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What we learned from Arizona’s win vs. Texas Tech

It was a throwback performance for the Wildcats

NCAA Football: Texas Tech at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats picked up a season-altering 28-14 win over the Texas Tech Red Raiders on Saturday to improve to 2-1 heading into their second bye week.

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

The defense proved itself

Arizona’s defense talked the talk, then walked the walk.

The Wildcats spent the early part of the week claiming the best had yet to come for the defense, and that all talk of Marcel Yates’ job security was unwarranted.

Well, they were right. (For now, anyway.)

Arizona turned in its best defensive effort in recent memory, holding what is a historically high-powered Texas Tech offense to 14 points, 415 yards on 80 plays, and 8 for 20 on third and fourth down.

Arizona tackled well in space, owned the line of scrimmage, was stout in coverage, and even got creative with its blitz packages (props to you, Marcel). The stats won’t show it—Arizona didn’t have a sack—but Texas Tech quarterback Alan Bowman was under constant duress. At one point, he left the game because he took a big hit.

And Arizona continues to have a knack for forcing turnovers, tallying two more interceptions, giving them an FBS-best nine on the season. The cornerbacks, particularly Jace Whittaker, were glued to TTU’s receivers.

One game isn’t enough to say the defense is fixed. Not after how bad it was in the first two games. But boy was that promising.

This team needs to be run-heavy

Up six with 11 minutes left, Arizona closed the game out with a 13-play, 99-yard touchdown drive that burned over seven minutes off the clock and featured nothing but runs.

Texas Tech lost several players to injury over the course of the night, and showed little resistance as Arizona leaned on the thunder-and-lightning duo of Gary Brightwell and Bam Smith. (J.J. Taylor was limited to 11 carries, and appeared to have suffered a leg injury after being wrapped up in the third quarter.)

In the end, Arizona had 61 rushes (for 314 yards and three TDs) to 23 passes, a ratio that seems to be ideal for this team, given its deep stable of running backs and inconsistent passing game (more on that in a second).

Featuring a dominant ground game and a fearsome defense, the nostalgia sure was flowing at Arizona Stadium.

Special teams are a nightmare

Now that Arizona’s defense has seemingly turned things around, there is a new problem that has to be addressed: special teams.

Arizona entered the week as the fifth-worst punting team in the country, and looked every bit the part against Texas Tech. The Wildcats booted five punts for 181 yards, an average of 36.2. Not acceptable.

Those five kicks came courtesy of fifth-year senior Matt Aragon, who has started two of three games this year. It’s probably time to give freshman Kyle Ostendorp another look, even though his performance against Northern Arizona wasn’t much better.

There was also a bad snap on an extra point that led to a miss, and Brian Casteel catching a punt over his shoulder near the five-yard line. It just can’t happen.

Khalil Tate is maddening

It was the best of times and it was the worst of times for Tate all wrapped in one game. He flashed his 2017 speed by running for an 84-yard touchdown, and floated a beautiful ball to Cedric Peterson for a 47-yard connection down the far sideline.

But Tate also did some of the head-scratching things that have equally become part of his persona, like willingly running out of bounds short of the sticks on third down, missing open receivers, and committing some maddening turnovers.

Tate went 14 for 23 for 185 yards, a touchdown and two picks in addition to his 129 rushing yards. On one interception, he badly overthrew a ball into double coverage. The second, he failed to see a defensive back who was all over a crossing route. He also fumbled by botching a handoff to Taylor.

Tate is fortunate the defense and running game were so good, because if the Wildcats lost this game, fingers probably get pointed at him.

No one knows anything about anything

Texas Tech was listed as a slight favorite in what was supposed to be a shootout. The over/under opened at 74.5, which proved to be more than 30 points too high.

There were nine punts and five turnovers in the first two quarters alone, when Arizona took a measly 13-7 lead into the locker room.

Arizona fans have to do better

Despite a Power-5 opponent coming to Arizona Stadium for the first time this season, UA fans did not show up.

The announced crowd of 37,207 was the smallest in over 20 years. This doesn’t fall on the students, who once again packed the ZonaZoo from end to end. This falls on the rest of the fan base.

Yes, it was a late kickoff, and yes Arizona hadn’t been playing inspired football coming into this game. But there is no reason that there were fewer people at this game than there were for NAU.

Maybe this win will lead to an uptick in attendance in a couple weeks when Arizona hosts a winless UCLA team with a real shot to improve to 3-1.

A bowl game is a possibility again

If Arizona loses this game, it would have needed to go 5-4 in conference play to make a bowl game. Now it needs to win four games, which is very possible when you consider that UCLA and Oregon State remain on the schedule.

Assuming UA wins those two (though you can never assume anything when it comes to Arizona football), the Wildcats would need to beat two of Colorado, Washington, USC, Oregon, Utah, Stanford and ASU for six wins.

It might still be an uphill battle to reach that plateau, but not an insurmountable one.