Arizona bounces back with a big win over Grambling State at home

The Arizona defense put on a show Saturday night forcing six turnovers in their 31-21 win

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Courtney Talak | The Daily Wildcat

Arizona quarterback Brandon Dawkins (13) scores the first touchdown in the game against Grambling State on Saturday. This was the first of three total touchdowns for Dawkins.

Arizona hoped to bounce back with a strong performance after its season opening loss to BYU, and did so behind a strong performance from its defense.

The Wildcat defense was unable to force any turnovers last week, but against the Tigers of Grambling State, they were able to force six second-half turnovers. Causing these turnovers is what allowed Arizona to not only get back in the game but to take the lead.

Things started off well for Grambling State as Verlan Hunter scored on a two-yard pass from DeVante Kincade capping an 81-yard drive on the Tigers’ first possession. Grambling State’s athleticism was easy to see and something head coach Rich Rodriguez was aware of.

“We were really nervous about their skill players,” Rodriguez said, “We tried to recruit one of them, and you can see why”.

Arizona’s offense had a new look Saturday night as Brandon Dawkins got the nod to start at quarterback due to a knee injury Anu Solomon suffered this week in practice.

Dawkins got off to a rough start but showed the athleticism and play making ability that is required to run the RichRod offense at the highest level.

“His competitiveness and ability to create were what I thought, but there is a lot of things that I believe we can do better,” Rodrigeuz said about Dawkins performance.

Dawkins was 2-for-5 for 17 yards in the first quarter and rushed for 16 yards on four carries, but he would finish the game 15-for-29 with 233 yards and a touchdown. He added another 97 yards rushing and two more scores on the ground.

Arizona’s defense tightened up and forced some backward plays throughout the night, but Grambling State’s speed caused some serious problems early on for the Wildcats’ defense.

Grambling State running back Martez Carter made plays all over the field by using his speed to steer clear of UA defenders. Poor tackling did not help the Wildcats when it came to stopping the Tigers.

“It started with us, the linebackers. We missed a lot of tackles,” linebacker Michael Barton said. “The biggest thing is how are we going to respond”.

Carter had 36 yards rushing on eight carries and a touchdown in the first half alone, plus another 68 yard receiving. He had 49 of those receiving yards on a third-and-29 play that would keep the drive alive and ultimately result in a touchdown.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, Kincade, the starting quarterback, would pull up with a leg injury after scrambling to avoid a sack.

With 6:14 left in the second quarter, Dawkins threw a pass to Samajie Grant for a 70-yard gain and put the Wildcats into scoring position.

He followed that up by throwing three straight incompletions inside the 20-yard line, forcing the Wildcats to settle for a field goal to narrow the Grambling State lead to 11.

The Tigers responded with a seven play, 83-yard drive for a touchdown to close out the first half and give them a 21-3 lead heading into the locker room.

Arizona opened the second half with the ball and did not waste any time taking advantage of the possession.

Dawkins led the Wildcats on a nine play, 70-yard drive that resulted in a two yard rushing touchdown for Dawkins.

“Brandon is a great quarterback,” senior wide receiver Trey Griffey said. “He has gotten better and better since he’s been on campus.”

In the second half, the Wildcat defense really picked up their production by forcing six turnovers, including three consecutive drives in the third quarter alone. Three of six turnovers translated to Arizona offensive touchdowns.

Cornerback Jace Whittaker made an interception to give the Arizona offense the ball on its own 45-yard line.

After several running plays, Dawkins connected with wide receiver Trey Griffey for a 34-yard touchdown pass down the far sideline. Dawkins later ran a touchdown in on his own from 21-yards out.

The third turnover resulted in an 11-yard touchdown run by Nick Wilson, which gave the Wildcats their first lead of the game, 24-21.

Arizona closed out the fourth quarter by showcasing a dominant defense. Grambling State was unable to sustain any offensive drives like it had in the first half.

“That was the biggest difference: The energy on the sideline and the energy on the field completely changed that second half,” Barton said.

Dawkins made some big plays and not only showed he is a worthy and competent backup, but also raised more questions as to who the starting quarterback should be even when Solomon is healthy.

The talk of the game should and will be about the defense. It was this type of performance that lead to a 10-win season in 2014, but was also missing all of 2015 and last week.

The Wildcats will face Hawaii next Saturday, Sept. 17, at Arizona Stadium. The game start time is slated for 7:45 p.m. and will be televised on Pac-12 Networks.


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