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What we learned from Arizona’s record-setting loss to Washington

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Arizona v Washington Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats lost to the Washington Huskies 44-27 on Saturday to fall to 0-2 on the season. It’s UA’s program-record ninth loss in a row—a streak it will try to end next week at UCLA.

But before that, let’s dive into some things we learned from Saturday’s rout.

Arizona is still awful on the road under Kevin Sumlin

The loss drops Arizona to 2-10 on the road under Sumlin, their only wins coming at Oregon State and Colorado. That’s bad. You know what’s worse? How uncompetitive they’ve been. Eight of Arizona’s 10 road losses have come by 10 or more points.

The Wildcats continue to get off to extremely slow starts away from home. Just take a look at some of these ugly deficits they’ve faced over the last three years:

  • 0-38 at Houston (2018)
  • 0-35 at Utah (2018)
  • 0-10 at UCLA (2018)
  • 0-14 at Washington State (2018)
  • 0-14 at Hawaii (2019)
  • 0-34 at USC (2019)
  • 0-21 at Oregon (2019)
  • 0-37 at Washington (2020)

This blowout was particularly disheartening. Arizona was coming off an encouraging performance against USC but immediately destroyed all that goodwill by falling behind 17-0 in the first quarter and, eventually, 37-0 through three.

The UCLA game will be big in determining which direction the program is heading.

“Coming off last week, I don’t know if surprised is the word, but it’s disappointing,” Sumlin admitted. “We got to coach better. We got to handle situations on the road, all those things. That’s where we are.”

The offense crumbled against a good defense—but at least it ended on a high note

Most Arizona fans figured the offense would be good enough to keep the Wildcats in most games this season.

Yeah, about that.

The Wildcats only racked up 45 yards in the first half and went 0 for 6 on third down as they fell behind 24-0 heading into the locker room.

They finished with 331 yards, but 265 came in the fourth quarter with the game well out of reach and against Washington’s second- and third-stringers. The Wildcats didn’t even convert their first third down until early in the fourth when speedster Tayvian Cunningham drew a pass interference on a go route.

Arizona fell victim to a deadly combination of an offensive line that couldn’t block and wide receivers that couldn’t get separation. Grant Gunnell was off his game for the first three quarters, holding on to the ball too long at times and missing some reads.

There wasn’t much of a running game to fall back on either, as the Wildcats averaged just 2.8 yards per carry.

“They handled the line of scrimmage offensively and defensively and that really limited us offensively with their defensive line,” Sumlin said. “The rush took us out of some things and they’re one of the better run defenses in this league.”

Gunnell was sacked five times, took several big hits and was clearly frustrated with himself, but deserves some credit for toughing it out and piecing together a solid fourth quarter that saw him throw for three touchdowns.

The first was a beautiful 30-yard rainbow to Stanley Berryhill III that cut the deficit to 37-6.

The stats will say Gunnell had a solid game—27 for 39 for 259 yards—and the fourth quarter gives him something to build on heading into next week, but it was still a hugely disappointing performance for the offense.

“We’d get the first first down and then we’d stall,” Gunnell said. “It was always the second first down we couldn’t get. I was looking at the D-line. I was worried about pressure and that screwed us as an offense because I wasn’t stepping into my throws. I was fading away. ... So that’s probably what changed the most.”

Offensive line changes on the way?

Speaking of changes, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the offensive line get shuffled for the UCLA game.

Right tackle Paiton Fears had a really rough night, getting beaten at least twice for sacks before being benched for walk-on Tyson Gardner early in the third quarter. (Is it too late for Edgar Burrola to come back from suspension?)

Starting center Josh McCauley (for Steven Bailey) and right guard Robert Congel (for Josh Donovan were relieved as well, but that came later in the third and probably had more to do with the score being 37-0.

And while the offense responded well to the changes by putting up 27 points in the fourth quarter, Sumlin isn’t sure if he’ll stick with them.

“I don’t know, I gotta look at it,” he said. “But obviously we had some issues up there, particularly in pass pro and being able to to run it. At that point, when you’re having those types of issues with sacks and hitting the quarterback and not being able to run the ball effectively as we’ve done, it was time to give another guy a chance and that’s something we’ll look at. But obviously from one week to another, it was very, very different tonight. We gave some of the young guys on both sides of the ball a chance to go in there and obviously it was against their seconds, so you have to take that with a grain of salt too.”

Arizona’s defense is back to square one

The defense looked mostly like the one we’ve seen over the last several seasons, not the one we saw in the first half against USC. It didn’t generate much of a pass rush and allowed far too many receivers (especially tight ends) to get open in the middle of the field.

Oregon State held Washington quarterback Dylan Morris to 141 passing yards last week. He eclipsed that mark in the first half against Arizona with ease, finishing with 230 on just 15 completions.

Sumlin said the lack of pass rush combined with some injuries in the secondary made the Wildcats extremely vulnerable.

“Playing man to man, they got behind us,” he said. “And in the zone coverages on third down, they were working the middle of the field and getting open there. So we got to go back and take a look at it and what we’re doing.”

If there is any silver lining it’s that Arizona’s run defense was pretty stout in the first half, holding Washington’s potent ground game to 3.4 yards per carry. Of course, that was only temporary as UW’s physicality won out and they averaged 7.4 yards per rush in the final two quarters.

Special teams aren’t off the hook, either

Freshman Tyler Loop was a bright spot in the season opener, averaging 45 yards per punt. He was hot and cold in this one, sending three punts 40+ yards and two for 35 yards or less, including a 28-yard shank, for a lackluster 38.6 average.

He also got injured late in the game, coming up lame after a Washington defender rolled into his plant foot. No word on the severity.

Tayvian Cunningham’s kickoff returns yielded very little, taking four for 71 yards, an 17.8-yard average. Jamarye Joiner’s lone punt return resulted in no gain.

Lucas Havrisik clanged an extra point off the upright.

Ma’jon Wright is good

While it was a tough night for Arizona’s receivers until the fourth quarter, freshman Ma’jon Wright continues to make an early impact.

If you remember, he made one of the biggest catches in the USC game, neatly hauling in a back-shoulder throw along the sideline for a key first-down on the go-ahead scoring drive late in the fourth quarter.

He made more plays against Washington (albeit with much less at stake), finishing with four catches for 58 yards and this 11-yard touchdown, the first of his career.

It’s only been two games, but the former three-star recruit seems to be very polished for a freshman, running good routes, flashing quick feet and some wiggle after the catch. At 6-foot-2, 197 pounds, he’s got pretty good size too.

Gunnell likes his drive.

“He’s a football player. He’s not some guy that’s out there to be on camera or anything,” he said. “He wants to be on the field catching balls. He’s a player, he’s a dog. He’s gonna get in your face, he’s gonna beat you off the press and stuff like that. That’s what impressed me the most.”