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What we learned from Arizona’s loss at USC

arizona-wildcats-usc-football-recap-takeaways-reaction-what-learned-tate-gunnell-injury-quarterback Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats were eviscerated by the USC Trojans 41-14 on Saturday in Los Angeles, as they fell to 4-3 overall and 2-2 in the Pac-12.

Our full recap can be found here, and here is what we learned from the blowout.

Arizona is still making the same mistakes

This start of this game played out much like the loss to Washington did. Self-inflicted wounds proved costly, with a pair of turnovers—a Stanley Berryhill III muffed punt and a Michael Wiley fumble—helping USC jump out to a 10-0 lead.

Only this time Arizona never recovered from them, going scoreless until Brian Casteel took a Grant Gunnell screen pass for a 56-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter.

It was already going to be difficult for Arizona to beat a more talented team on the road, but it was going to be darn near impossible if they were careless with the ball on top of it.

And since we are talking about self-inflicted mistakes, we must mention that Khalil Tate ran out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage three times before he was replaced by Gunnell early in the third quarter.

A senior quarterback has to know better.

Pass protection was horrid

Tate, who went 6 for 10 for 47 yards, displayed his habit of prematurely leaving the pocket again, but it is hard to blame him with the way the Wildcats were pass-protecting.

USC had seven sacks (six against Tate), using various blitzes to confuse the Wildcats, similar to what Washington did last week. Arizona was without starting guards Robert Congel and Cody Creason due to injuries and it showed. The running backs did a poor job in their blitz pickups too.

Maybe Tate could’ve gotten rid of the ball quicker, but Gunnell took over and was immediately under duress too. His first pass was intercepted as he was brutally blindsided as the ball came off his hand. His second series, he was crushed as he threw a third-down incompletion, retreating to the sideline in obvious pain.

Some wanted Gunnell to be inserted sooner since Tate failed to get anything going with his arm or legs, but Arizona’s offensive line was so outmatched that it didn’t matter in this one.

That said...

Gunnell should start against Stanford

Tate has now had two uninspiring outings in a row, and Sumlin made it clear Gunnell won’t be redshirting, so it is time to start the freshman and make a move with an eye on the future now that this season is quickly souring.

Does Gunnell give Arizona a better chance to win than Tate? I don’t know. We haven’t seen enough of Gunnell to make that assertion. His numbers against USC—16 for 26 for 196 yards, two touchdowns and interception—were pretty good, but much of that came in garbage time against USC’s third-string defense.

In his start against UCLA, he took care of the ball (something Tate has not been doing) but also missed some easy throws.

Still, Wildcats clearly aren’t very good with Tate at QB, and starting Gunnell should only help him be a better player next season when he unquestionably will be the top QB on the roster.

Defense deserves better

The only reason this game was close for a while is because the defense hung in there amid some difficult circumstances. It held USC to a field goal after Berryhill’s muffed punt and later forced a fumble when USC drove into the red zone.

The Trojans only had 163 yards on 33 plays in the first half (4.9 yards per play) and 56 yards in their first six possessions.

Eventually, fatigue set in and USC was able to put the game away, but Arizona at least had a chance to make it a game if its offense showed up.

Let Kyle kick

Another move Arizona can make with the future in mind? Letting true freshman Kyle Ostendorp take over as the starting punter.

Fifth-year senior Matt Aragon had another rough game, with seven punts for 250 yards, a 35.7 average. One of them was a 23-yard punt. That is unacceptable. This team has too many problems as it is.