From an overall standpoint, the 2019 season was not one to be very happy about. The Arizona Wildcats lost their final seven games, failing to make a bowl game for the second consecutive season after choosing to fire a coach who had taken five of his six teams to the postseason.
But this isn’t the time to debate whether Arizona was wise to make a coaching change two years ago—or whether it should have done so again this offseason—but rather an opportunity to break down and analyze what happened in the fall. After all, there’s plenty of time to kill without a bowl game to be looking forward to.
Last week we highlighted six statistics from the 2019 season that were very concerning for Arizona and no doubt will need to be addressed during preparations for 2020. Now we’re flipping the script and highlighting some positive stats from the recently completed campaign.
Sadly, not as many stood out.
One number that will be key to 2020 that isn’t a pure stat, though, is 66. That’s the number of starts made last season by players either added by Kevin Sumlin and his staff since their arrival or which were part of the 2018 recruiting class that he inherited from Rich Rodriguez. Of those 66 starts, 19 were by true freshmen.
If 2020 is going to be a bounceback year for Arizona, it will happen via the performance of Sumlin’s players. And below are four statistics that could make that happen.
Arizona says goodbye to Khalil Tate, arguably the most polarizing player in school history. His roller-coaster career ended in disappointing fashion with a rough senior year, one in which the quarterback had to miss another game because of injury and had to sit back and watch his heir apparent look masterful in his first career start.
Grant Gunnell threw for 352 yards and a touchdown in leading the Wildcats to a 20-17 win over UCLA in their Pac-12 opener. He was 29 of 44, a 65.9 percent completion rate, and he’d more or less stay that accurate the rest of the season.
Gunnell finished the year completing 65.2 percent of his 155 attempts, the highest accuracy of any Arizona QB since Nick Foles completed a school-record 69.1 percent in 2012.
Now it’s WAY too early to be compared Gunnell to the GOAT, but this is a nice start. And considering his skill set fits much better with Noel Mazzone’s system than did Tate’s, we can only assume things will continue to progress between coordinator and quarterback.
Among the many question marks for Arizona heading into 2019 was its wide receiver corps, where it had graduated its top three pass catchers while the fourth (Devaughn Cooper) was dismissed from the team in the offseason.
Who would step into those starting roles, and who would end up being the go-to guy like Shun Brown was in the middle of the field and Shawn Poindexter was in the red zone?
Arizona ended up having no trouble filling the starting jobs, in fact it started eight different receivers with six starting at least three games. And as the season it started to become apparent that junior college transfer Tayvian Cunningham had taken on the Shun Brown role while converted QB Jamarye Joiner was the most reliable weapon even before his breakout 7-catch, 140-yard, 2-TD performance against ASU.
Both are back. And so are almost everyone else who caught a pass in 2019.
Assuming everyone with eligibility returns—yes, that’s a big if—that leaves 78.0 percent of Arizona’s receiving yards coming back in 2020. The projected returners also accounting for 78.5 percent of the receptions and 21 of 23 receiving TDs.
Arizona’s offense noticeably sputtered down the stretch, almost reaching non-existent status in the final three games when the Wildcats managed just 37 points. The concerning stats article touched on the scoring in Pac-12 play and the low yards per carry for the run game, and plenty of other numbers could have been singled out.
Here’s a good one from 2019, though: 44.09, as in the percentage of the time Arizona converted on third down.
That ranked third-best in the Pac-12 and was the team’s best third-down efficiency since 2013 when it converted 47.17 percent of the time.
The Wildcats led the conference with 82 third down conversions, but they also had the most third down snaps with 186, which says a lot about the offense’s overall success. It was nice to know they could extend some drives from time to time, however.
One-third of the way through Arizona’s season, it looked like this team was massively undisciplined. While they had a 3-1 record, the Wildcats had committed 36 penalties for 326 yards, both near the bottom nationally.
Well, in a season in which almost everything got worse as the games went on, this was one area where it got better. Arizona only committed 40 over its final eight games and finished the year averaging 6.25 per game, down from 7.88 per game in 2018.
They did end the season with a dud on the flag front, however, getting penalized eight times for 90 yards against ASU. A few of those came late after the game had been decided, and may or may not have been in reaction to Christian Roland-Wallace getting blocked all the way onto a sideline bench without a flag being thrown.