of each player are. And it seems Mazzone knows what J.J.’s strengths are.
Taylor found tons of success on the outside and was able to show what he can do in space. OSU couldn’t stop him at all.
Gary Brightwell has finally found his grove. He was able to use his physicality and north-south running style to gain massive chunks of yardage.
The fake field goal was also a great call. By all means the Beavers were prepared to block it. That allowed senior punter Jake Glatting to run eight yards for the first and keep the drive alive, which eventually led to a touchdown.
Down: No turnovers
This seems somewhat nitpicky to me, but you want to see the defense get more turnovers. This should not take away the solid overall play of the defense — they were definitely more aggressive than we’ve seen this season — but they still were unable to get any takeaways even though they jarred the ball loose a few times.
Through four games, Arizona has just one takeaway.