In a season where the Arizona Wildcats have been ravaged by injuries, the team’s win-loss record has reflected said injuries. Arizona, already lacking depth at most positions, has limped to a 2-6 record through eight games. With so many injuries at several positions, here is a report card for position groups as a whole:
Quarterback: C+. For any team, it all starts with the quarterback. All that really has to be said is that Arizona has played five different players at the QB position, including a reserve tight end (Matt Morin). Anu Solomon played poorly in the season opener and has been out since with a knee injury, minus two failed drives late against Stanford. Brandon Dawkins was a breath of fresh air when he took over with Arizona’s 2nd game and has been dynamic in the running game. But assorted injuries have left him banged up and not nearly as effective in his last couple games. Khalil Tate, whose redshirt had to be burned, has proved to be an elite runner, but has a long ways to go in the passing game. He will likely receive more opportunities as the season comes to an end. The combined line of 10 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, leaves much to be desired.
Running Back: Incomplete. The fact of the matter is Arizona is currently on its fifth running back. Nick Wilson, who seemingly cannot stay healthy, has only 55 carries on the season. Full of talent, if you can’t stay on the field, you can’t contribute. 2nd string RB Orlando Bradford has been deservedly kicked off the team. Freshman JJ Taylor looked like a potential star when he got a chance to play, compiling 261 yards on 38 carries before succumbing to a broken ankle. That has left one scholarship running back healthy, Zach Green, who has been mediocre at best in his limited opportunities. The injuries forced the Arizona coaching staff to move wide receivers to running back, including Tyrell Johnson and most recently Samajie Grant, who started against Stanford. With unprecedented injuries to the position, it is impossible to fairly apply a letter grade.
Wide Receiver: B. At some point, there just isn’t anything the wide receivers can do. They cannot develop a rhythm with a quarterback because Arizona can’t keep any healthy. The wide receivers are doing what they can, but most of the opportunities for them to make big plays have been few and far between. In Arizona’s most recent matchup, the Wildcats had only five completions. The wide receivers made the most of the five, taking them for 116 yards. Arizona’s most talented skill position, the wide receivers need the ball in their hands more.
Offensive/Defensive Line: C-. Both units have struggled this year. The defensive line is once again criminally undersized, and against good offensive lines, it shows. In Marcel Yates defense, the defensive line is usually asked to take up blockers and defend the edges, but the consistent lack of pressure is easily noticeable. The offensive line, even with some experience at key positions, is consistently dominated by elite players (like Solomon Thomas). But what can be said for a group of young men who lost a close friend and teammate, Zach Hemmila, just before the season began? It is impossible and really, unfair, to judge the effect something so heartbreaking has on a group of teenagers and young adults.
Linebackers/Defensive Backs: D. 462. That is the number of total yards the Wildcats surrendered to Grambling State. 574 against USC. 341 against Stanford, the team whose offensive ineptitude this year has been widely reported. The linebackers, just like last year, have had their share of injuries. Replacement players have proved time and time again of being incapable of playing consistently well. Arizona struggles to stop the run, and is consistently ripped apart through the air. If Arizona is going to pull off any upsets in its last four games, and its next two (against WSU and CU) would certainly be big ones, its defense is going to have to play well above its pay-grade (no NCAA student-athlete puns intended).
Special Teams: C. If kicking field goals was all that mattered, this grade would be an A. Josh Pollack has done very well, especially by #collegekickers standards. He is 7/9 on the year on field goals. Arizona’s problems stem from being unable to cover or successfully return kickoffs. Field position is huge in football, especially for teams who are seemingly always overmatched, talent-wise.
Coaching:C+. Similar to the wide receivers group, it gets to a point where one is left wondering what exactly coaches can do to help a team like this succeed. Injuries are abound, former highly ranked recruits have flopped, and players have simply not made the plays necessary to win big games. While it is fair to question play-calling at certain times, every unit on the team has struggled in at least some facets. Urban Meyer would struggle with this team.
Overall: D. The good news is it could be worse. At least they have won two games. The issue is that doesn’t fly when you want to play for conference championships and potentially, a Rose Bowl. It is looking more and more likely like all Arizona has left to play for this year is getting young players some experience and trying to beat ASU.