What was supposedly Arizona’s greatest area of strength turned out to be its weakest link on Saturday night, as the offense that ran for over 400 yards on Oregon State just a week ago came to a screeching halt against the Trojans. Khalil Tate and the Wildcat offense struggled to move the ball consistently, and they left with little to no answers.
Tate and the offense were almost unrecognizable from the one that was in Corvallis a week ago. The offense seemed bereft of any ideas or creativity as they struggled to put together multiple first downs against a defense that had given up more than 30 points to three of their four opponents this year: UNLV, Washington State and a Texas team that has lost to Maryland this year.
“We didn’t play hard all four quarters,” Tate said afterwards.
Those early-season woes for USC didn’t accompany the team on their short flight east as the Trojans held the Wildcats scoreless for the entire first half, leaving head coach Kevin Sumlin and his coaching staff scratching their heads as they trudged into their own locker room.
Whatever was said at halftime to the defense worked, as the Wildcats defenders looked like a completely different unit after the short break and allowed just seven points the rest of the game.
The Wildcats forced and recovered three fumbles while also putting constant pressure on USC freshman quarterback JT Daniels after he had all the time in the pocket he wanted in the first half. Arizona forced the inexperienced quarterback to make tough throws in tough situations, forcing multiple third-and-longs. That allowed Arizona to crawl back into the game like Leonardo DiCaprio crawled out of his shallow grave in The Revenant.
The Arizona offense came alive themselves a little later in the third quarter, but it was too little too late, as the damage had already been done, with the Trojans taking a 24-0 lead that they wouldn’t lose just after halftime.
The UA offense went on to score 20 straight points, making the scoreline seem closer than it actually was, while simultaneously frustrating Arizona fans even more by proving to them that the Wildcats are capable of scoring in bunches and in a hurry, making the anemic first half even more frustrating to process.
Wildcat fans aren't the only ones frustrated, as Tate brushed off certain questions about his performance from local media after the loss.
"I don't remember," Tate said when asked about the process in which an interception unfolded. Not the best answer from the leader and soul of the Wildcat offense.
If Arizona wants to salvage this season, the offense needs to be more consistent. It can’t rely solely on a quarterback who is being asked to do things which aren't his strengths. The Wildcats should start relying more on the playmakers that surround Tate to carry the load, which will force offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone to get creative in getting his best offensive players touches.
And if they continue this trend of inconsistency, forget the Territorial Cup, Arizona won’t even be playing in a bowl game if this kind of play continues. These lingering issues need to be addressed, and quickly.
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