High and Lows of 2017 Football Season
The Arizona Wildcats celebrate a late touchdown against USC.
Arizona’s football campaign contained plenty of surprising and exciting moments in 2017, yet there were plenty of head scratching times that hang over some of the best moments. As the team prepares to play Purdue in the Foster Farms Bowl Game on December 27, let’s take a look back at the highs and lows of the year.
A star is born - Fans and coaches alike probably didn’t realize that Arizona had a possible Heisman candidate that goes by the name of Khalil Tate sitting on its bench for the summer and for most of the first four games of the season.
But when Brandon Dawkins went down with an injury in the 1st quarter against Colorado on October 7, the Wildcats had its program changed for the better. In comes the sophomore Tate who put on an electric performance and never looked back. Tate rushed for an FBS record 327 yards on just 14 carries versus Colorado and pushed himself into the Heisman conversation with remarkable follow-up performances. His four consecutive Pac-12 offensive player of the week honors broke a conference record and he also rushed for 840 yards in the month of October.
Tate didn’t win the Heisman nor did he end in the top 10 in voting after struggling in November. But Arizona found its best quarterback in years and he’ll be back for more next year.
Undefeated October - Khalil Tate may have been dubbed Mr. October but it would have felt a lot less significant had Arizona not won all of its games in that month. The Wildcats finished with a perfect 4-0 record and ended October ranked as the No. 22 team in the country.
Arizona scored at least 45 points in all four games, which included a double-overtime victory at California and an upset win at home versus No. 15 Washington State. The end of the month win over Washington State also gave the Wildcats their sixth win of the year, making them bowl-eligible for the fifth time in six years.
Freshman impact - A lot of Arizona’s hyped 2017 recruiting class jumped ship before signing day leaving head coach Rich Rodriguez and company looking to salvage other recruits. This year’s freshman entered with many questions including talent level and the ability to make an instant impact in year one. Fortunately for Arizona, the freshman class was a big bright spot.
Linebacker Colin Schooler was the second-leading tackler in the Pac-12 with 88 tackles -- 13.5 of them for a loss -- and even had a 14-tackle effort in the win against Cal. And to cap it all off, Schooler was named the Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year.
Offensively, J.J. Taylor had a breakout year at running back. Listed as a redshirt freshman, Taylor provided the lightning in arguably the Pac-12’s best backfield. Taylor led the UA running back group in total rushing yards with 828 and added seven total touchdowns. The speedster had two 100-yard rushing performances as well. This production earned Taylor a share of the Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year.
Sluggish Start - Arizona could have gotten off to a better start but the team couldn’t get out of its own way. Both September losses versus Utah and Houston at home were decided by less than a touchdown and in each game the Wildcats had a chance to win.
Rich Rodriguez swapped quarterbacks multiple times in the second half against the Cougars and neither signal-caller could deliver the winning strike, although Khalil Tate led a scoring drive in the fourth quarter before throwing an interception and getting benched.
Against Utah, then-starting quarterback Brandon Dawkins threw three interceptions and fumbled the ball in the final minutes of the game.
Lack of attendance - Despite having an exciting and very watchable team for the last two months of the season, Arizona Stadium never saw the attendance numbers increase. The homecoming crowd against No.15 ranked Washington State saw just 42,822 fans which was less than the home opener versus NAU.
The ZonaZoo struggled to fill its capacity all season, leaving the stadium with less than desired energy. However, the retainment of the student section visually seemed to be sustained throughout the game since many of Arizona’s home matchups were closely contested.
Athletic director Dave Heeke expressed that he was disappointed with the football attendance and plans to explore options in the offseason to fix the issue.
Territorial Cup - For the fourth time in the last six seasons, Arizona State won the Territorial Cup with a 42-30 win over the Wildcats in Tempe.
Despite some of the frustrating losses early in the season, this one is clearly the most upsetting for Wildcat fans. UA raced out to a 24-14 lead in the second quarter but questionable play-calling made way for Khalil Tate to further injure his already nicked-up left shoulder on a hail mary throw to end the half. Tate was only able to play one series in the second half and the rest was history. Without its best player, the Wildcats fell apart and lost their rivalry game.
Final Impressions - There was plenty to love and plenty to hate about the twists and turns of the year, some of which aren’t covered here. But, given that Arizona was picked to finish last in the Pac-12 in preseason polls, it feels like a minor miracle that UA won seven games and will play in a bowl game. In this case, the positives outweigh some of the negatives about this season.
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