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Grading Arizona’s win at Oregon State

Are the Wildcats getting better or are their opponents just that bad?

NCAA Football: Arizona at Oregon State Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

First place in the Pac-12 South.

That’s where the Arizona Wildcats find themselves after running away from the Oregon State Beavers in the second half on Saturday. The Cats saw several career games on the ground on their way to 442 rushing yards, outgaining the Beavs by nearly 350 yards in that department.

There was a lot to be encouraged by but there’s still the looming question: is Arizona getting better or are the last two opponents just that bad?

We’ll find out more next week, but for now there are plenty of high marks coming this team’s way after its Pac-12 opener.

Quarterback: B+

Khalil Tate didn’t put up the gaudy numbers he did against Oregon State last year, but everything about his performance was just what Arizona needed.

He completed nine of his 17 pass attempts resulting in 152 yards and two touchdowns.

Tate did finish with “-9” rushing yards on the day, which was kind of surprising since Arizona’s very first play of the game was a 9-yard run by the QB. But it is what it is, and it’s not like the Cats were lacking in the rushing game in this one.

The ankle injury is just going to be a thing for the rest of the season probably and some days Tate will look explosive, and some days he won’t, especially after a defender decides to put a little extra emphasis on that leg while tackling.

Running backs: A+

When two separate guys have their career-best games on the same day, you get an A+.

J.J. Taylor had 284 yards on 27 carries, including two touchdowns of 40 yards or more. A huge part of his success was the sudden appearance of running holes, which will touch on later. But he also looked more physical and more comfortable running the ball than pretty much any other time in his career.

Then there was Gary Brightwell, who only averaged 8.7 yards per carry. He had 113 yards and an 8-yard TD of his own. The combo of Taylor and Brightwell was very effective against the porous Oregon State defense and hopefully this performance gives them a lot more confidence before taking on some better defenses like...USC.

Wide receivers: C

The wide receivers did not look particularly impressive. Tate’s eight incompletions were mostly the result of great coverage by Oregon State and the receivers not being able to create any space. I think one of the crazier offensive stats from this game was Tony Ellison being targeted four times, and all four of those were incompletions. To be fair, he would have had a great touchdown catch if not for an ineligible man downfield penalty on Bryson Cain.

Shun Brown is slowly coming back into form, and even turned a little side pass into a 27-yard run. He also had a receiving TD in which he went all the way back across the field and Tate was kind of blocking for him....kind of not at all actually.

Shawn Poindexter having 92 yards on 4 catches and being a slight afterthought really shows how he has come into his own this year as well. The redshirt senior now has 369 yards on 16 catches this year. He has a real shot at becoming a 1,000 yard receiver.

Offensive line: A-

Layth Friekh may be this team’s MVP.

This was the second game of the reshuffled, revamped offensive line, and they looked like the Arizona offensive lines of years past where they were actually able to run block and create holes for the backs.

What a huge difference that makes.

Arizona ran the ball three times more than they threw the ball (51 to 17) and if the offensive line allows that kind of ratio to be feasible, then good things are going to happen.

Their grade gets downgraded to an A- because of the two ineligible man downfield plays that killed Arizona’s drive just before halftime that resulted in a missed field goal instead of a touchdown.

Defensive line: A-

Or maybe PJ Johnson is the team’s MVP.

Johnson is so much better than any other defensive linemen on this team that he completely changed the game up front. Arizona had been without him against Houston and Southern Utah, and maybe the Houston game doesn’t turn into a win with him in there, but maybe it wouldn’t have been such an embarrassment.

He was constantly eating up two or three Beaver offensive linemen, and it’s not just because of his size. Johnson has moves that the rest of his teammates don’t have, and it creates so much more havoc in the trenches than I can remember any other Arizona lineman creating in recent years. This resulted in 11 Arizona TFLs, 3 sacks, and 3 QBHs. That’s about what the team was on pace for for the entire season without Johnson in the lineup.

Also, JB Brown looks pretty good now. If there are two effective pass rushers up front, that helps the entire defense and makes more games winnable.

Linebackers: A

This was just a great performance from everyone in the front seven.

With the defensive line creating problems for more people, that freed up the linebackers, which are already the strength of this team. So guys like Colin Schooler, Tony Fields II, and Jalen Harris were able to make tons of plays throughout the game.

Like I said, it all starts up front, and this group of linebackers are certainly well set up to take advantage of a discombobulated offensive line.

Secondary: Pass

Honestly didn’t even really notice the secondary in this game. Isn’t that what you want?

The majority of Oregon State’s completions seemed to be on underneath crossing patterns and screens. The Beavers had 141 passing yards on 18 completions. That’s an average of just 7.8 yards per catch. Arizona averaged 16.9.

No big plays allowed and the defenders kept their guys in front of them? That’s a passing grade.

Special teams: C-

Lucas Havrisik missed both field goal attempts. He pulled one way left and then came up short on a 55-yarder.

Dylan Klumph punted once and it went 54 yards because of course it did.

And the team had a 21-yard kick return and 21 yards of punt returns. So nothing really of note happening on special teams this week.

EXCEPT FAKE FIELD GOAL ALERT!! Jake Glatting, the holder, took a snap and ran the ball for a first down which led to an Arizona touchdown. Risk taking!

Coaching: B+

So the one big thing people were pointing to in the heat of the moment was the clock management at the end of the first half.

Here’s my counterargument.

They got the ball back at the 25 with 57 seconds left. Two Taylor runs later they were at the 37 and with what should have been 21 seconds left based on TV.

Then this happened.

Couple things. First, I understand the TV clock doesn’t always match with the clock on the field. And since this is Pac-12 Network I could see it being way off way before this play even happened.

But watching the refs, once they signal for the clock to restart after the first down, that’s when five seconds go away quickly on the TV. So either TV was off five seconds already, or something weird happened with the field clock there.

Also it should have been at 21 and not 20 in the first place.

So yes, Arizona had two timeouts and didn’t use them. But I’m not throwing it all on the coaches. A long pass to Poindexter at the end made it look worse, but Arizona was getting the ball first in the second half so running the ball there to go to halftime usually makes sense. And in theory there could have been six seconds there that the coaches were counting on.

Otherwise the playcalling fit the game flow, there were mixups on defense, and everything seemed to be going fine. There are still way too many penalties (7 in this game), so that is certainly an area that still needs improvement.

Other than that I think most people can agree that this team is at least on the right trajectory in almost all aspects of the game.