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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona football: Looking back at the first half season of play and preparing for the home stretch

Linemen+on+the+the+Arizona+and+UTEP+football+teams+prepare+to+start+a+play+at+Arizona+Stadium+on+Saturday%2C+Sept.+16.+Arizona+won+the+game+31-10.
Danielle Main
Linemen on the the Arizona and UTEP football teams prepare to start a play at Arizona Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 16. Arizona won the game 31-10.

The Arizona football team has reached the midpoint of the season, and it’s a reasonable time to take a closer look at the Wildcats’ performances so far.

Game summaries:

The football season opened against NAU, and the Wildcats delivered a dominant performance, winning 38-3 and avenging their previous loss to the same team in 2021.

In the second game against Mississippi State University, the Wildcats faced a tougher test but displayed resilience. Jayden de Laura‘s performance was a mixed bag with both impressive moments and turnovers, despite falling short 31-24 in the end.

In the third game against the University of Texas at El Paso, the Wildcats bounced back from the Mississippi State loss and Arizona won this contest 31-10.

In their fourth game, the Wildcats secured a narrow 21-20 victory against Stanford University, marking their first win against Stanford in over a decade. However, the win came at a cost, as de Laura struggled and exited the game in the third quarter due to an ankle injury, and lead back Michael Wiley also suffered an injury. Noah Fifita took over as quarterback to close out the game and demonstrated remarkable poise, with Jonah Coleman also stepping up in Wiley’s absence. The defense also showed out by preventing Stanford from scoring any passing touchdowns.

Next up, facing the then-No. 7 University of Washington for its fifth matchup, Arizona fell short, losing 31-24. Fifita made his first career start as the quarterback, and the defense held Washington to a season-low in points, yards and yards per play.

In a triple-overtime thriller, the Wildcats lost to then-No. 9 USC in their sixth game, with the final score being 43-41. Fifita had yet another stellar performance, throwing five touchdown passes. Wide receiver Jacob Cowing was a key target, securing four touchdown receptions. The game had a strong start for the defense but was marred by second-half penalties.

Arizona delivered its most complete team performance of the season, defeating then- No. 19 Washington State University 44-6. Fifita continued to shine, while the defense forced three turnovers and held Washington State to season-lows in various offensive categories.

Offense:

The quarterback duo of de Laura and Fifita have been instrumental in Arizona’s performances. De Laura, with his 87 completions out of 125 attempts, has thrown for 1,069 yards, delivering nine touchdowns and surrendering five interceptions. Meanwhile, Fifita has 94 completions on 125 attempts, accumulating 946 yards and contributing eight touchdowns while keeping interceptions to just two.

The Wildcats’ receiving corps has shown its mettle as well. Tetairoa McMillan has been a standout with 40 receptions and 592 receiving yards, resulting in five touchdowns. Cowing is right behind him with 55 receptions, 425 yards and an impressive eight touchdowns.

Tight end Tanner McLachlan has played a crucial role with 23 receptions, amassing 290 yards and securing two touchdowns. In the running back department, Coleman has spearheaded the ground game, with 65 attempts and 433 rushing yards to pair with three rushing touchdowns. He’s also tacked on 289 receiving yards and a touchdown through the air on 20 catches. DJ Williams has added his own flair with 55 attempts, 246 yards and two touchdowns, while Wiley, despite missing time, has contributed 40 attempts of his own for 176 yards, including a touchdown.

Defense:

The Wildcats‘ defense has exhibited growth and resilience. The defensive line, featuring players like Tiaoalii Savea, Taylor Upshaw and Bill Norton, has made its presence known. Upshaw leads the team with 5.5 sacks, and has contributed 12 total tackles (six solo) and a team-leading 6.5 tackles for loss. Savea, who leads the line with 16 total tackles (six solo), has recorded 1.5 sacks. Norton has had an impact from the nose tackle spot with 13 total tackles (five solo), 1.5 TFLs and a forced fumble.

The linebacker corps, led by Jacob Manu and Justin Flowe, has been relentless in its pursuit of the opposition. Manu leads the team with 58 total tackles (20 solo), six TFLs and 3.5 sacks. Flowe has paired well with Manu, posting 34 total tackles (nine solo), 1.5 TFLs and a sack.

In the secondary, cornerbacks Ephesians Prysock and Treydan Stukes have been a crucial part of the defensive strategy. Prysock has registered 33 total tackles (19 solo), two passes broken up and an interception. Stukes, with 25 total tackles (14 solo), has contributed two TFLs and three passes broken up. Safety has also been a position of strength for the Wildcats, with Dalton Johnson accumulating 38 total tackles (21 solo), two TFLs, one sack and a team-leading three forced fumbles.

Evaluating the team:

Arizona‘s offensive statistics show significant progress compared to last season at this point. The Wildcats rank 23rd out of 130 teams in total offense, accumulating 3,166 total yards. Notably, the team is averaging 6.55 yards per play, ranking 27th nationally

The Wildcats‘ defense has also stepped up, ranking 33rd out of 130 teams in total defense. The average yards given up per game has decreased from 467.7 to 332.9, indicating a substantial defensive upgrade.

Looking ahead:

Arizona enters the home stretch of the season only needing two more wins to become bowl eligible. Despite the Pac-12 being a gauntlet this year, the Wildcats have shown an ability to hang with and even win against ranked teams. They can’t let off the gas now, as the back half of the schedule is intimidating.

The Wildcats will be back in action hosting No. 11 Oregon State University on Saturday, Oct. 28, at 7:30 p.m. The Beavers are also coming off a week of rest, with their last game being a 36-24 win over then-No. 18 UCLA for the Beavers’ homecoming game. Oregon State will be Arizona’s fourth consecutive ranked matchup.

In Week 10, Arizona will host current No. 23 UCLA for their homecoming game on Saturday, Nov. 4. If UCLA pulls out a win against Stanford, they could stay ranked and would be the Wildcats’ fifth consecutive ranked opponent. This will be the eighth time Arizona has hosted UCLA for a homecoming game.

The Wildcats don’t get a “break” until they face the University of Colorado Boulder on Saturday, Nov. 11. However, despite the recent struggles of the Buffaloes, the game is being played in Boulder, Colorado and Shedeur Sanders is currently one of the most productive quarterbacks in college football.

Arizona will host the reigning Pac-12 champion and current No. 13 University of Utah in Week 12. The Utes are coming off a win over now-No. 24 USC that cemented them as one of the teams to beat in the Pac-12 despite injuries in their quarterback room.

Arizona closes out the regular season with the Duel in the Desert against lowly ASU on Saturday, Nov. 25. However, this year’s matchup takes place in Tempe and rivalry games have a tendency to get interesting.


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