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What we learned from Arizona’s loss to Utah

NCAA Football: Utah at Arizona Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats (4-7, 2-6) were harpooned by the Utah Utes (10-1, 7-1) on Saturday by a score of 35-7 in their home finale at Arizona Stadium.

Losers of six straight, Arizona is no longer able to reach bowl eligibility.

Our recap of the blowout can be found here, and here are some additional takeaways.

The offense is regressing sharply

Arizona’s offense has regressed to a ghastly state the last two weeks. In the losses to Oregon and Utah, the Wildcats averaged 218 yards per game and scored a total of 13 points. Arizona’s 196 yards against Utah were its fewest since the 2009 Holiday Bowl.

The regression can be explained by a number of things. Oregon and Utah’s defenses are the best Arizona has faced, its offensive line is banged up, and the play calling is uninspiring, to name a few.

Three plays come to mind from Saturday:

  • a bubble screen on 3rd-and-8 that was stopped short of the sticks.
  • The same play on 4th-and-4 that was also snuffed out.
  • Running the ball on 3rd-on-8 in their own territory when trailing by 28.

The two-quarterback system isn’t accomplishing whatever it’s intended to accomplish.

Grant Gunnell went 8 for 16 for 86 yards and Khalil Tate went 6 for 11 for 39 yards, neither able to establish any sort of rhythm until the final offensive series of the night, when Gunnell capped a 12-play, 85-yard drive with a seven-yard rushing touchdown.

It was way too little, way too late.

The defense is the same ole unit

The defense did have some bright spots in this one, like Colin Schooler’s sack, Lorenzo Burns’ interception in the end zone, and Trevon Mason’s goal line stand. But for the most part the unit looked like it has all season—receivers were left wide open, it got dominated in the trenches, and it still commits costly, boneheaded penalties.

You probably don’t want to look at Zack Moss and Tyler Huntley’s numbers, but we’ll do it anyway.

  • Moss: 26 carries for 203 yards and a touchdown
  • Huntley: 19 for 23 for 211 yards, a touchdown, and an interception

Under interim defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil, Arizona is surrendering 520 yards per game.

Year three will be a make-or-break year for Kevin Sumlin

You can make a pretty strong case to fire Sumlin right now. Six non-competitive losses in a row along with lackluster results on the recruiting trail will put any coach on the hot seat. And if Arizona loses to ASU next week to make it seven in a row? Man.

But firing Sumlin probably isn’t going to happen now, if only for financial reasons. If Sumlin were fired tonight, his buyout would be $10 million. That figure is a much more reasonable $5 million in 2020.

By then most of Arizona’s key players will be guys Sumlin recruited. If there are still no signs of progress, then Arizona has to hone up to its mistake and find a new person to lead the program before further damage is done, if that is even possible. The attendance numbers are already the worst they’ve been in years.

Another scenario: assuming Sumlin’s buyout number drops in Jan. 2020, Arizona could fire him after the new year but before the 2020 season.

However, that would pose a new set of issues. The early signing period is Dec. 18-20, meaning the new coach would have to take on Sumlin’s recruits (just as Sumlin did with Rich Rodriguez) and/or scramble to put together a recruiting class during the spring signing period. Can a program that’s already devoid of talent afford that?

As far as what it will take for Sumlin to keep his job, that is an interesting question. In my opinion, it will take at least six wins, some competitive losses, and obvious growth from underclassmen like Gunnell and Boobie Curry to buy him another year.

“It’s my job to right the ship,” Sumlin said.

It was a disappointing sendoff for Khalil Tate and J.J. Taylor

No one expected Arizona to beat Utah, but it would have been nice to send off the seniors with a competitive game. Not only did that not happen, but its two biggest stars went down without a whimper.

Tate was ineffective (and only ran one time) and J.J. Taylor only rushed for 33 yards on 10 carries, his longest run going for 10 yards.

Those two have made some pretty incredible plays throughout their UA careers, but nothing they did on Senior Night will make their highlight reel.

ASU game is the bowl game

The way Arizona has been playing, a bowl game was already out of the picture. Now that it’s official, there is only one thing left to play for...

“Beating ASU is the biggest game of the season,” said linebacker Tony Fields II. “It is our bowl game.”