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Grading the Game: Arizona Wildcats

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A tale of two halves.

NCAA Football: Washington at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

In a lot of ways, the Huskies looked like an entirely different team in the second half compared to the first. This makes the grading more difficult but I’ll give it a whirl anyway.

Quarterback: B+

Eason doesn’t just get marks for his play on the field, because by all accounts it was his fiery words to the team at halftime that helped them explode in the second half for 38 points. Also Puka Nacua being allowed on the field helped. But the QB’s 15 completions included over half that went for more than 15 yards and he finished the night averaging 11 yards an attempt. He was 8-10 for 178 yards and 2 TDs in the second half and his sharpness and composure lead the way for the Dawgs. As we’ve seen time and time again now, when he has a clean pocket from which to operate, he is very deadly. The game plan was to run, run, run - but Eason hit the shots he needed to when asked.

Running Back: A-

No Richard Newton, no problem. Salvon Ahmed and Sean McGrew split the running back duties this game and each brought something to the table. McGrew was far more explosive, getting chunk yardage on multiple occasions, even with his limited 13 touches. He was held out of the end zone, but Salvon Ahmed got 3 scores, all in the red zone. His running wasn’t as decisive as usual but was plenty effective. Between the two of them they averaged 5.58 yards per carry. They were probably the most consistent part of the team through four quarters.

Wide Receiver: C+

This is a hard one to put a grade on, because the wide receivers contributed so little outside of Puka Nacua and Aaron Fuller. After them, Jordan Chin was the only other WR to record a catch, the second of his career. But Fuller, and Nacua especially, put in great second halves. After dropping his first target over the middle, Puka delivered two of the biggest plays of the game. First, his catch to open up the second half was just the kind of explosive play you want to start a drive with. He caught a 49 yarder on a later drive on 3rd down which led to an Ahmed touchdown. He looks the most explosive WR on the team already. Aaron Fuller had just catch in the first half, but caught 3 balls in the second, including a nice 22 yard dime from Jacob Eason.

Tight End: B

A solid yet relatively quiet game from Hunter Bryant catching the ball, with 45 yards on three grabs. Cade Otton was quiet in the pass game but contributed blocking as the Huskies ran it 45 times. But the story of day for the TEs in walk-on Jack Westover, who caught his first career catch for a TD in the red zone. At this point, any red zone TD is a major victory for this team. He also had some great blocking and a nice push to help get Ahmed into the end zone. By no means a bad day for the TEs, but the ceiling for this group is much higher.

Offensive Line: B-

Playing without starting center and team leader Nick Harris, Matteo Mele got the start, and the redshirt freshman from Tuscon was hardly noticed. Which for a center, is a good thing. His snaps looked on target and on at least one occasion (Sean McGrew’s 44 yard run) I saw him pull to make a nice block. The unit overall played fine, the second half especially, as the team racked up 450 yards of offense. Henry Bainivalu replaced an injured Jaxson Kirkland and looked strong but had a couple penalties. The big red flag though, was the multiple occasions in short yardage where they just couldn’t get the push to gain even 3 yards. Things got better in the second, but you have to be able to blow Arizona’s DL off the ball if you want to be successful. But, Eason was only sacked once and Arizona had just four tackles-for-loss.

Defensive Line: B+

The Wildcats are a very good running team and the defensive line did a solid job containing them. However, J.J. Taylor was a problem yet again with 89 yards on just 18 carries. Josiah Bronson had a hell of a game, with 2 TFLs and a sack. Benning Potoa’e was chasing Khalil Tate a few times as well and got a sack of his own. Tuli Letuligasenoa continues to get the most minutes of the redshirt freshman and is coming along nicely as a run plugging DT. Most importantly, they were in Khalil Tate’s face all night and didn’t allow him to get comfortable.

Linebackers: B+

The inside/outside LBs for Washington are almost two entirely different positions but both units played a better game than I anticipated. Ryan Bowman on the outside was just a terror. His pass rush made so much of the defense work, plus he got his first career interception on a ball he tipped. Brandon Wellington had 5 solo tackles and the biggest play of the first half with his second fumble return TD of the season. But perhaps the biggest story is Ariel Ngata who manned the middle of the defense and finished with a team high 8 tackles. His speed and explosiveness is so evident when he’s on the field even with his slight frame. Joe Tryon was a man amongst boys out there as well, constantly applying pressure to Khalil Tate. Shoutout to Zion Tupuola-Fetui too, who held up nicely in his most significant action of the season.

Secondary: B

This group continues to rotate to find the best unit out there and Saturday we saw the emergence of yet another play maker: Asa Turner. Also known as 6-3 Taylor Rapp. The freshman started in place of Cam Williams and had 4 tackles and a TFL, and was seemingly always in the backfield or around the ball. It was a quiet game relatively for Elijah Molden after so many games as a force at nickel. Though, he was largely at fault on Arizona’s lone passing TD of the game as he got spun around in coverage. Keith Taylor also had a couple bad missed tackles, one of which was on third down. Myles Bryant was the story, however. He had 5 tackles and a TFL but was everywhere, dropping in coverage and blitzing off the edge. He probably had the longest to run to make the play, but was the one who forced the fumble that Trent McDuffie recovered, who continues to impress as well. Despite the somewhat up and down game for the DBs, they still held Tate to around 50% passing, less than 8 yards an attempt, and an interception. After throwing for a career high the week earlier against Colorado, he was shut down against the Huskies.

Special Teams: A

The turnaround for this unit has been remarkable. Outside of Aaron Fuller’s muffed punt (where it looked like one of the gunners nearly ran into him just as he was about to catch), this unit was pretty flawless. Peyton Henry hit all three of his field goals and is perfect on the season. Levi Onwuzurike blocked a punt, and Kyler Gordon recovered another that was touched by an Arizona player. We also saw the return of the pooch punt, in which Jacob Eason did his best Jake Browning impression. But, the punt team couldn’t quite keep the ball out of the end zone. Still, another weapon. Speaking of punting, Joel Whitford was sharp as ever and hit his career long of 67 yards.