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What we learned from Arizona’s loss to Hawaii

arizona-wildcats-hawaii-warriors-final-score-recap-takeaways-reaction-highlights-postgame<span data-author="5158751"> </span> Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats opened the 2019 season in heartbreaking fashion Saturday, falling one yard short in a 45-38 road loss to the Hawaii Warriors.

Our full recap can be found here, and below are some additional takeaways.

Khalil Tate can run again

While the way the game ended was in typical Arizona football fashion—i.e. falling just short of pay dirt—it capped what was an encouraging performance for Khalil Tate on the ground.

The 30-yard scamper that saw Tate get taken down at the one-yard line put him over the century mark, with 108 rushing yards on 13 carries. That easily surpassed his highest single-game rushing total from last season, which was a measly 46 yards.

Tate looked quick and had some wiggle, but still appears to be avoiding contact as much as possible. That is both good and bad if you are fine with him sacrificing some yardage in order to stay healthy, but that approach may have been costly on the final play when it looked like he could have scored if he left his feet.

Still, his mobility makes Arizona’s offense so much more dangerous. For one, defenses have to respect that part of his game, the effect of which showed in the first half when a fake QB run led to a jump-pass touchdown to tight end Bryce Wolma.

The blip in Tate’s performance is that he was erratic as a passer, going 22 for 39 for 361 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions.

He missed his target on several short throws and made a maddening decision in the red zone when a Hawaii defensive back stepped in front of a slant route for an interception, preventing the Wildcats from tying the game or taking the lead in the fourth quarter.

Defense still plagued by same problems

What a weird, yet somewhat predictable, game for Arizona’s defense.

On one hand, it generated six—yes, six—turnovers, the most in a game since September 2016. Some were self-inflicted by Hawaii being too careless with the ball or its QBs trying to make a home-run play instead of being content with a checkdown, but six turnovers is still six turnovers.

On the other hand, it wasn’t enough because that same defense allowed 595 yards and only forced one punt, as the same old problems arose—no pass rush, lots of open receivers all over the field, and cornerbacks failing to turn their head to make a play on the ball.

Hawaii’s two quarterbacks combined for 436 yards and five touchdowns at a 71 percent completion rate. Remove the four interceptions and that completion rate jumps up to 77 percent, meaning the Warriors’ offense rarely was behind the chains when it wasn’t turning the ball over. That is especially true when you consider UH churned out 5.3 yards per carry.

What about third-down defense? Still a problem. Hawaii went 5 for 10, and also 2 for 3 on fourth down.

And remember those reports about Arizona planning to use four-man fronts this season? Well, they were wrong. Or at least mostly wrong. Arizona used a three-man rush until the third quarter, when it finally started bringing four.

Unsurprisingly, Hawaii’s second-half efficiency dipped, only scoring 17 of its 45 points in the final two quarters.

Even still, Arizona only had one QB hit and one sack—and those come with an asterisk because the Hawaii quarterback gave himself up to ensure the clock would keep running late in the fourth quarter.

In the long run, this game should be a valuable learning tool for the Wildcats. Three-man rushes should be scratched from the playbook. But at this point it is hard to assume they will make any lasting corrections, as these issues have plagued them throughout Marcel Yates’ four years as defensive coordinator.

Slow starts also still a problem

This game was eerily similar to the Houston game, with Arizona looking flat on both sides of the ball out of the gate and digging itself into an early 14-0 hole. The Wildcats did not record their first first down until their fourth drive.

Yes, some weird things happened that forced the Wildcats to arrive at Aloha Stadium 45 minutes later than originally planned, but slow starts—not unlike the defensive struggles—are a recurring problem, and you have to pin it on the coaching staff for not having the team ready to play.

Too late with Taylor

Arizona was pretty pass-happy for a team that has led the Pac-12 in rushing the last three seasons, tallying seven more pass attempts than rushes.

Sure, Arizona was trailing the whole game, but not to the point where it needed to abandon the run. When the offense was at its best Saturday, the Wildcats were featuring J.J. Taylor, who only had six of his 14 carries in the first half, including just one in the second quarter.

And it’s not like other running backs were being featured, either. Gary Brightwell didn’t get a carry, while Michael Wiley and Nathan Tilford had four carries for four yards, albeit Tilford’s lone touch went for a TD.

Arizona should be a team that runs to set up the pass. Saturday, the opposite was true. Taylor did not touch the ball until Arizona’s fifth play from scrimmage.

Arizona’s revamped receiving corps was mostly good

Arizona’s untested receivers were mostly good. Jamarye Joiner bobbled nearly every catch he made but also finished without a drop and had a sparkling stat line of four catches for 72 yards and a touchdown.

Tayvian Cunningham and Brian Casteel showed their speed on bubble screens, and Stanley Berryhill III made two big plays. One: making a tough third-down grab in the flat while managing to stay in bounds. Another: hauling in a 21-yard touchdown on a nice play design by Noel Mazzone that left him wide open down the near sideline. The Tucson native finished with a team-high 92 receiving yards.

The one notable miscue, and it was a big one, came from another Tucsonan, Drew Dixon, who let a pass clank off his pads on Arizona’s opening drive. The pass should have led to a first down. Instead, it was picked out of the air for an interception, and Hawaii scored on its next drive.

Tre Adams had a drop too. One surprise: true freshman Boobie Curry was not targeted. Eventually, Arizona will have to decide if he is ready to contribute this season or if redshirting is the way to go.

Havrisik was nails

Ironically, it was the Wildcats’ placekicking game that saved them from embarrassment.

Down 10 with 3:53 left, Arizona was called for three dead-ball penalties in a row that turned a 38-yard field goal attempt into a 43-yard attempt, then a 48-yard attempt, then a 53-yard attempt.

It didn’t matter. Lucas Havrisik drilled all of them to keep the comeback bid alive.

It’s gonna take a lot to make a bowl game

Arizona now has to win six of its next 11 games to reach bowl eligibility. Do you see six wins in here?

  • vs. NAU
  • vs. Texas Tech
  • vs. UCLA
  • at Colorado
  • vs. Washington
  • at USC
  • at Stanford
  • vs. Oregon State
  • at Oregon
  • vs. Utah
  • at Arizona State