(Editor’s note: Since the Pac-12 is not playing football this fall, we’re going to simulate all 12 games on Arizona’s original schedule on NCAA Football 14 and recap them on the dates they were supposed to be played. Enjoy!)
Grant Gunnell was almost perfect as the Arizona Wildcats overcame another slow start to rout Portland State* 52-17 on Saturday at Arizona Stadium.
It was much-needed redemption after Arizona (1-1) dropped a heartbreaker against Hawaii in Week 0.
Gunnell, who did not throw a touchdown pass against Hawaii, completed 37 of 43 passes for 447 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions against Portland State. His only blemish was getting strip-sacked for the second straight week.
That giveaway was part of the reason Arizona trailed 3-0 at the end of the first quarter.
That deficit was short-lived as the Wildcats exploded for 31 points in the second, with Lucas Havrisik kicking off the period by drilling a 48-yard field goal. (Nice to see him bounce back from missing that last-second kick against Hawaii.)
On the third play of Arizona’s next drive, Gunnell found Bryce Wolma wide open over the middle for a 56-yard touchdown, starting the offensive onslaught. (You know this is a video game when Arizona is throwing to a tight end.)
Gunnell, who was sacked twice but mostly went untouched, tossed two more touchdowns in the second quarter—a three-yard strike over the middle to Brenden Schooler and a long bomb down the seam to Boobie Curry.
Wearing a red Nick Foles-era uniform, Gunnell completed 23 of 25 passes for 279 yards in the first half alone, looking a lot like the former Super Bowl MVP.
Arizona mostly relied on short passes against Hawaii, but was more willing to push the ball downfield against Portland State, completing nine passes for 20 or more yards.
Jamarye Joiner returned from a shoulder sprain in a big way, reeling in nine passes for 142 yards. Brian Casteel (6), Curry (5) and Schooler (4) each had four or more receptions.
Nobody was within 10 yards of Curry when he hauled in a 27-yard score to give Arizona a 24-3 lead. The play action worked to perfection.
“The key is the protection by the offensive line,” analyst Kirk Herbstreit said. “[Gunnell] has had plenty of time to make decisions.”
After being shut out in the first quarter, Grant Gunnell is having a huge second quarter.— AZ Desert Swarm (@AZDesertSwarm) September 6, 2020
He just connected with former HS teammate Boobie Curry for a 27-yard TD to put Arizona up 24-3.
The play action worked to perfection #SimSeason pic.twitter.com/Jmm9t5SyXi
Gary Brightwell plunged in from one yard out to make it 31-3 at the half. He bullied his way for a four-yard score on Arizona’s third drive of the third quarter to make it 38-3.
“Once you get inside the 10-yard line, this half back is automatic,” Herbstreit said.
Otherwise, Arizona’s ground game hasn’t been impressive. Brightwell logged 17 carries for 76 yards. (He also caught nine passes for 50 yards, mostly on designed screens.)
Tempers started to flare on the Portland State sideline after Gunnell connected with Schooler for a four-yard touchdown to make it 45-3 early in the fourth. The Vikings were incensed that Arizona continued to throw the ball—and go no-huddle—with such a big lead.
It’s also unclear why Gunnell was even in the game at that point. Virtual Kevin Sumlin was unavailable for comment.
“What is the coach trying to prove by doing this?” Herbstreit scoffed. “His team played a great game today. Close it out with some dignity!”
Controversy!— AZ Desert Swarm (@AZDesertSwarm) September 6, 2020
Grant Gunnell just tossed his fourth TD to go up 45-3, and Kirk Herbstreit is upset about Arizona breaking unwritten rules.
“What is the coach trying to prove by doing this? Close it out with some dignity!”
We’ll have to ask fake Coach Sumlin about it.#SimSeason pic.twitter.com/xFVvys6tZ1
Arizona managed to score again late in the fourth, but that was all Rhett Rodriguez and Michael Wiley, who had six carries for 32 yards and a touchdown on Arizona’s final drive.
Arizona outgained PSU 584-376, but its defense still hasn’t forced any turnovers this season.
The Wildcats got sacks from JB Brown, Myles Tapusoa and Anthony Pandy, but also lost starting defensive tackle Trevon Mason to back spasms. He should be OK for next week’s Pac-12 opener against Stanford.
The Cardinal have an 88 rating in NCAA 14, four points higher than Arizona, so the Wildcats are expected to be underdogs on their home field.
*Portland State doesn’t actually exist in NCAA 14, so Arizona played a team called FCS West, which apparently has a very strong fan base: