If anyone told me at the beginning of the week that Arizona would win against UCLA without its star quarterback (Khalil Tate), and their top running back (J.J. Taylor), I would have called them crazy.
However, that’s exactly what Arizona was able to do winning 20-17 with Tate being ruled out right before kickoff. This put the spotlight on true freshman quarterback Grant Gunnell making his first collegiate start.
When you have a game of twists and turns it makes it difficult to grade some position groups. Still, I did my best and came up with this below.
Right before kickoff, word broke that Tate was ruled out for Saturday’s game, meaning Gunnell was going to be making his first collegiate start. Arizona opened up the game trying to get Gunnell in rhythm with only three rushes in the first 14 plays. Early on Gunnell seemed a light tight in the pocket, missing open receivers while showing no mobility. Gunnell got strong as the game moved along, opening up the third quarter with a quick strike to Bam Smith for a 75-yard TD pass to put Arizona ahead 13-10. When the pressure was on he was able to deliver clutch pass after clutch pass. Gunnell would finish his night going 29 for 44 accumulating 352 yards passing with one TDs pass, ending with a QBR of 59.7. The biggest takeaway from his performance was ZERO turnovers, that’s right ZERO turnovers for a true freshman in his first career start.
Running Backs: C+
Just like the QB position Arizona was missing Taylor who got injured during the Texas Tech game. with Taylor out it was up to everyone to fill in however, Arizona coaches seemed to try and get Gunnell in rhythm early running the ball at a very low rate. Even though Arizona finished with just 99 yards rushing, Bam Smith had 5 catches for 90 yards and a TD. This was not the best performance by the running back group missing a key piece of the puzzle. Still, they found away to get involve and leave an imprint on the game.
Having a true freshman quarterback starting means everyone in the receivers group needs to be on top of their game. That was the case for Arizona Saturday night as seven different wide outs touched the ball. The local group of Berryhill, Joiner, and Dixon hailed combined for 8 catches totaling 102 yards.
Tight End: N/A
Another game where we are left wondering if Arizona will ever use the tight end again? At this point I think we all know the answer to that question.
Offensive Line: B-
When you look at most box scores you will see Arizona rushing for over 200+ yards rushing. It is well known the O-Line takes great pride in leading the PAC-12 in rushing the last two season in a row. I’m not sure how happy the line is seeing they were only able to help Arizona gain 99 yards rushing for the whole game. Pass protection with a different style of quarterback behind center was solid for most of the game. UCLA was able to get to Gunnell in the third quarter, and would end the game with two total sacks. Overall it was a solid performance considering the situation with injuries for Arizona.
Defensive Line: C-
This was the weakest position on defense Saturday night, as UCLA who came in averaging 96 yards rushing a game gashed Arizona for 217 yards. There were numerous missed tackles that lead to huge runs for UCLA’s Joshua Kelley. Coming into the game UCLA was converting just 32% on third downs, Saturday they were 47% on third downs going 8 for 17.
Last time out against Texas Tech the top three tacklers were all from the linebacking group. It was highly important to get another strong performance from that position group in order for Arizona to slow down a Bruins offense that put up 67 points on Washington state. The one player that really stands out was Tony Field who might have had his best game as a Wildcat. Field had 10 total tackles making play after play to slow down UCLA in key moments. That was good enough for second most tackles by an Arizona player only behind tackle machine Colin Schooler.
Yes, Lorenzo Burns had not only the only interception of the game but, the only turnover of the game. that was a pivotal moment as UCLA was marching down field at the time. However, that does not change the fact that UCLA and Dorian Thompson-Robinson helped the Arizona secondary by missing some wide open receivers that could have changed the outcome of this game.
The safeties never really got beat over the top, keeping the UCLA wide outs in front of them for most of the night. Much like the corners for Arizona, there were some chances for Thompson-Robinson to burn the secondary, and he was unable to do so. The reason for a lower grade then the corners is mostly do to poor tackling at times.
Special Teams: A-
Special team was a major concern across the board for Arizona coming into the match-up against UCLA. The Bruins had one of the best return game in the nation, having two kick/punt returns in their win over Washington state. Plus, Arizona punter had been struggling all season long until Saturday night. They needed a monster game from their punter and kicker and got it. Matt Arragon was averaging 35.4 yards a punt before the game, had a 70 yard punt forcing UCLA in deep field position. On five punt Arragon averaged 47.4 yards a punt, almost night and day compared to the games before UCLA. That was just one phase for Arizona in the kicking game. The other was place kicker Lucas Havrisik blasting every kick-off in the back of the end-zone preventing any game changing return. Plus, he went 2 for 3 on FG attempts scoring 6 of Arizona’s 20 points.
This was obviously a tough situation for the coaching staff headed into this game down two star players. Plus, having a true freshman quarterback making his debut against a conference opponent. With that being said, the play calling in the first half was somewhat of a mystery as Arizona got away from what they do best. Having Gunnell open up the game with 11 passes to just 3 rushing attempts is strange to say the least. Now, it might have been what UCLA was lining up in that forced the hand of Arizona. the rushing game would eventually get going. The call of the night was the timeout call icing UCLA’s kicker to prevent a game tying kick to force overtime. Overall, the halftime adjustments lead Arizona to it’s third win of the season.
Arizona will be on the back in action next weekend versus Colorado who is coming off of a upset victory over Arizona State. If Tate is healthy he will play in Boulder for the first time since his breakout game that made him the center point of the college football world back in 2017.