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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona football’s strong defensive effort falls short in 31-24 loss to No. 7 Washington

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Mason Kumet
Led by tight end Tanner McLachlan (84), the Arizona football team makes its way onto the field for the sold out home game against the University og Washington in Tucson on Saturday, Sept. 30. The Wildcats lost the game 24-31.

The Arizona football team fell short against the University of Washington in a 31-24 result in their Pac-12 home opener on Saturday, Sept. 30. Though the result was not what the Wildcats were looking for, Arizona has shown impressive growth on the defensive side of the ball compared to a year ago. This was a game that was always within reach, even with another slow offensive start. The Wildcats were able to move the ball well against the Huskies and get nearly anything they wanted offensively. Defensively, Arizona managed to hold Washington to a season-low in points, yards and yards per play

Heading into this game, Washington had scored 40-plus points in every one of their games and had arguably the best offense in the country. With a Heisman Trophy-candidate in quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and a wide receiver group that came into this game leading the nation in passing offense, passing yards per game and total yards per game, this offense was virtually unstoppable throughout the first four games.

Offense

With Jayden de Laura unable to play in this game, Noah Fifita made his first career start for Arizona against Washington. In his debut, Fifita went 27-for-39 for 232 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Even though it wasn’t a perfect night for Fifita, for it being his first career start, he looked composed and took what the defense gave him, staying in the pocket and making the proper reads while also using his legs to buy more time or run it himself when appropriate. Fifita had 19 rushing yards on six attempts.

Head coach Jedd Fisch also had similar praise for Fifita‘s first career start.

“I thought his decision-making was excellent,” Fisch said. “No one would have ever  known that was his first college start.”

Even after his first collegiate interception, which came in the fourth quarter, Fifita remained composed and led a fourth-quarter touchdown drive to cut the lead to one possession but never got the ball back to have a chance to force overtime.

Running backs Jonah Coleman and DJ Williams also stepped up in tonight’s performance for a second straight week. With lead back Michael Wiley out with an injury, Coleman and Williams got most of the carries for Arizona. Coleman, on 12 attempts, had 44 yards, and Williams, on 10 attempts, had 43 yards.

In the receiving department, the usual suspects showed up for Arizona, with wide receiver Jacob Cowing leading the way with his eight receptions for 61 yards and one touchdown. Right behind him was tight end Tanner McLachlan, who had a season-high six receptions for 51 yards. He appeared to be Fifita‘s favorite target whenever he was in trouble. Wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan had six receptions for 45 yards and two touchdowns, with the second coming while being heavily contested.

Overall, the Wildcats had only a couple of costly offensive miscues, but even with this loss, Fisch remained optimistic.

“I’m really excited about where our program is headed,” Fisch said. “We’re resilient and we’re tough.”

Defense

Defensively, the Wildcats’ biggest problem this season has been their open-field tackling. With an opponent like Washington who likes getting vertical on offense, one would think that this would be a bad matchup for Arizona. However, that was not the case. The Wildcats’ defense gave the Huskies all they could take by sacking Penix twice, forcing two fumbles and holding this potent offense to season lows across the board.

Safety Dalton Johnson had his best showing of the year, leading the team in total tackles (10), with five solo tackles and two forced fumbles. Johnson leads the team with three forced fumbles, and the defense has now forced a fumble in every game on the season and recovered four out of six. Treydan Stukes had four total tackles with two solo tackles and two pass breakups, one of which prevented a potential touchdown from happening in the third quarter. He also nearly recovered one of the fumbles forced by Johnson, but review allowed the call of him being out-of-bounds to stand.

Linebackers Jacob Manu and Daniel Heimuli also had very solid nights. Manu had nine total tackles and three solo tackles, and Heimuli had six total tackles with two solo tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. Up front, defensive end Taylor Upshaw led the way once again for this group with his two total tackles, one solo tackle, one sack and one TFL.

This unit held a team that regularly put up 20+ point halves and was virtually unstoppable offensively to a relatively tame second half. The Huskies scored only 10 points in the second half and made the most mistakes they’ve had all season on the offensive side of the ball.

Looking ahead:

Arizona did still fall short of the win in this game. However, there were still many positives to take away from both sides of the ball as they turn the page to face another explosive offense in No. 8 USC on the road next Saturday, Oct. 7, at 7:30 p.m.


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