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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Midseason football grades

Tyler+Baker+%2F+The+Daily+Wildcat%0A%0ADuring+the+first+half+of+Arizonas+28-26+loss+to+USC+at+Arizona+Stadium+on+October+11th.
Tyler Baker
Tyler Baker / The Daily Wildcat During the first half of Arizona’s 28-26 loss to USC at Arizona Stadium on October 11th.

The Arizona football team has started 5-1 in Rich Rodriguez’s third year and has shown significant improvement from last season. The Wildcats opened the Pac-12 Conference with two straight victories before losing to USC last weekend. After jumping into the top-10 rankings, Arizona is currently slotted at No. 16 overall.

At the midway point of the season, the Arizona Daily Wildcat football writers took the chance to update their positional grades from the Football Guide issue and the nonconference grades that were previously released.

Quarterback

In just a few weeks, redshirt freshman Anu Solomon has gone from being in a four-quarterback competition to one of the best in the nation.

Solomon is third in the nation in total offense, sixth in passing yards per game, seventh in total passing yards and 17th in passing touchdowns.

The only flaw in his game is he is 43rd in the nation in pass efficiency; but honestly, 43rd out of 116 is still very good for a freshman. He went into Autzen Stadium and arguably out-played then-Heisman Trophy front-runner Marcus Mariota of Oregon; not too shabby.

Campus guide grade: C+

Quarter-season grade: A

Midseason grade: A

Running backs

Even without both heads of the two-headed monster, the Arizona running backs didn’t really lose a beat.

Against USC, fifth-year senior Terris Jones-Grigsby and true freshman Nick Wilson — both of whom head coach Rich Rodriguez calls co-starters — were down, but junior Jared Baker stepped in. He ran for a respectable 3.6 yards per carry and scored two total touchdowns.

Wilson is 17th in the nation in rushing yards per game, 19th in rush yards per carry and 31st in total rushing yards, despite missing the USC game. Yet he can’t pull the starting job away from Jones-Grigsby.

Campus guide grade: C

Quarter-season grade: A

Midseason grade: A-

Offensive line

The men behind one of the best offenses in the country are the offensive line.

The Wildcats are sixth in the nation in total offense, eighth in passing offense, 23rd in scoring offense and 36th in rushing offense.

That goes back to the big men protecting Solomon and making holes for the running back by committee and allowing the offense to be relatively balanced.

When you look at the Arizona offense, it doesn’t look like there’s freshmen or first-year starters and a former walk-on in the backfield.

The only negative for the offensive line is that it’s eighth in the conference in sacks allowed with 14.

Campus guide grade: B+

Quarter-season grade: A

Midseason grade: A-

Receivers

While Solomon deserves much of the credit for the eighth-best passing offense in the land, based on his track record, he’s more than willing to share it.

Led by sophomore Cayleb Jones’ 39 catches, eight different receivers have caught passes, plus the three running backs and Solomon.

Jones is 10th in the country in receiving touchdowns, 20th in receiving yards per game, 24th in receiving yards and 25th in receptions per game.

Jones, or any other member of the talented receiving corps, would have more catches if they weren’t so deep at receiver. All the wide outs, except true freshman Tyrell Johnson, have at least 14 catches.

Campus guide grade: A

Quarter-season grade: B+

Midseason grade: A-

Defensive line

The Arizona defensive line has not been good this year. Really, it’s that simple. Defensive linemen have just three of Arizona’s 15 sacks this season and have largely failed to get a consistent pass rush. Sure, the 3-3-5 has one less defensive lineman on the front, but really, the team needs more from this unit. Senior Reggie Gilbert has been the best player on the front with 16 total tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks. At this point in the season, I’m not sure a significant improvement is likely. Luckily for defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, the linebackers have shown improvement.

Football guide grade: C+

Nonconference grade: D

Midseason grade: D

Linebackers

After losing Jake Fischer and Marquis Flowers, the linebacking core was expecting to see a noticeable drop-off. That has not been the case so far. Sophomore Scooby Wright III has taken a huge leap from his freshman year and leads the Wildcats in tackles (70), sacks (six), tackles for loss (11) and forced fumbles (two). The emergence of Wright III has solidified the linebackers and been one of the few bright spots on an otherwise struggling defense. When a big play is needed, Wright III is the man to do it. Just ask Marcus Mariota.

Football guide grade: C-

Nonconference grade: B+

Midseason grade: B

Defensive backs

After finishing fifth in pass defense in the Pac-12 last season, the defensive backs have seen a significant drop-off this year. The Wildcats currently give up 278 passing yards per game, which ranks ninth in the conference. As a whole, safeties have racked up solid tackling numbers but have been plagued at times by missing tackles, not wrapping up properly and dropping interceptions. Just last week against USC, Jarvis McCall Jr. dropped a would-be interception that was thrown right at him. Not to mention the missed tackles against USC running back Javorius Allen, who put up 205 rushing yards against Arizona. There is definitely room for improvement here.

Football guide grade: B+

Nonconference grade: C+

Midseason grade: C

Special teams

Despite fans upset over missed field goals against USC, Casey Skowron is the best Arizona kicker since former Wildcat and current NFL kicker Nick Folk. Skowron is 13-18 on the season and, apart from the USC game, has been outstanding. Punter Drew Riggleman is second in the conference with a 46.7 yard average on 22 punts. Arizona doesn’t punt much, but behind Riggleman, the Wildcats usually pin opponents deep in their own territory. While punt returns are still a problem, kick returns have been solidified by speedy freshman Tyrell Johnson.

Football guide grade: C

Nonconference grade: B-

Midseason grade: B-

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