The Arizona Wildcats rallied from an 18-point halftime deficit to defeat Grambing State 31-21 and avoid a potentially embarrassing upset.
The UA defense forced six turnovers in the second half as the Wildcats escaped with a victory in front of 45,686 fans at Arizona Stadium.
Quarterback Brandon Dawkins, making his first career start, completed 15 of 29 passes for 223 yards and one touchdown. He also rushed for 97 yards and two scores and iced the game with a first-down run on third-and-1.
Dawkins started in place of Anu Solomon, who suffered a knee injury during practice Wednesday.
Turnovers were a point of emphasis for the defense after Arizona failed to take the ball away from BYU in the season opener last week. They came in an avalanche in the second half.
The UA improved to 5-0 in home openers under Rich Rodriguez. Arizona hosts Hawaii next week.
THIRD QUARTER UPDATE:
The Arizona Wildcats are rallying. They have one quarter to go to avoid one of the biggest upsets in college football history.
Down 18 points at the half, Arizona has surged ahead of Grambling State 24-21 through three quarters Saturday night at Arizona Stadium.
After a half in which they couldn’t have played much worse, the Wildcats started to look like the superior team in the third quarter.
Quarterback Brandon Dawkins, making his first career start, rushed for a touchdown and passed for one. The 34-yard hookup with Trey Griffey trimmed Arizona’s deficit to four points.
Jace Whittaker set up the touchdown with an interception – the second of three Arizona takeaways in the third quarter. A fumble recovery by Cody Ippolito on the next possession led to Nick Wilson’s 11-yard touchdown run, which gave the Wildcats their first lead with 42 seconds left in the quarter.
Things went from bad to worse for Arizona in the second quarter.
Favored by more than 40 points over visiting Grambling States, the Wildcats trail the Tigers 21-3 at halftime of their game at Arizona Stadium.
Grambling quarterback Devante Kincade passed for 193 yards and two touchdowns before leaving the game late in the second quarter because of a leg injury. Wideout Chad Williams has 106 receiving yards. Tailback Martez Carter has 104 total yards.
Arizona quarterback Brandon Dawkins, making his first career start, is 6 of 15 for 114 yards. He also has 73 rushing yards on seven carries.
On the first possession of the second quarter, the Wildcats allowed the Tigers to convert a third-and-29. Carter took a swing screen and ran around the bewildered UA defense for a 47-yard gain.
After a holding penalty negated a Grambling touchdown pass – and Verlan Hunter dropped another would-be score – the Tigers converted on third-and-13. Devante Kincade scrambled to his right and found Devohn Lindsey in the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown. Lindsey outjumped DaVonte’ Neal near the right sideline.
Arizona’s tackling has been a major issue so far. But even more alarming is how poorly the offense has played.
Even after some big plays by Dawkins, the Wildcats struggled to score. Dawkins’ 42-yard run set up Arizona deep in Grambling territory. But the Tigers snuffed out a fourth-and-1 run from the 6 to end the drive.
On the next possession, Dawkins hit Samaje Grant for 70 yards. But Dawkins missed a wide-open Nick Wilson for a sure touchdown. The Wildcats had to settle for a field goal – giving them three points in the first six quarters this season.
Grambling added another touchdown late in the half to put Arizona in an even deeper hole.
FIRST QUARTER UPDATE:
This was not the start the Arizona Wildcats were seeking in their home opener.
The UA surrendered a touchdown on the opening drive to visiting Grambling State, falling into a 7-0 hole at the end of one quarter Saturday night at Arizona Stadium.
The TD drive covered 81 yards in seven plays. The biggest was a 43-yard pass from Devante Kincade to Chad Williams, who beat Dane Cruikshank to the inside. The Tigers scored on Kincade’s 2-yard shovel pass to Verlan Hunter.
Brandon Dawkins got the start at quarterback for the Wildcats in place of the injured Anu Solomon (knee). But the passing game was out of sync early. Trey Griffey dropped Dawkins’ first pass, and the quarterback appeared to miscommunicate with Shun Brown three plays later.
Arizona drove to the Grambling 32 on its first drive but turned the ball over on downs as Nick Wilson was stopped on a fourth-and-2 run.
The teams traded punts before Grambling took possession at the end of the quarter.