Khalil Tate set career highs in completions (24), attempts (45) and yards (341), but those were hollow numbers. For the second week in a row, he didn’t look like himself. His efficiency has been lacking under the new coaching staff (51.9 percent completion rate), and his running has been non-existent. Did an ankle injury suffered early in the first quarter hinder him? It depends on whom you ask. Tate deserves credit for playing through the injury deep into the fourth quarter. Rhett Rodriguez (4 of 5, 40 yards) looked promising in a brief, late relief appearance.
Freshman Darrius “Bam” Smith was Arizona’s most effective back, averaging 4.6 yards per carry and scoring his first career touchdown. Regulars J.J. Taylor and Gary Brightwell each averaged just 3.0 yards per attempt. Taylor didn’t see the field in the fourth quarter. Brightwell showed flashes, but his bobbling of the ball on a fourth-and-1 pitch in the second quarter resulted in a momentum-killing 9-yard loss. All the backs struggled in short-yardage situations.
This was probably Arizona’s best overall position group. Shun Brown had a career-high nine catches for 73 yards, although he also had a pair of drops. Shawn Poindexter continued to show he has arrived, posting career bests with seven catches and 134 yards. Tony Ellison had another solid performance, notching a 4-85 line, including a season-long 46-yarder. Stanley Berryhill III showed excellent hands and concentration by snatching a ball thrown behind him and turning it into a 28-yard gain. Tight ends Bryce Wolma and Jamie Nunley combined for 4-34 after getting blanked in Week 1.
Similar to Week 1, although maybe a little worse. The line again did an adequate job in pass protection. Despite facing Houston All-American Ed Oliver, and despite Tate being limited, the line did not allow a sack while Arizona’s starting QB was in the game. However, its run blocking was lacking, especially during a sequence in the fourth quarter when the Wildcats had four cracks from the UH 1 and couldn’t gain the necessary yard. The return of left tackle Layth Friekh will help, although it won’t solve all of Arizona’s problems up front.
Almost a carbon copy of Week 1, which wasn’t a performance the Wildcats wanted to replicate. Aside from MLB Colin Schooler – who compiled nine tackles, three stops for losses, two QB hurries, a safety and a pass breakup – the front simply didn’t make many notable plays. Arizona failed to register a sack for the second straight week. Kylan Wilborn (one assisted tackle) remained a non-factor. PJ Johnson being out, and Dereck Boles getting hurt, didn’t help. Walk-on Abraham Maiava, a former offensive lineman, was pressed into duty and had three tackles.
The secondary didn’t cover or tackle well, and the numbers would have been worse if the Cougars hadn’t dropped several passes. Missed tackles by Isaiah Hayes and Tim Hough led to Houston’s first touchdown. Lorenzo Burns, after a strong Week 1, committed a pass-interference penalty and allowed a touchdown. Freshman safety Xavier Bell lost track of tight end Romello Brooker, who waltzed into the end zone for a 52-yard score. Arizona again played without Jace Whittaker and Scottie Young Jr., and they were missed. One positive: Freshmen Dayven Coleman, Christian Young and McKenzie Barnes got some valuable reps.
It isn’t a stretch to say that punter Dylan Klumph was Arizona’s most effective player. Klumph averaged 42.3 yards on six punts, with one downed at the 1-yard line and another at the 5. None of the six punts was returned. Lucas Havrisik again converted 1 of 2 field-goal attempts, missing a 53-yarder and making a 49-yarder. Arizona couldn’t get anything going in the return game; Taylor and Berryhill combined to average 15.6 yards on five kickoff returns, with a long of just 20. Berryhill also inexplicably fair-caught Houston’s free kick in the fourth quarter.
Did Kevin Sumlin and his staff have the Wildcats ready to play? It’s hard to say they were adequately prepared and focused when Houston just about ran them out of the building in the first quarter. Arizona played harder and better in the second half, when the game was out of hand. Sumlin’s decision to punt on fourth-and-9 from the UA 45 with five-plus minutes left in the fourth quarter was a head-scratcher. So was Noel Mazzone’s play-calling during the goal-line sequence that preceded it. Marcel Yates’ defense failed to stop the run or pressure the quarterback.