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Arizona-Utah storylines: On Josh McCauley's midgame move, senior class buy-in, RB rotation
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Arizona-Utah storylines: On Josh McCauley's midgame move, senior class buy-in, RB rotation

Washington defensive lineman Tuli Letuligasenoa holds on tight to the ball after coming up with an interception in the arms of Arizona offensive lineman Josh McCauley in the fourth quarter of their Oct. 22 game.

The Star’s Michael Lev presents five storylines of interest as the Arizona Wildcats face Utah in the 2021 home finale on Saturday at Arizona Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 12 p.m. The game will air on Pac-12 Networks.


When Arizona needed help at tackle, Josh McCauley stepped out of his comfort zone

Before he was pressed into duty at left tackle against Cal, Arizona’s Josh McCauley hadn’t played the position since 2017 against Oregon State.

“It was garbage minutes,” the sixth-year senior recalled. “So we only ran the ball.”

As a redshirt freshman, McCauley played 26 snaps off the bench at tackle in three blowout victories (NAU, UTEP, OSU). The following season he became the Wildcats’ starting center, a position he has manned ever since.

When in-game injuries decimated Arizona’s offensive line last week, McCauley was called upon to fill in at a spot that was outside his comfort zone. After a brief adjustment period, he performed his duties like the veteran he is. In that sense, it was no different than any other game McCauley has played.

“He's been great throughout the year with whatever we’ve thrown at him,” offensive line coach Brennan Carroll said amid preparations for Saturday’s home finale vs. Utah. “He's always ... just put his nose down and worked, and he did it again.

“He knew he was a little outmatched on the edge there. But he relied on his techniques and what we've taught him and what he's known playing all these years. He was able to keep the ship afloat.”

Arizona defeated Cal 10-3, ending the nation’s longest losing streak. The Wildcats couldn’t have done it without McCauley moving two spots over midgame and playing 52 snaps at left tackle. He allowed one sack but otherwise looked at home at an unfamiliar position.

“Coach said, ‘We're gonna need you to play tackle,’ ” McCauley said. “At first it's like, ‘All right, let me think through this, think through what I'm going to see, what’s the game plan gonna have me doing.’ It took two drives to get the hang of it. And then after that, I was rolling with it.’ ”

Carroll had put McCauley at left tackle for about 10 snaps during practice the previous day when the line’s numbers were low. All the linemen work pass sets at each position. But there’s a big difference between practicing and playing.

“It’s a pain in the butt,” Carroll said. “It’s not an easy one to swap out.”

McCauley talked to starting tackles Jordan Morgan and Paiton Fears after the game. McCauley could relate to what they go through each week – often having to block edge rushers one on one with no help on the outside.

“You forget that it's an island out there,” McCauley said. “It was interesting as the game progressed. It's like, ‘Oh yeah, that's something I should have remembered.’ ”

Assuming the line is in reasonable shape, McCauley should return to his usual position for his final home game at Arizona. He has seen and experienced just about everything during his time in Tucson.

The product of Mesa Red Mountain High School began his UA career in 2016 as a walk-on. He would become the Wildcats’ starting center and earn a scholarship. He has played for three head coaches and four position coaches. He endured injuries, a pandemic and a 20-game losing streak.

“I love this place,” McCauley said. “This is the greatest decision I've ever made. I've loved every minute of being here, even though there's been so many ups and downs — a lot more downs than there has been ups in the last 2½ years.

“Tucson and the University of Arizona have given me so much. There's no question in my mind that I was ever gonna go somewhere else.”

McCauley plans to pursue a professional playing career after this season. If that doesn’t work out, he might go into coaching. He has a degree in criminal justice studies with a minor in business. In December, he’ll complete his master’s in real estate development.

“I went all over the place,” McCauley said, proving he could be just as versatile off the field as on it.


LB Anthony Pandy reflects on UA career that’s coming to a close

Arizona linebacker Anthony Pandy fights past Buffaloes quarterback Sam Noyer after picking off his pass in the fourth quarter of their game last December.

Anthony Pandy got a sneak preview of what his post-Arizona life will be like late in the fourth quarter of last week’s game against Cal. The senior linebacker wasn’t on the field for three of the final four snaps because the Wildcats were in their nickel package.

“I was just watching from the sideline like, ‘Damn, look at my boys make plays,’ ” Pandy said. “I was so excited.”

For most of the past five seasons, Pandy has been the one making the plays. That run is about to come to an end.

Pandy is one of about 30 players who likely will be playing their final home game Saturday against Utah. Pandy is among those for whom Saturday is definitively the home finale; he’s a fifth-year “super senior” who’s out of eligibility.

Like several others in his class, Pandy has played for multiple coaches and endured difficult times. Asked to reflect on the past five season, Pandy paused.

“Hmm,” he said. “I would say it was like a DJ playing music. He played good songs at the beginning. And then the songs kind of got all right. But the all-right songs didn't last for a long time. And then towards the end of the ride, the songs got great again.”

Given that Pandy experienced the entirety of the Wildcats’ 20-game losing streak, it was surprising to hear him say the down period “didn’t last for a long time.” But the vibe inside the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility has been different under first-year head coach Jedd Fisch, even though he was responsible for the last eight of those 20 defeats.

