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What we learned from Arizona’s loss to Stanford

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arizona-stanford-recap-takeaways-reaction-what-we-learned-analysis-football-tate-gunnell Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats’ losing streak extended to three games Saturday, with a 41-31 defeat against the Stanford Cardinal in Palo Alto.

Arizona falls to 4-4 overall and 2-3 in the Pac-12 heading into next Saturday’s homecoming tilt vs. Oregon State.

Our full recap of the Stanford game can be found here and here are some additional takeaways.

This team can’t put it together

In the first two games of Arizona’s losing streak, the offense let the defense down. This game, both units took their turn undermining the other.

The UA defense was a turnstile in the first half, surrendering 31 points and 327 yards. But the Wildcats only trailed by seven at the break because the offense, led by two quarterbacks, kept pace. (More on that in a second.)

In the second half, Arizona’s defense held Stanford to 145 yards and 10 points, but the offense sputtered, only posting seven points while committing a pair of turnovers.

Freshman Grant Gunnell took a 24-yard sack to knock the Wildcats out of field goal range early in the fourth quarter after the defense forced a three-and-out. Khalil Tate was then intercepted after the defense got another stop.

Stanford turned Tate’s turnover into a field goal, putting it up 10 with under seven minutes to play. Game, set, match.

It is frustrating because the Wildcats are clearly capable of playing well on both sides of the ball, just not at the same time for whatever reason.

It’s a two-QB system

Rather than picking one quarterback over the other, Kevin Sumlin played both in the first half.

They complemented each other well.

Tate was 8 for 10 for 117 yards and a touchdown in the first two quarters, also darting for a 57-yard touchdown, showing shades of his 2017 self.

Gunnell was a perfect 5 for 5 for 50 yards and a touchdown, threading the needle to fellow freshman Jalen Johnson for an eight-yard score that gave Arizona a 10-7 lead late in the first quarter.

Gunnell, who is now ineligible to redshirt, only got one series in the second half, which started well but ended with that costly sack.

Tate replaced him and, at one point, threw 10 straight incompletions.

It is fair to wonder how changing QBs affected Tate, but as far as who should be the primary option moving forward, let’s let the final numbers decide:

  • Tate: 17 for 33 for 205 yards, two TD, two INTs, 9 carries, 107 yards, 1 TD
  • Gunnell: 7 for 7 for 68 yards, TD

No hope for this pass rush

Stanford’s offensive line is so banged up that it added a walk-on during the week for depth.

It still didn’t matter. Arizona just cannot rush the passer.

The Wildcats, who have seven sacks all season, were not able to get to Stanford QB K.J. Costello. With all day to throw, he carved up the Wildcats to the tune of 312 yards and three touchdowns.

Arizona’s defense didn’t have success in other areas, either. Cameron Scarlett rushed for 102 yards on 19 carries, tackling was poor in the open field (especially in the flat), and Stanford receivers were able to create separation. No turnovers, either.

And the few times Arizona’s defense did get stops, its offense couldn’t capitalize.

There’s a lot of potential at receiver

It will be fun to watch Arizona’s receiving corps develop over these next few years. I mentioned Johnson’s TD catch in traffic from Gunnell, but the best play from the group came via converted quarterback Jamarye Joiner, who reeled in a one-handed grab in the corner of the end zone from Tate.

Sophomore Drew Dixon only had one catch, but it was on a sweet back-shoulder TD throw from Tate that looked like something you’d see on Sundays.

True freshman Boobie Curry got in the mix too, hauling in an 11-yard pass from Gunnell, his former high school teammate.

J.J. Taylor is healthy, which means he should be playing more

With 107 yards, Taylor posted his highest rushing total since the opener vs. NAU. He was extremely elusive, even more so than usual, and had some big creases to burst through, thanks to some road-grading by the interior offensive line, which was without starting right guard Cody Creason for the second straight game.

Taylor became the eighth player in UA history to eclipse 3,000 career rushing yards. He also had a team-high five catches for 53 yards.

Arizona’s four other running backs had nine carries for 29 yards, so this looks like an instance where the running-back-by-committee approach came back to bite the Wildcats.

Kyle kicked

Last week I called for true freshman punter Kyle Ostendorp to replace ineffective fifth-year senior Matt Aragon, and it happened!

Ostendorp booted four punts for 185 yards, a 46.2 average, which was almost eight yards more than Aragon’s season average. With young players getting opportunities at other positions, why not punter too?

Special teams still suck, though

It seems like every week a new problem arises for Arizona’s special teams. This time it was kickoff coverage.

The Cardinal had two returns for 79 yards, including a 45-yard return into UA territory that followed one of Arizona’s early scoring drives. Stanford scored a TD on that possession. Talk about an easy way to kill the momentum.

Lucas Havrisik is usually terrific on kickoffs, but he booted one out of bounds to set the Cardinal up with solid field position—little things that bad teams cannot afford to do if they want to win games.

A bowl game is now unlikely

Arizona still needs two more wins to earn bowl eligibility and its final four games are vs. Oregon State, at No. 11 Oregon, vs. No. 12 Utah, and at No. 24 ASU.

In other words, a bowl game isn’t happening unless the Wildcats upset a top-25 team.