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Grading the Game: Arizona Wildcats

A three quarter performance for the ages.

NCAA Football: Arizona at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Well that did not go quite as expected - in a good way, and I’m happy to have been wrong about it. After a close win against Oregon State with some puzzling decisions on both sides of the ball, the expectation was more of the same against an Arizona team that probably should have beat USC the prior week. But the Huskies were sharp, physical, and dialed in taking a 37-0 lead into the 4th quarter. The story of the game was the utter domination until the 4th quarter, where Arizona’s starters put up 27 points against the 2s and 3s for the Huskies, making the final score look like it was a competitive game at some point. But none of that matters because the Huskies secured a 3-score victory and are now 2-0. I am not going to factor the 4th quarter too much in my grades, because when it mattered, it was completely one sided.

To the grades.

Quarterback - B+

Dylan Morris continues to look in command of this offense. Through two games, he’s yet to turn the ball over or take a sack. He hasn’t had guys in his face much over the past two games, but he’s shown a lot of poise. Technically he ran out of bounds for -2 yards which is a “sack” but he’s yet to make a mistake in his pocket presence that leads to a sack. He keeps his eyes downfield and has been mostly accurate throwing the ball. He threw his first two TDs of the season against Arizona and averaged 9.2 yards per attempt. He could probably get a little more arc on his deep throws to make them more catchable for his receivers, but there were some pretty balls that were straight up dropped so that’s not all on him. Overall, a step forward and an encouraging performance for the redshirt sophomore. And no passes batted down this week, after having at least 3 last week. During time of writing this piece, Dylan Morris won freshman of the week:

Running Back - A-

Really strong game for the running back group. We again saw the “by committee” approach, with the four top tailbacks getting at least 6 carries. Sean McGrew got the most carries with 11 and while he didn’t break the big run like each of the others, he was steady and got a TD. Cam Davis keeps flashing his enormous potential and looks like a future star in this offense. He has patience and elusiveness that is hard to teach, combined with a catching ability out of the backfield that make him a reliable safety valve. His two catches - both on 3rd down - showed off his body control, contorting and flipping his hips to make the awkward catch. Kamari Pleasant has also elevated his game in his final season, breaking loose for a 21 yard touchdown after a couple nice jukes. Richard Newton finished with the best stat line - 8 carries for 81 yards and two TDs - but most of that was from his 54 yard scamper into the end zone. The offensive line collapsed the Wildcat DL and Newton found the crease to run untouched. Overall hard to complain about a unit that averaged over 5 yards per carry and scored 4 TDs.

NCAA Football: Arizona at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Wide Receiver - B

The wide receivers weren’t terribly involved in this one but did have more than a couple good moments. Puka Nacua’s 65 yard catch and run on 3rd down being the highlight. But aside from that, receivers only caught four more passes the rest of the game - two for to Ty Jones, one to Jordan Chin, and one to Terrell Bynum. Bynum also had another positive gain (13 yards) on a jet sweep and keeps looking reliable and consistent as the short and mid range option. Ty Jones had two important catches, one of which was on third down. He’s also showing incredible tenacity on his blocking. It seems each time a Husky running back breaks free, there is Ty Jones 10+ yards downfield driving a DB into the dirt. The coaches are also trying to get Jalen McMillan and Rome Odunze more involved into this offense. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite happening for them on Saturday night with at least 3 drops between them. On the positive side, McMillan is getting behind defenses consistently and once him and Morris start connecting on those deep balls, the offense will be that much more wide open.

NCAA Football: Arizona at Washington
Cade is happy for Puka.
Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Tight Ends - A

That was some old school Husky football from the tight end group. Cade Otton in particular was borderline dominant. He was physical blocking all night and showed off his incredibly soft hands and route running, catching balls in traffic time and time again. He finished with 7 catches for 100 yards and a TD. Enjoy it while you can because he could be UW’s fifth active TE in the NFL this time next year. Jack Westover had a catch for 9 yards and blocked well, though appeared to have a miscommunication on what looked like a FB dive on the goal line. Mark Redman is seeing the field more and had a good block sealing the edge for Richard Newton’s big run. Overall, a great game for a deep and physical group.

