It’s over. It’s done. One of Arizona’s worst football seasons in recent memory finished up on Saturday night, as the Wildcats fell to ASU in Tempe 24-14.
It was a slog of a game, and for the seventh straight time, the Wildcats emerged from the game without a victory. They finish the season 4-8 overall and 2-7 in the Pac-12, the worst conference record in not only the Pac-12 South but the conference as a whole.
If you squint really hard, there were a few silver linings to go with the bountiful frustrations from both the ASU game and this season.
Here are three of each in the final 3 up, 3 down of the season
Up: Solid start
This was not a fun game to watch for the average football fan, and Arizona’s defense in the first half was mostly responsible for that. ASU only managed six points in the first two frames, and three of those points came as the half drew to a close.
For a team that has looked dreadful in most first halves in Kevin Sumlin’s tenure, especially on the road, this kind of start was a breath of fresh air. Khalil Tate looked really good in the first half as well, throwing a touchdown to Jamarye Joiner and keeping control of the game. The offense wasn’t spectacular, but combined with the suddenly solid defense, it let Arizona lead the game for a healthy part of the second quarter. (It was Arizona’s first lead since the Stanford game, by the way.)
Of course, the second half left a lot to be desired for the Wildcats, and it’s still been over a calendar year since Arizona has looked impressive for 60 minutes against an FBS team. When a 4-8 teams loses their seventh straight in one of the most intense rivalries in the sport, you have to dig a bit for the silver linings.
Down: Rivalry loss
It obviously stinks for everyone on this side of the state that Arizona lost the Territorial Cup. It especially stinks that this loss was Arizona’s seventh straight as the program desperately claws for momentum.
If you’re reading this, you probably know just how much the UA-ASU rivalry matters to both programs and the universities. I find it annoying when people claim their school is a unique coaching job, but U of A and ASU really do have a unique dynamic. The state of Arizona’s best players have long been fleeing the state for blue bloods elsewhere, but the race for those four-stars and high three-stars that remain is intense, and the Sun Devils are dominating it in the Herm vs. Sumlin era.
On top of that lost momentum for a recruiting class that desperately needs it, Arizona has now gone completely stagnant on the field. Seven straight losses to close a 4-8 season does not a productive future portend. With plenty of players returning, a long offseason, and a manageable schedule in 2020, this can change. An ASU win would have helped that process a ton.
Up: Jamarye Joiner’s entire season
My vote for 2019 Arizona MVP is going to Jamarye Joiner, and he deserves that imaginary vote from everyone in Tucson and beyond.
Going into the season, Joiner was trapped near the bottom of the QB depth chart. One of the best recruits Cienega High School has produced in recent years, it looked like Joiner would lose a promising career thanks to a fairly stout quarterback room. Instead, the coaching staff moved him to wide receiver to capitalize on his athleticism. It was a stroke of genius from the beginning of the Hawaii game, and it will continue to pay dividends for Joiner’s remaining career in Tucson.
Joiner dominated the ASU secondary on Saturday for 140 yards and two scores on seven receptions, his best game of the year. He finishes the year with 34 receptions for 542 yards and five touchdowns, and caught a pass in all 12 Arizona games this season. In a surprisingly deep receiving corps, Joiner made his mark and should be a starter in his redshirt sophomore season next year. It’s one of the few unequivocally good things from this season for the Wildcats.
Down: A bad game to finish Khalil Tate’s career
As for the senior quarterback who was throwing to Joiner and others in Tempe, he didn’t have a career game at all. Despite many maddening moments from the last three years, the most important Arizona quarterback since Nick Foles was Tate, and his career ending this way is a shame.
After not starting the Senior day game against Utah, it was assumed that Tate’s career was officially over and the Grant Gunnell era had begun in earnest. Instead, Tate started in Tempe, and while his first half was promising, an ugly second half marred his farewell game. Tate finished the game 22-for-38 for 228 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions through the air, while his legs got him 78 yards on 11 carries. This is his first three-interception game ever, and while at least one wasn’t his fault, it’s still a black mark.
Tate has had one of the strangest college quarterback careers I can remember, up there with the Bo Wallace’s and Jeremiah Masoli’s of the world. Regardless of that, he deserves gratitude for his Arizona career and good luck for his future endeavors. It stinks that this is how he makes the transition from the present to the future.
Up: Football season is over!
Rejoice, all you basketball fans, because this football season is officially done. This offseason has been hotly anticipated for months, and football’s season ending means the rest of Arizona’s sports get the spotlight they deserve.
I love college football, and I love Arizona football the most, but this season has been one of Arizona’s worst in my lifetime. Except for 2016, this is Arizona’s worst season since the first half of last decade. And of course, 2016 was salvaged by Arizona beating Arizona State 56-35 without attempting a pass in the second half. It has been marked by a feeling of malaise and the feeling that this program is becoming lost at sea just as ASU picks up steam, and it is now in the past
I may love football, but I along with all of you have to be grateful that this season is over. Enjoy men’s basketball, and go to as many games for the rest of this athletics program as you can. Women’s basketball is amazing, baseball and especially softball will both be great come spring, and the rest of this university has plenty of fun teams to follow. Without football, follow them!
Down: Special teams...yet again
For at least the tenth time this season, Arizona’s special teams unit directly hurt the team and was a crippling weakness despite it’s small role in the game.
This weekend, the primary culprit was junior kicker Lucas Havrisik. I feel Arizona should have been very aggressive in this game and Havrisik shouldn’t have even been asked to kick field goals, but Sumlin asked him to kick two field goals, and he missed both. Both field goals came after long drives that could have flipped the game, and while one miss from 47 yards is at least a little understandable, Havrisik’s fourth quarter miss from 26 yards is impossible to excuse.
Elsewhere, the punting unit finally managed to punt the ball further than 50 yards, only for that great Matt Aragon boot to go into the endzone for a touchback. J.J. Taylor and freshman Boobie Curry were average at best returning kickoffs. That is the entirety of Arizona’s special teams performance. This unit has to be the most grateful that the 2019 season is over based on their abysmal performance all year.