Every week throughout the season, we take a look back at the Arizona Wildcats’ previous game after re-watching it via the TV broadcast. Here are five key takeaways from the UA’s 56-38 loss to Oregon State on Saturday:
1. DEFENSIVE ISSUES, PART 1
Kevin Sumlin on what’s been problematic for Arizona’s defense: pic.twitter.com/P4c7PTjwXM— The Wildcaster (@TheWildcaster) November 3, 2019
Where to begin? Kevin Sumlin chose to start with run defense, and that made more sense after reviewing the game. It’s not as if the Beavers were breaking off 70- and 80-yard runs; the longest gain by a running back was 25 yards. But they were patient and precise, repeatedly attacking the edges of Arizona’s defense. That, in turn, set up play-action passes. Despite his lofty credentials entering the game, OSU receiver Isaiah Hodgins found huge gaps between the Wildcats’ linebackers and safeties – a weak spot for the UA defense for much of the season. Why did those runs succeed? Defensive ends failed to contain the edge; defensive tackles got overpowered or washed down the line; linebackers tried to do too much to compensate; and safeties were late to arrive on the scene. It was a recipe for failure for a defense that didn’t need to be great for Arizona to end its losing streak. It wasn’t even close. Some have suggested that the Wildcats quit late in the second half. We didn’t see many signs of that. We did see body language that suggested the Cats were dejected and frustrated. It isn’t the first time that’s been the case.
2. DEFENSIVE ISSUES, PART 2
The other major problem the defense seemed to have involved communication. On multiple occasions, defensive backs didn’t seem to be on the same wavelength. On OSU’s first touchdown, a 21-yard pass from Jake Luton to Hodgins, freshman cornerback Christian Roland-Wallace seemed to think he was going to get help to the inside – which was not forthcoming. On OSU’s last TD of the first half, no one covered tight end Noah Togiai in the back right corner of the end zone. Roland-Wallace, playing a medium zone, released him up the right sideline. Three defenders zeroed in on Hodgins over the middle. Safety Scottie Young Jr., who’s really been struggling to read and react to plays, failed to get over in time. And all this happened after Arizona called a timeout. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact source of the communication issues without talking to the parties directly involved. Did the transition from Marcel Yates to Chuck Cecil cause them, or at least contribute to them? Were signals not properly relayed to players? Whatever the case, the Wildcats have two weeks to get it all sorted out before a daunting trip to Eugene to face No. 7 Oregon.
3. GUNNELL VS. TATE
Kevin Sumlin says freshman QB Grant Gunnell “operated well” against Oregon State. pic.twitter.com/b51CQ72nBC— Justin Spears (@JustinESports) November 3, 2019
Sumlin and his players have been reluctant to make direct comparisons between quarterbacks Grant Gunnell and Khalil Tate. We get that. But we’re under no such restrictions here, and it just so happen that two plays against OSU perfectly illustrated the biggest difference between them. On third-and-11 on the first drive of the second half, Arizona let Beavers star pass rusher Hamilcar Rashed Jr. have a free release into the backfield. This seems like a bad idea on the surface, but it appears to have been by design: J.J. Taylor released into the right flat – the same side from which Rashed rushed. But instead of throwing the ball to Taylor, Tate pulled it down and ran to the left, gaining only 1 yard. It would be his last snap of the day. Fast-forward to the fourth quarter. Arizona faced third-and-8 from its 3. The Wildcats again let Rashed rush upfield, this time from the offense’s left. Taylor again released to the same side. Gunnell tossed the ball to him, and Taylor did his thing, making defenders miss to gain the first down. Despite Gunnell being a freshman and Tate a senior, the former just seems to have a more advanced feel for the game. The time has come to make the switch.
4. THIS TIME IT’S PERSONNEL
Each week we provide some notes on individual players, so here goes … Taylor couldn’t have done more to try to help his team win. He ran hard, caught passes and made blocks. A truly magnificent performance that will go down as a footnote because Arizona lost. … Fellow RB Gary Brightwell ran decisively and downhill. When he puts his foot in the ground and goes, he’s tough to tackle. … WR Tayvian Cunningham showed he’s more than just a speedster. He displayed previously unseen physicality on a 41-yard reception in the first quarter and admirable effort on an unlikely fourth-and-2 conversion in the third. … The offensive line performed well under the circumstances, in particular left guard Robert Congel – the last man standing among regulars at the three inside positions. … DT Myles Tapusoa flashed his power and quickness, but, like the rest of the defensive line, he needs to show it more consistently. … DT Kyon Barrs seems to have hit the freshman wall; the bye comes at a good time for him and others. … New DC Chuck Cecil needs to find a way to get LB Anthony Pandy on the field all the time. He brings an extra level of physicality to the front. … Freshman punter Kyle Ostendorp had by far his best game, getting good hang time and putting the ball where he intended to.
5. TOUGH ROAD AHEAD
Kevin Sumlin on Arizona’s plan heading into the bye week: pic.twitter.com/41tYG2uXZz— The Wildcaster (@TheWildcaster) November 3, 2019
Arizona’s third and final bye of 2019 comes at just the right time. Not only are the Wildcats beaten up physically, they seem worn out mentally. They could use a break – a chance to refresh and reset. Unfortunately, things might get worse before they get better. The final stretch begins with the aforementioned trip to Autzen Stadium. Then comes the home finale against Utah, which is ranked No. 8 and might be the most physical team in the Pac-12. Strange stuff sometimes happens when the Utes and Wildcats get together in Tucson, but an upset feels like a major stretch after what we’ve seen from Arizona lately. The season concludes with the annual battle against Arizona State. If form holds, it’ll be a flashback to 2016, when the Wildcats were riding an eight-game losing streak into the Territorial Cup. They ended up winning it, which was the equivalent of putting a Band-Aid on a broken leg. But the rivalry matters to the fans, and Sumlin needs something to restore their faith. It would be a start.
Contact sports reporter Michael Lev at 573-4148 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @michaeljlev