Offensive Line - B+

As I mentioned above, there was technically one sack but it was Morris running out of bounds - this offensive line has given up zero sacks in two games. The OL was largely in control all night and it was actually second string that opened up a massive lane for Richard Newton’s long touchdown run. They continue to play really clean and physical football. While they’ve hardly faced the most ferocious defenses, they are barely giving up any TFLs, penalties, sacks, or negative plays. That trend probably won’t continue but so far they are playing cohesive football and the new starters look settled. They did have trouble for the second week in a row on the goal line where Washington settled for a field goal, but otherwise not much to complain about. And hey, Luke Wattenburg got recognized by the Pac-12, and for good reason:

Defensive Line - A-

Arizona had trouble all night getting Gary Brightwell going, and he finished with only 55 yards and a long run of 20. As a team they averaged under 3 yards per carry, and the DL showed significant improvement after having a bit of trouble with Jermar Jefferson in week 1 - though he is arguably the best offensive player in the Pac-12. Neither Taki Taimani, Josiah Bronson, or Faatui Tuitele received particularly high PFF grades, but they clearly did somethings right as Arizona had a lot of trouble blocking the Washington front. Tuitele did flash his quickness and athleticism on a couple plays, knifing between offensive linemen to disrupt the Arizona run game. Not exactly a “highlight reel” type of game for the defensive line but they held blocks and let the linebackers run free. They were a big reason Arizona had a paltry 66 yards through three quarters.

Outside Linebackers - A

ZION TUPUOLOA-FETUI. Need I say more? He’s played as well as you could expect an edge rusher to play through two games. He tacked on two more sacks and was in Grant Gunnell’s face all game. He might not possess the elite length or twitchiness that will make NFL scouts drool, but at 280 pounds he’s got incredible strength and plays with an elite motor and tenacity. Ryan Bowman had a good game doing what he does best - straight up pass rushing, where his efforts were rewarded with a 3rd down sack. Sav’ell Smalls keeps flashing and looks very close to having a big time game.

Inside Linebackers - A

Edefuan Ulofoshio was everywhere on Saturday night. He got a sack blitzing right up the middle and later blew up a screen pass that would have gained positive yards. He was the highest graded Husky defender per PFF. Jackson Sirmon had probably his best game as a Husky and had the fifth highest PFF grade on the defense, finishing with a few tackles and 1.5 TFLs. It was nice seeing a healthy MJ Tafisi out there too and he made a couple plays. Like the rest of the defense, the 2nd and 3rd units really struggled late in the game. I was ecstatic to see Daniel Heimuli out there - I think he’ll be a real star soon enough - but he looked a little lost, despite finishing third on the team in tackles.

NCAA Football: Arizona at Washington
Ulofoshio getting in Gunnell’s face.
Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Secondary - B+

The only reason this isn’t a resounding A+ is because of the fourth quarter. But make no mistake, this is a unit that dominated Arizona. Grant Gunnell and his receivers had no room to breath, no less run routes and catch footballs. His final stat line really shows the disparity between the first 3 quarters and the final period - he completed nearly 70% of his passes for 259 yards and 3 TDs. Elijah Molden was physical and covered well. Alex Cook - a surprise starter at safety to start the season - keeps looking like he belongs and is bringing some serious hits. Asa Turner had a nice physical pass break up on what would have been a big completion. No one else really stood out which is usually a good thing for DBs. I have no doubt that the young players very soon will form the next great Husky secondary, but they got burned a few times late in the game making Gunnell’s final stat line look like he had a good game.

Special Teams - B+

Nice bounce back game for the special teams unit though there are still things to clean up. Kyler Gordon was just incredible, downing two Race Porter punts inside the 5 and shooting between blockers to made a great tackle on a kick off return. His athleticism is just unreal and he’ll be a problem (the good kind) all year. The long snapping issues got cleaned up, but another running into the kicker penalty wasn’t encouraging to see. Peyton Henry missed a short-ish field goal. He’s made plenty of tougher field goals in his career but sometimes his consistency on the shorter ones is not where it needs to be. Big credit also goes to Jackson Sirmon for taking the direct snap on a fake punt and getting the short first down. I don’t have statistics to back this up, but I feel like most of those direct snaps on punts get blown up, so great job to everyone for blocking it correctly and Sirmon for lowering his shoulder for the first down.

Coaching - B+

The Huskies looked energized, focused, and physical, playing with swagger and confidence that many felt was lacking last year. Not like there was ever a real worry about the defense after the Oregon State game, but the Dawgs were back to their best against Cats. Offensively, we are starting to get a clearer picture of what the John Donavan offense will be, and it looks more and more like it takes what defenses give. It is multiple in every sense of the word, yet will have strong focus on a physical run game and getting tight ends involved - hallmarks of Husky Football. They started opening things up in the pass game too, and it’s just a matter of time before the deep ball starts connecting and making this attack more dangerous.

NCAA Football: Arizona at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

It was a bit discouraging seeing the young guys struggle so much late, and you’d like them to be a bit more ready for those situations. But with the game out of hand, it will be a good learning experience and I can’t say I am actually worried. It’s only Oregon State and Arizona, and the Huskies will face tougher competition in the coming weeks (if they aren’t cancelled!) but right now, at the very least, everything is pointing in the right direction.