Every Monday throughout the season, we’ll take a look back at the Arizona Wildcats’ previous game after re-watching it via the TV broadcast and present five key takeaways. Here are the five from the UA’s 42-30 loss at Arizona State on Saturday night:
Arizona’s sideline was not forthcoming with accurate information about Khalil Tate’s injury during the game. Pac-12 Networks’ Jill Savage at one point reported that Tate was “fine.” He clearly wasn’t, as UA coach Rich Rodriguez later confirmed. Tate appeared to initially bang his left (non-throwing) shoulder when he landed on it at the end of a 17-yard run early in the second quarter. Tate remained in the game and guided two more scoring drives. He threw passes that traveled 50 and 55 yards in the air. On the latter, the half-ending Hail Mary, Tate got sandwiched. ASU’s Jay Jay Wilson hit him from behind and drove him into teammate Alani Latu, whose helmet struck Tate on that same left shoulder. That’s what turned the injury from bad to worse. Right-handed quarterbacks sometimes can play with banged-up left shoulders; thus the confusion that ensued in the third quarter. Brandon Dawkins – a good college quarterback who suffers by comparison to Tate – could not replicate his fellow QB’s off-the-bench heroics from Oct. 7. Dawkins looked rusty and unsure of himself at first. The pass he threw on his second series that was intercepted lacked conviction. Dawkins started to find a rhythm in the fourth quarter. By that point, the Sun Devils were in attack mode – flooding the backfield in a way they wouldn’t dare against Tate. As Todd Graham put it afterward: “The other guy (Dawkins) is explosive too. I wouldn’t say just as explosive, because Tate is pretty special.”
2. Schooler in session
The Wildcats appear to have a budding star on the other side of the ball as well – the quarterback of their defense. Freshman “Mike” linebacker Colin Schooler has gotten better every week. He is playing with supreme confidence and aggression, sizing up running plays, pursuing ball-carriers and taking them down. Most of the time against ASU, the former running back quickly identified where Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage were headed and met them in the hole. One time, in the second quarter, he looped around the offensive line to help Tony Fields II tackle Richard for a 1-yard gain. On the next play, Schooler stopped him for no gain. There are still times when Schooler is overly aggressive, picks the wrong gap or is unable to get off blocks. He needs to get stronger – as do Fields and the other UA freshmen. But if Schooler is this effective now, imagine how good he’ll be with a full offseason in the weight and film rooms. If he continues to progress, Schooler could be an All-American before he’s done here.
3. Officially a mess
Here’s that play. Is this legal? pic.twitter.com/fpwG3EMjCY— Michael Lev (@MichaelJLev) November 27, 2017
Poor officiating was not the reason Arizona lost this game. Some questionable coaching decisions and Tate’s injury – which weren’t mutually exclusive – were bigger factors. But even for the Pac-12, which doesn’t have the most sterling reputation for top-notch officiating, the 2017 Territorial Cup was a bad look. The block-in-the-back call against Shawn Poindexter, negating Shun Brown’s 74-yard punt-return touchdown, is the one UA fans will grouse about for years to come. Simply put, it wasn’t a block in the back. Poindexter might have even gotten his helmet slightly in front of Dasmond Tautalatasi. At worst, Poindexter hit him from the side. In the officials’ defense, it’s a lot harder to judge in real time, a point analyst Yogi Roth made during the broadcast. But still: It was an incorrect call at a critical time. Arizona would have reclaimed the lead. Instead of a legendary play, it becomes a mere footnote in the rivalry’s lore. There were other missed calls – including ASU tackle Quinn Bailey illegally flinging Richard forward for 3 yards, and Richard taunting Lorenzo Burns at the end of a long run – but the block in the “back” is the one that lingers.
4. This time it’s personnel
Every week we provide some notes on individual players, so here goes … Dawkins is fast. Tate is on another level. … RB J.J. Taylor makes at least one “wow” move per game. Christian Sam had no chance on Taylor’s 15-yard TD run. … Poindexter’s leaping, 48-yard reception in the fourth quarter was the best play he’s made as a Wildcat. He’s a great athlete with ideal size (6-5, 212) who’s still learning the game. He’s seeking an additional year of eligibility. … Defensive tackles Parker Zellers and Finton Connolly, pressed into starting duty, held up well and made plays. Zellers has one game left. Connolly, a redshirt sophomore, is a strong candidate to start next year. … DeAndre’ Miller came oh-so-close to making several plays; unofficially, he had three quarterback pressures. It’s the story of his career, unfortunately. … Burns has the potential to be an all-conference performer. The redshirt freshman went toe to toe with future pro N’Keal Harry. Harry got the best of Burns at times, but it was no worse than a split decision.
5. What lies ahead
UA fans were infuriated with Rodriguez during and after Saturday’s game. It’s a natural reaction when you lose to your arch rival – especially when you squander a double-digit lead in the process. Rodriguez’s in-game and postgame performances weren’t his best. But, unlike counterpart Todd Graham, Rodriguez’s job is safe. Unless another school pursues him, Rodriguez will be back to coach a team that probably will be ranked in most preseason polls. He bought himself time by turning over the defensive staff after the 2015 season, and the last two recruiting classes have borne bountiful fruit. Expectations will be high the next two seasons. How the Wildcats handle them ultimately will determine how Rodriguez is judged. So much depends on Tate’s health. He’s one of the true difference makers in college football. His status for the upcoming bowl game – Arizona’s fifth in Rodriguez’s six seasons – is uncertain. If there’s any chance of Tate making that shoulder significantly worse, Rodriguez probably will hold him out. Tate’s availability for the offseason and next season supersedes winning a bowl game. Or at least it should.