Grant Gunnell is a true freshman, but he’s playing like he’s been here for a couple of years.
Gunnell, who enrolled early last year so he could learn offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone’s system, has thrived in said system thus far. He has started one game this year but has played in six games and has thrown for 1061 yards this season. He has also had nine touchdowns and only one interception.
Gunnell has made considerable strides in his pass game from the first time he played this season against Northern Arizona, in a game where he went 9-for-11 with 151 yards and three touchdowns. The biggest strides Gunnell has made this year is in his decision making, with the best example of this coming this past weekend against Oregon State.
In the fourth quarter of the game, with 6:53 left in the game, Grant Gunnell dropped back and looked at his first receiver on the left side of the field on a hitch route, who was not open. So Gunnell went to his second receiver, also unable to pull off a successful pass, then came back to the middle of the field, where he found Stanley Berryhill III across the middle of the field. Berryhill III then picked up 29 yards on the catch. This example of going through his progressions is something we haven’t seen from quarterback Khalil Tate at all, someone who picks a receiver he’s going to throw to before the play starts.
Later in that same drive, we also saw Gunnell, who has looked uncomfortable in the pocket at times this year, step up in the pocket and slip out of a sack, then take off up the right sideline before running out of bounds. This is something we typically don’t see from Tate, who has had several games this season with negative rushing yards because of the fact that he runs out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage rather than throw it away.
Now, some would say Gunnell’s youth has shown this season, and this is true because he has had throws where he either overthrows or underthrows a receiver. He could do better in the pocket sometimes, but he looks more comfortable the more he's played throughout the season, which we saw a lot this last weekend against Oregon State.
Gunnell is able to extend plays well. With 8:56 left in the third quarter last weekend, Gunnell looked to his left and didn’t find anyone open, then rolled to his right, when Oregon State defensive back Jaydon Grant was coming off the left side. As Gunnell was rolling to his right, he pointed at Cedric Peterson, who then cut back to the left. Gunnell hit him in stride and Peterson then scored from 35 yards out after breaking a few tackles. This ability to extend the play can help the Wildcats a lot, as they do have some good athletes who can make plays.
So does Gunnell deserve to start the rest of this season? Yes, absolutely, because of the fact that Gunnell’s style of play is best fit for this offense, as well as he is making strides to become one of the best pocket passers this conference has seen in a while. Arizona (4-5) needs to win two more games this season to become Bowl game eligible, and who do they have left on the schedule? Oregon, Utah and Arizona State. If Arizona wants a chance at a Bowl game this year, they need to go with Gunnell; he will give the Wildcats the best opportunity to get there.
Arizona football will play the Oregon Ducks on Nov. 16 in Eugene, Ore. at 8:30 p.m. MST on ESPN.
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