Arizona football's end of season report card
This Arizona football team overachieved.
The Wildcats (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12) were for the most part the smaller and less athletic team on the field, especially in conference play. Throughout the season, head coach Rich Rodriguez continually said that in order for this Arizona team to win, it would need to play near-perfect football.
“We’re not talented enough to play bad and win,” he often said.
The Wildcats’ coaching staff needs to be given plenty of credit for preparing a team that on paper wasn’t expected to win a majority of time.
Tyler Baker / The Daily Wildcat UA senior quarteback B.J. Denker runs the ball against ASU in Tempe on Saturday.
But now, with the new football facilities and more of the “our kind of guys” entering the program, the sparse talent may no longer be an excuse for not winning.
The future looks bright for Arizona, but for now here are this season’s final position grades.
Offensive line: B
Arizona’s dangerous rushing attack wasn’t all Ka’Deem Carey.
All year Carey gave credit to the line for his 150-plus yard rushing games, always making sure to explain to the media how the holes the offensive line created were big enough to drive a truck through.
Quarterback B.J. Denker also benefited from the offensive line, as the group only allowed 16 sacks on the season, tied for the second-least in the Pac-12 conference.
While its stats may not be eye-popping, the receiving corps grew over the year without its leader, Austin Hill, and the number of young receivers who emerged is positive.
Freshmen Nate Phillips and Samajie Grant are the future of this group. Phillips became Denker’s top deep threat with the athleticism to make up for his short stature, while Grant was always a reliable short yardage receiver who had great instincts.
Running back: A
Carey’s 1,716 total rushing yards and 18 total touchdowns speak for themselves. Expect to see him repeat his 2012 All-American status.
Even though Denker made us pull our hair out at times with some of his throws and decisions, we have to remember that if it weren’t for the first-year starting quarterback, Arizona wouldn’t have beaten then-No. 5 Oregon or almost had an incredible comeback against USC on the road. Denker, a senior, will absolutely be missed next year, especially early in the season.
One of the more undersized positions, Arizona’s linebackers, such as the receivers, have a bright future ahead of them. Freshman Scooby Wright could soon be a first-team All-Conference linebacker.
But as for this season, the linebackers were the core that helped drastically improve what was the conference’s worst total defense a season ago, especially on third down.
Defensive line: C
Once again an undersized position, the Wildcats’ defensive line was just decent this season.
With senior nose guard Sione Tuihalamaka leading the way with five sacks and 11 tackles for loss, Arizona didn’t have any linemen that would knock your socks off or that opposing teams would game plan around.
Arizona’s 21 total team pass sacks are tied for 78th most in the country, and only 11.5 of its 21 sacks came from defensive linemen.
Defensive Backs: C
While the Wildcats’ pass defense did rank seventh in the conference, it was the occasional deep pass they gave up that made them a liability.
At this position, it’s hard to cover up a lack of speed and size with effort. Though their sturdy effort sometimes paid off, the early deep passes put Arizona in quite a few holes early in games this year.
Special Teams: C
Arizona fans know it could have been worse.
As for returning kicks, no one emerged as a solid threat on punts and kickoffs.
—Follow Luke Della @LukeDella