The Arizona Wildcats finished non-conference play with a bang. In a (mostly) complete team win, UA stunned a lot of people when the clock hit zero and the score was 28-14 Arizona over the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
It was one of the best defensive performances from the ‘Cats and defensive coordinator Marcel Yates since the Oregon game last year, and definitely one of the best in Yates’ tenure in Tucson. Couple that with how Arizona’s playcalling shifted in the second half, and it was very reminiscent of the Dick Tomey years.
There were plenty of standouts during the game so read on to see who we think deserves the recognition.
Offense: Gary Brightwell/Offensive line
There is no denying this one, and I think we all know why. It rhymes with “a 13-play, 99-yard, 7-minute scoring drive made up of nothing but runs.”
Huge kudos go to Noel Mazzone for his ability to go away from what he does. Even more go to the players on the field for executing the plan perfectly.
With the drive starting from the one, due to a fantastic punt and coverage by Tech, Arizona did what any sane team would do in that position and ran the ball. Thing was, Mazzone was able to see how the offensive line was manhandling Tech’s front six/seven and continued to call run after run after run.
Brightwell did not have the flashiest game numbers-wise, but man, watching him run with violence and authority on that drive was a sight to see.
Moving to the trenches, that was one of the most dominate performances I’ve seen from the offensive line in some time. They did a fantastic job winning the line of scrimmage, opening running lanes, and just punching Tech’s defense in the mouth. Coming from a group a lot of people weren’t sure about to start the season, well done.
That drive was a perfect example of RB-OL harmony, personifying the symbiotic relationship between the two groups.
Three games into the season, and I am more excited about the running back group than ever before.
Defense: Marcel Yates/the whole defense
Credit where credit is due, Yates called a hell of a game. And his players performed even better.
Before I get into what the players did I want to point something out that I couldn’t believe when I saw it. In the fourth quarter when UA was up by two scores, Tech was driving down the field with ease due to the soft zones that the ‘Cats were playing. It appears Yates recognized this quickly and went back to the attacking defense. I can’t remember when I’ve ever seen that happen.
Anyway, to the players. First off, that pass rush. It didn’t matter if Arizona brought three or five players, the pass rush wreaked havoc on Alan Bowman all night long. Couple that with Arizona’s disguises, and you see why Bowman was confused and erratic all night. Oh, and Jalen Harris absolutely destroyed a fake field goal attempt with ease.
Second, the linebackers. It was a sight to see Colin Schooler, Tony Fields II and Anthony Pandy on the field at the same time. They were flying all over the place and I can’t recall too many plays where if they weren’t near the ball. Schooler looked himself and Fields looked better than he ever has. Pandy was what I was hoping for when he committed and why I was excited to see what he could do after I interviewed him.
Last, but not least, the secondary. The corners played out of their minds. Lorenzo Burns had, probably, his best game as a Wildcat. He was asked to go against a 6-foot-6 receiver and he answered that call. Jace Whittaker did Jace Whittaker things. And freshmen Christian Roland-Wallace and Bobby Wolfe did not disappoint and stepped up to the plate when needed.
But the safety group made a HUGE jump. Scottie Young went back to being what we knew he could be. Christian Young did a fantastic job all night, flying to the ball carrier and seemed to get into his comfort zone.
I want more of this defense.
Special Teams: Khalil Tate/Jamarye Joiner
On a night where the special teams were ... disappointing, a lone bright spot was the two-point conversion in the fourth quarter.
After another Brightwell touchdown, Tate made a fantastic read and play on a jump pass to a wide-open Joiner in the endzone. Well-called and executed play.
Everything else was rough for UA. A missed 51-yard field goal, a botched snap that led to a missed PAT, and a little over 36 yards per punt won’t cut it. These are all things that will need to be cleaned up before Arizona heads in to conference play.
Bam Smith, RB: 9 car, 63 yds; 1 rec, 46 yds
Tayvian Cunningham, WR: 5 rec, 35 yds
Khalil Tate, QB: 14-for-23, 185 yds, 1 TD, 2 INT; 17 car, 129 yds, 1 TD