The Arizona Wildcats have a big problem.
It first showed up in early September against UNLV and was on display again last week against UCLA.
The big problem is big plays.
On offense, the Wildcats aren’t getting enough of them. On defense, they’re giving up too many. The big-play problem may have cost the UA a win last weekend against UCLA. The Bruins hit on a 66-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the game, and freshman running back Myles Jack broke a 66-yard rushing touchdown on third-and-one in the fourth quarter.
It wasn’t just a one-time thing.
— The UA’s defense has given up seven plays of at least 62 yards this season.
— Arizona’s offense, meanwhile, has just one gain of 62 yards this season. It came from backup running back Daniel Jenkins against NAU in the season opener.
The issue will be in the crosshairs this week as the Wildcats (6-3 overall, 3-3 Pac-12) prepare for Washington State. The pass-happy Cougars are capable of a big pass play at any time.
“It’s just a matter of having good technique and keeping everything in front of us,” free safety Jourdon Grandon said. “We have to be better at route recognition, and we all have to do our assignment.”
And on the other side of the ball, Arizona simply needs more big plays. As reliable and strong as running back Ka’Deem Carey has been, his longest run of the season — 58 yards — came on his first carry of the team’s Week 2 win over UNLV.
“Offensively, we’re not getting a lot of the explosive plays,” UA coach Rich Rodriguez said. “It’s not like we didn’t know that was going to be the case going into the season. We knew we were going to have long drives and execute over a longer period of time, which puts more pressure on us to have those 10- to 12-play drives, rather than having those big, explosive plays.”
Of course, the big plays help. UCLA showed that Saturday.
“The first one was a play-action, double-move deep ball, and we just played it poorly,” Rodriguez said. “The short-yardage one that Jack took was something that they hadn’t shown and just put in. We had poor technique and didn’t have the right angle and let a good player get outside of us, and that was disappointing.”
Here’s a game-by-game look at the big plays for and against the UA:
Biggest offensive play: Daniel Jenkins’ 91-yard run.
Biggest play surrendered: 25-yard pass from Kyren Poe to R.J. Rickert.
Big-play impact: Without Carey in the lineup, Arizona was in need of big plays. It got one from Jenkins when he took off down the sideline for a second-quarter score. The Lumberjacks couldn’t get much going offensively, and the 25-yard pass from Poe to Rickert was their only big gainer on the night.
Biggest offensive play: Carey’s 58-yard run.
Biggest play surrendered: 79-yard run from backup running back Shaquille Murray-Lawrence.
Big-play impact: Arizona didn’t need big plays for this game, which it won 58-13. Carey’s 58-yard run came on his first carry of the season and made it 24-6 in the second quarter. Murray-Lawrence’s run came in the fourth quarter with Arizona leading 51-6 and didn’t mean much.
Biggest offensive play: B.J. Denker’s 35-yard run.
Biggest play surrendered: A 42-yard run from running back David Glasco II.
Big-play impact: Denker’s 35-yard touchdown run was a big one. The senior’s score made it 14-3 late in the first quarter when UTSA came out ready to play with the Wildcats. Glasco’s rush came in the second quarter when the Roadrunners were trailing 17-3. The run eventually led to a field goal.
Biggest offensive play: Denker’s 33-yard run.
Biggest play surrendered: A 49-yard pass from Keith Price to Kevin Smith.
Big-play impact: The 49-yard pass was one of the biggest plays of the game. After Denker scored in the third quarter to close Washington’s lead to 18-13, Price hit Smith on the Huskies’ fifth play of the next drive. Five plays later, Washington’s Bishop Sankey scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to make it 25-13; Arizona never got any closer.
Biggest offensive play: A 57-yard touchdown pass from Denker to Nate Phillips.
Biggest play surrendered: A 63-yard touchdown pass from Cody Kessler to Tre Madden.
Big-play impact: Madden’s 63-yard haul gave USC a 14-0 lead with just over five minutes remaining in the first quarter. USC’s first touchdown was a 62-yard pass from Kessler to Nelson Agholor. Advantage, Trojans.
Biggest offensive play: A 44-yard touchdown run by Carey.
Biggest play surrendered: A 55-yard flea flicker pass from Andrew Schulz to Sean Fitzgerald for a touchdown.
Big-play impact: Carey’s run, which came with 1:30 left in the game, iced the win for Arizona.
Biggest offensive play: Jenkins’ 56-yard run.
Biggest play given up: A 57-yard pass from Sefo Liufau to Paul Richardson.
Big-play impact: Big plays didn’t play a huge role in In Arizona’s 24-point win. Richardson’s score came in the first quarter and tied the game at 7. Jenkins’ run came in the fourth quarter with the game already decided.
Biggest offensive play: A 60-yard pass from Denker to Terrence Miller.
Biggest play surrendered: A 29-yard touchdown pass from Jared Goff to Kenny Lawler.
Big-play impact: Miller’s 60-yard screen pass came on third-and-10 and put Arizona in business. Later in that drive, Denker scored on a 1-yard rush to make it 26-14 en route to a 33-28 win.