The Arizona Wildcats may have reached their ceiling Saturday night.
The UA looked good in a 43-20 win over Colorado, a night that included a program record-tying six touchdown passes from quarterback Jayden de Laura and outstanding performances from Jacob Cowing, Dorian Singer, Tetairoa McMillan and Michael Wiley. Arizona amassed 673 yards of total offense while allowing the Buffaloes to collect just 340, created a turnover and never trailed.
By the time the clock reached all zeros Saturday evening, we learned a simple, undeniable truth: In the year 2022, Arizona is better than Colorado.
While that’s nothing to necessarily brag about, but given what transpired when these teams last played, well, it was a welcome change.
But while this specific game isn’t proof that the Wildcats are destined to shock the world and earn bowl eligibility, it did cap off a five-game stretch that likely told us all we need to know about who the Wildcats are.
Jedd Fisch’s team has an offense as dangerous as any and it is paired with a defense that, well, is not.
Arizona unfortunately will not have the luxury of facing off with Colorado’s inept defense every week, but it’s safe to say the team’s receivers are a legitimate force. Cowing, Singer and McMillan present a matchup nightmare, with things getting especially dicey with the emergence of Tanner McLachlan and the steady presence of Wiley coming out of the backfield.
The bevy of weapons is led by de Laura, who is hardly perfect but may be the ideal fit for this offense, this team. He spreads the ball around and can make all the throws, doing it all with a swagger the Cats sorely needed. His ability to diagnose plays and get the ball out has helped an offensive line that has been mostly solid, both in pass protection and in opening holes for a stable of talented backs.
Conversely, Arizona’s defense is deserving of its 11th overall ranking in the Pac-12. Johnny Nansen’s group is third in passing defense, but while the Wildcats have a solid secondary that number is aided largely by the fact that the team is 11th against the run.
This is not ideal, but it also could be worse — especially a season after Arizona won just one game with an abysmal offense and a defense that offered more spunk than resistance most games.
Add it all up and you have a team that will be both fun and frustrating to watch.
Fun will be had when the offense is moving up and down the field, creating highlight-reel plays and putting points on the scoreboard. Frustration will be felt when the defense gets run over, through and around, all while you think (or yell) that all they need to do is come up with a stop to give the offense a chance.
Maybe they’ll get that stop. But if they don’t, Arizona’s offense will need to be damn near perfect for the Cats to have a chance over the course of their next five games.
Arizona is set to embark on a brutal stretch that has them facing top-25 teams every week. It starts with No. 12 Oregon at home, but then features dates with Washington, USC, Utah and UCLA.
The Wildcats are 3-2, but does anyone expect them to be anything other than 3-7 by the time they play Washington State on Nov. 19?
That’s not to say Arizona can’t compete in any of the games, and if the Cats are competitive with their offense there will be opportunity to win. But while the goal for Arizona this season was to get past wanting to be competitive and move toward expecting victory, the program just isn’t there yet.
Arizona is better than Colorado, yes. They’re hopefully better than Arizona State and probably not as far behind Cal as the score of their game indicates. Let’s say for the sake of argument they’ve also surpassed Wazzu, who looks tough but hardly dominant.
They won’t play Stanford but Arizona is probably better than them, too, and who knows about Oregon State.
Math can be hard, but if Arizona is better than four teams in the conference that means they are in the middle-third of the league. Not bad, especially considering where they were as recently as one season ago.
Even if the Wildcats lose their next five games — or six, really — they have reached a point where the only thing necessary to make this season a success is beating ASU to close it out.
Going 4-8 while reclaiming the Territorial Cup would work for most people. Anything better than that — so long as the Cup is part of the equation — would be gravy.
We’ve likely already Arizona’s best. Soon, we will probably see their worst.
But when it’s all done with, Fisch and his staff should have tangible proof that they are leading a turnaround in the desert, one that should see the program reach even greater heights.