It was an interesting game Saturday for the Arizona Wildcats. It was truly a tale of two halves.
Arizona made a valiant effort to make the comeback, down 24-0. It scored 20 unanswered points but its efforts fell short.
Let’s take a look at what went right, and what didn’t, in UA’s 24-20 loss to USC.
Up: Arizona’s second half offense
After a dismal first half (I will get into it below), the offense came to life after halftime. The Wildcats were able to take advantage, for the most part, of defensive takeaways to score points, bringing them back into the game.
Khalil Tate threw better balls in the second half and threw a beautiful touchdown pass to Stanley Berryhill III for Arizona’s first score. Later, after a strip sack by Kylan Wilborn, Tate threw another nice TD pass to Cedric Peterson in the corner of the end zone. Finally, after stopping the Trojans on fourth down and marching down the field, the ‘Cats were able to punch it in on a Gary Brightwell run (we’ll talk about that later).
Now, it wasn’t all pretty. There was a stretch near the goal line that was interesting to say the least, and Tate’s play was off kilter.
Down: The entire first half
Not really going to hammer this because we all saw what happened. The offense came out flat. The defense looked timid at times and unsettled. Dylan Klumph had an uncharacteristic game. To top it all off, Lucas Havrisik had his field goal blocked after the ‘Cats caught a break on a USC penalty to end the half.
Up: Arizona’s second half defense
The defense made the proper adjustments in the second half. After allowing the Trojans to score on their first possession after halftime, the defense clamped down. That unit stepped up to the challenge and played aggressively. It finally was able to get pressure on J.T. Daniels and be effective in the run game.
Let’s not forget that the aggressiveness also allowed for UA to cause and recover three fumbles.
Except for one game this has been a recurring issue. It has been a struggle for Lucas Havrisik this year. This time the four points that were left out there really hurt Arizona. UA would’ve most likely gone to overtime against USC and had a better shot to beat the Trojans.
Up: This team’s fight
One thing is certain...this team does not give up. That grit has definitely been a trait that has made things interesting this year. Two out of the three Arizona losses have been competitive losses, with only one blowout. That is a marked improvement from previous years. The below topic will need to improve to turn those competitive losses into wins.
Down: Inconsistent execution
Say what you want, but the playcalling wasn’t the issue against USC. Yes, not putting Brightwell in at the goalline situation from the get-go was head-scratching, but it didn’t lose the game. There were a couple of other odd play calls, but again, not enough to lose the game. The killer was inconsistent execution.
There wasn’t much execution, if any, in the first half in all facets of the team...but we’ve already covered that. Move into the second half and the defense stepped up in a big way. The offense, however, was still inconsistent. There were times it seemed that Tate wanted it all and bombed it down the field. There were also times where Tate tried to force throws, and those rarely end well.
Then, the special teams. We already talked about the kicking and punting games. Let’s talk a little on the random: penalties on coverage teams. There is absolutely no reason to have a 15-yard facemask penalty if you are on punt coverage and didn’t make the tackle. Also no reason to have an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on punt coverage. Those type of mistakes killed Arizona. A couple of times, after Klumph actually pinned USC back, they ended up with good starting field position due to penalties like this.
The good news is all of these execution errors can be corrected. And boy do they need to be.