“It's never been anything negative for us (whether it’s) a win or a loss,” Pandy said. “And then having a leader that's showing us, ‘I love you guys, I care for you guys,’ that's just extra motivation.”

Fisch said the buy-in from the returning seniors – most of whom are playing under their third coaching staff – has been “the most important thing that's happened to this program since I've been here.”

“Because the young guys will do what the seniors do,” Fisch said. “And if the seniors are doing it – if the seniors are believing it and buying into it and really wanting to be a part of it – good things are coming.”


Who’s walking on Senior Day? It’s complicated

Figuring out players’ class designations and remaining eligibility is more convoluted than ever.

The NCAA’s decision to NOT count last season because of the pandemic threw the process into disarray. Increased player movement via the transfer portal is another relatively new variable.

So it isn’t surprising that Arizona has a moving target for its Senior Day on Saturday. Jedd Fisch initially said 30-31 players would participate in the ceremony. He later reduced that number to 23, citing “about eight guys that have already walked at previous schools or might have walked already or their families can't make it.”

In lieu of an official list, here are the active players who are out of eligibility (*-participated in last year’s senior ceremony):

• DL Aaron Blackwell*

• WR Tayvain Cunningham*

• DE Mo Diallo

• K Lucas Havrisik*

• LB Kenny Hebert

• LB Rashie Hodge Jr.

• FB Clay Markoff

• DT Trevon Mason*

• C Josh McCauley*

• P/H Jacob Meeker-Hackett*

• LB Anthony Pandy

• WR Thomas Reid III*

• DT Leevel Tatum III

• TE Bryce Wolma

Some of those players might not participate in this year’s ceremony. And if Fisch’s number is correct, several more who aren’t listed might. Based on participation in official UA Football senior-day video tributes, those players include QB Luke Ashworth, WR Stanley Berryhill III, LB Rourke Freeburg, DE Jalen Harris, OG Donovan Laie, OG Matthew Stefanski Jr. and TE Zach Williams.


Michael Wiley capitalized on his opportunity; which RB will be next?

Michael Wiley and fans celebrate as he scores the winning touchdown for the University of Arizona's homecoming game vs. Cal.

Like their opponent Saturday, the Arizona Wildcats have multiple options in the backfield.

Four tailbacks have started this season: Michael Wiley, Drake Anderson, Jalen John and Stevie Rocker Jr. The player who opens the game hasn’t necessarily been the one who finishes it.

Take last week, for example. Rocker, the freshman from Canyon del Oro High School, made his first UA start. But it was Wiley, the third-year sophomore, who played the most snaps and got the most touches.

Jedd Fisch described the fight for playing time as a “meritocracy.”

“The best player each week is going to play,” he said.

Rocker earned the start against Cal and is expected to be in the lineup again against Utah. But Fisch expects all four of the aforementioned backs to play. He also expects them to be ready whenever they’re called upon.

“When your opportunity does come,” Fisch said, “what are you going to do with it?”

Wiley’s came last week at a critical juncture.

The Wildcats and Golden Bears were tied, 3-3, late in the fourth quarter. After rushes by four other players earlier in the drive, Wiley gained 4 yards on a direct snap on second-and-9 from the Cal 14. On third-and-5 from the 10, he lined up in the offset I-formation. Wiley took a handoff from Will Plummer and darted through a hole for the go-ahead touchdown.

“His opportunity came at the biggest moment – the biggest one we've had here for a while,” Fisch said. “The fact that he got in that end zone was pretty cool.”

As for the rotation the rest of the way, Fisch said he couldn’t plan beyond the next practice or game.

“I have no idea how it'll play out for Washington State or the game after that,” he said. “All four of them will get in. It's just a matter of how much.”


Arizona CB Treydan Stukes proving worthy of scholarship

Cornerback Treydan Stukes runs the gauntlet while running through a ball protection drill during the University of Arizona's preseason practice on Aug. 19.

The last pass by the team trying to extend Arizona’s losing streak was broken up by a player who was a walk-on just a few months ago.

Cornerback Treydan Stukes has looked the part of a scholarship player since spring, when he solidified a spot on the second unit. He officially earned a scholarship in August, became the third corner during the season and made his second career start last week against Cal in place of the injured Isaiah Rutherford.

On the Golden Bears’ final play from scrimmage, QB Ryan Glover, under duress, launched a pass down the right sideline. Stukes — a triple- and long-jumper in high school — leaped to knock the ball away.

Stukes, a second-year freshman, has allowed the lowest completion percentage (46.2%) among Arizona defenders who’ve been targeted at least 18 times, per Pro Football Focus.

“His progress has been outstanding,” UA coach Jedd Fisch said of Stukes, who is expected to start again this Saturday vs. Utah.

“He is playing with great confidence for a freshmen. He has great length (6-1, 184) and speed. So that's a huge advantage for a corner that plays a lot of man coverage.

“He's still growing into his body. Still needs to get a lot bigger weight-wise. We've talked about that for the offseason. But I think every snap he takes he feels more and more that he belongs.”

Contact sports reporter Michael Lev at 573-4148 or mlev@tucson.com. On Twitter @michaeljlev 


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