Analysis: Wildcats dominate line of scrimmage to run past Beavers
Arizona was likely chomping at the bit in the locker room at halftime. Despite leading the Oregon State Beavers 14-7 at the break, the Wildcats seemed to be acutely aware they had left a handful of opportunities on the field in the first half.
With 30 minutes remaining in Arizona’s Pac-12 opener, Kevin Sumlin’s squad approached the second half exactly how they should have – ready to wear their opponents to the ground.
Similar to last season’s homecoming victory at Arizona Stadium, the Wildcats leaned on their dynamic rushing attack to set the tone in this one.
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Despite Khalil Tate aggravating a left leg injury early in the game, Arizona’s offense was able to reestablish its run-heavy approach. The Wildcats totaled a season-high 442 yards on the ground, behind career games from running backs J.J. Taylor and Gary Brightwell.
Perhaps the most promising part of Sumlin’s first road win was the offense’s ability to control the line of scrimmage.
Through three games, Arizona seemingly adopted a pass-first mindset. On Saturday, it was evident that the Wildcats were committed to establishing the run game – and the devotion paid major dividends.
Saturday’s matchup kicked off amidst a steady Oregon rain, likely altering both team’s game plans slightly, but it was no secret that Arizona and Oregon State would take aim at each other’s feeble defensive fronts.
Although Arizona capitalized on a five-play, 58-yard scoring drive to start the game, its offense routinely faltered in Oregon State territory in the first half.
Managing just two touchdowns, Arizona left three scores on the field entering the locker room. Lucas Havrisik missed a pair of field goals, and Sumlin made the egregious error of letting the clock dwindle down before having Tate chuck up a hail mary – Shawn Poindexter ended up corralling a bomb down the sideline to put the Wildcats back into scoring position – and then running out of time.
Defensively though, Arizona did as good of a job as it has all season long. In the first half, a quick three-and-out, and several other brief appearances by Oregon State’s offense set the tone for Marcel Yates’ unit. The Wildcats failed to create momentum-shifting plays or pressure the quarterback until after halftime, but at least Arizona’s defenders were getting off the field.
In turn, Tate and the offense recognized their need to take advantage of increased time of possession – something notably lacking in all three previous contests.
With an increased sense of urgency, Arizona came out firing on all cylinders in the second half.
Taylor capped off a 284-yard rushing performance with a game-sealing 62-yard touchdown run with 5:26 remaining – and he wasn’t the only Wildcat to go over the century mark. Brightwell rushed for a career high 113 yards on just 13 totes.
Arizona’s impressive day on the ground proved two things: The Wildcats posses an equally talented collection of runners as compared to last season, and the offensive line has started to make strides up front.
Sound blocking and perfectly timed run-pass-option (RPO) plays set Arizona’s offense up for success on Saturday. Tate may not have excelled in any one area, but his decision-making and accuracy allowed for other players to step up and contribute in a big way.
Shun Brown and Poindexter were really the only two beneficiaries of the passing game this time around, but Tate flaunted his connection with Tony Ellison on several occasions.
Twice early in the game, Tate targeted Ellison deep down the field. In both instances, the ball was dropped precisely in a place where only Arizona’s receiver could make a play.
Unlikely drops and a flagged touchdown later in the half prevented Ellison from adding to the Wildcats offensive success, but Tate reminded onlookers that he’s developed into a more than capable passer.
Overall, Arizona took care of business on Saturday. The Wildcats extended their winning streak to two, and demonstrated – even if just to each other – that they’re capable of far greater things than they’ve currently achieved.
At home next weekend to continue its slate of Pac-12 competition, Arizona will need to build off this performance.
The Wildcats are still seeking playmakers on the defensive side of the ball, not named Colin Schooler, but if today’s game has any implications moving forward, there may be some new faces garnering attention in the near future.
Redshirt freshman defensive end Jalen Harris tallied five tackles, one of which was for a loss, and one sack. As a unit, the Wildcats defense logged more sacks (three) on Saturday than they had total (two) entering the game.
The defense might finally be trending upward after all, and now so are the Wildcats.
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