The 2019 season was not a good one for the Arizona Wildcats, something that can be easily determined by their 4-8 overall record and 2-7 mark in Pac-12 play. Same goes for the season-ending seven-game losing streak, their longest since 2016.
A look at the statistics makes for an even drearier picture.
Arizona was last in the Pac-12 in scoring and total defense, allowing 35.8 points and 471.4 yards per game, respectively. The Wildcats also allowed the most rushing yards per game in the league, 181.6 per game, and the 289.8 passing yards allowed per contest ended up just slight better (or less worse) than what UCLA gave up.
But it gets worse. Below are six lesser-known stats for Arizona from the 2019 season that must be addressed if 2020 is going to be any better.
Arizona scored 26.9 points per game this season, down from 31.3 a year ago, but that average includes big numbers in the first two games against Hawaii (38) and NAU (65). Once the Wildcats got into the Pac-12, though, that production dropped off immensely.
They averaged 21.3 points per game in conference play, their worst scoring output in Pac-12 games since 2006 when they averaged 16.9 per game. To put this season’s average in context, the 2017 team led the Pac-12 at 40.1 points per game.
With the same quarterback and running back as two years ago. Different head coach and coordinator, however.
Gone are Khalil Tate and J.J. Taylor, leaving Grant Gunnell and the remaining ball carriers to get the offense going again. And speaking of the run game …
Arizona has been a run-first team for quite some time, calling more run plays than passes ever year since 2012. That’s usually led to some pretty robust team rushing numbers, including three straight seasons leading the Pac-12 from 2016-18.
This year the Wildcats ranked third, averaging 174.3 yards per game, which was their worst ground production since 2011. It didn’t help that Arizona was playing from behind in many games and had to throw more to try and get back into it, but that doesn’t explain the 4.43 yards per carry that was its lowest in five years.
Two years ago Arizona averaged 6.56 yards per carry, which led the nation. And even without Tate’s ridiculous 9.22 average the Wildcats gained 5.67 per rush.
Only Cody Creason was left from that 2017 offensive line, and he was mostly a reserve. Creason’s injury in the fifth game of this season was the first of many to the blockers, resulting in more and more woeful rushing efforts as the season went on. Arizona averaged less than four yards per carry in all but two Pac-12 games, with one of those above 4.0 coming against ASU when Creason, Paiton Fears, Josh McCauley and Jordan Morgan all returned from injury.
Creason is the only lineman not returning, so as long as they can stay healthy the foundation is there for the run game to return to its past level of success.
Look back at our coverage of Arizona during training camp and among the topics most frequently discussed was the defensive line. It had been a big issue for the Wildcats in 2018, but the arrival of junior college transfers Trevon Mason and Myles Tapusoa along with an intent to regularly rotate fresh bodies in the trenches made it seem like 2019 was going to be a good year for the D-line.
Instead, it was worse in almost all areas, the most notable of which was the team’s sack total.
Arizona recorded only 17 sacks this season, least among Pac-12 schools and the fewest since 2012.
Jalen Harris was the team leader with four, which was actually an uptick from the 3.5 JB Brown had to lead the Wildcats a year earlier. Brown, who was supposed to be poised for a big junior year thanks to his ability to move all over the line, had three sacks with none in the first six games.
The defensive line produced 11 of the 17 sacks, down from 14 in 2018, and none of those players recorded more than 6.5 tackles for loss.
The total defensive numbers listed in the intro were bad enough, but maybe the most glaring was the amount of yards opponents averaged on each play. Every time an Arizona foe snapped the ball on offense in 2019 it managed 6.36 yards, the most since the 2011 squad—which also went 4-8, but saw its coach fired along the way—allowed 6.59 per play.
And while Arizona’s third-down defense was bad, allowing conversions 47 percent of the time, it was put in far too many tough positions by how bad it defended on first down.
Wildcat opponents gained nearly 49 percent of their yardage on first down, averaging an astonishing 6.67 yards per snap. When you all but guarantee yourself a second-and-short situation it’s not that hard to keep moving the sticks.
Teams are going to give up yards on defense, that’s unavoidable in college football (unless you have 5-stars on the third team, like Alabama). It’s a matter of bending but not breaking, both by preventing the big play and making stops closer to the goal line.
And while Arizona could have done a little better with the former, that wasn’t nearly as big an issue as the latter.
Opponents scored on 48 of 53 red zone possessions this season, a 90.6 percent success rate that was worst in the Pac-12. The 48 scores were more than nine other schools allowed trips inside their 20-yard line.
There was at least a silver lining for the Wildcats defensively in the red zone. Of those 48 scores, 15 were field goals, tied with Oregon for the most red zone field goals allowed. They buckled down enough to keep some points off the board, but the 33 touchdowns allowed in there were still most in the conference.
Last season ended in ultra-painful fashion with Josh Pollack missing a field goal at the buzzer against ASU. This time around those misses came earlier in the game, eliminating any chance of Arizona being able to come back and reclaim the Territorial Cup.
Lucas Havrisik missed a 47-yard attempt in the first quarter and then from 26 yards out in the fourth quarter. That made him 10 for 17 for the season, a 58.8 percent accuracy that marked the worst for Arizona since 2011 when three different kickers combined to make 10 of 18 field goals.
Havrisik lost his starting job for part of last season, a humbling experience that was supposed to have steeled him for his junior year. Instead he only had two games in which he attempted multiple field goals and didn’t miss one.
He is the only scholarship kicker on Arizona’s roster, so unless the Wildcats pick up a transfer or go the walk-on route then Havrisik is going to be the main option in 2020.