This sight is becoming way too familiar.
Another early-season college football Saturday will come and go today, and the Arizona Wildcats will be nowhere near one of the many games on your television.
The UA (3-1, 0-1) started its season on a Friday, and has had two byes in a three-week stretch. It’s been a bit of a herky-jerky start to the season for the Wildcats, who next visit USC on Thursday night.
“I would have preferred to have a bye later in the season, rather than ending the year with seven straight games, but we don’t worry too much about the schedule,” UA coach Rich Rodriguez said.
Just because the UA is out of action today doesn’t mean we can’t dish out some grades. Here’s how the Wildcats have looked through the first one-third of the season:
D+ First, the good. Starter B.J. Denker is averaging 70 yards per game on the ground and has a team-high six rushing touchdowns. He’s proven to be effective with his legs and for the exception of a couple of bad decisions last week at Washington, the senior has been smart about when to throw it and when to tuck and run. Through the air, it’s been a different story with the left-hander and that’s obviously the bigger deal as a quarterback. Denker has completed just half of his passes (45 for 90) and has only 445 yards on the season with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Even more glaring is that Denker has thrown for more than 100 yards in only two of the UA’s four games and his longest completion was go just 31 yards.
A- Its hard to find much fault at this position. Ka’Deem Carey has returned to his All-American ways after missing the first game against NAU and has 431 yards and five touchdowns in three games. He’s stronger and maybe even a little quicker than last season. His 82 receiving yards are tied for second most on the team as well. When Carey was out for the first game, senior Daniel Jenkins was more than good enough, rushing for 139 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries against NAU. He also added a receiving touchdown. Third-string back Jared Baker has also been stellar, rushing for 5 yards per carry on 24 attempts. Combined, Carey, Jenkins and Baker have rushed for 803 yards on 136 carries.
D+ Denker has clearly struggled, but this group hasn’t done a lot to help the quarterback when he’s needed it. Freshman Samajie Grant has the lone touchdown catch of the season for the receivers and has a team-high nine catches. Combined, the receivers have just 33 catches in four games and junior Garic Wharton leads the team with just 29.2 yards per game. Grant and fellow freshman Nate Phillips have been pleasant surprises for the Wildcats contributing this soon in their careers, but they’re not getting enough help from the veterans like Wharton, Terrence Miller and Johnny Jackson.
C Rodriguez has continually voiced his displeasure with the line throughout the first four games. He doesn’t think the front five has been terrible, but believes they’re capable of more. Denker has been sacked six times in four games, which isn’t a terrible number, and Carey and Jenkins have had holes to run through at times. But consistency has been an issue. It also appears the line is now starting to battle some injuries. Right tackle Fabbians Ebbele suffered an ankle injury against UTSA and missed parts of that game and the Washington matchup. Guard Chris Putton, considered the anchor of the group, tweaked his knee in the 31-13 loss to the Huskies.
B- The defensive line and linebackers have been much improved from last year. Freshman Scooby Wright has injected some talent and energy at the linebacker spot. Wright has a team-high 28 tackles, four of which have gone for a loss. Fellow starters Jake Fischer and Marquis Flowers have also been solid, combining for 39 tackles, an interception and two fumble recoveries. On the line, nose tackle Tevin Hood and end Sione Tuihalamaka have combined for six tackles for loss after having just five last season.
B After giving up 292.8 yards per game through the air last season, Arizona is surrendering just 185.8 in 2013. Teams have thrown for three total touchdowns in four games. Last week, the secondary held Washington quarterback Keith Price in check and managed to keep him from completing a pass in the second quarter. Junior safety Tra’Mayne Bondurant has been the leader of the secondary with three interceptions, three pass breakups and three tackles for loss to go with 23 total tackles. Cornerback Shaquille Richardson had his first interception of the season last week at Washington and has 19 tackles.
C- Like the offensive line, special teams has struggled with consistency. Kicker Jake Smith is 4 for 6 on field goals, but has missed a pair inside 40 yards. The Syracuse and Youngstown State transfer missed his first extra point of the season last week at Washington and has touchbacks on half (14 of 28) of his kickoffs. Punter Drew Riggleman is averaging 36.5 yards per punt, and has landed six of his 15 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. But the Sahuaro High School product has also had a few duds. The return game hasn’t done much, although Jackson has a 25-yard punt return to his credit.