You can’t ask for much more out of Brandon Dawkins, who responded to widespread criticism with a signature performance. Dawkins accounted for six touchdowns, completed 85.7 percent of his passes and generally took what the defense gave him. Freshman Rhett Rodriguez entered in the fourth quarter and had some trouble handling the ball (lost fumble). Freshman Donavan Tate made his UA debut and directed a TD drive.
The five running backs Arizona used combined for 196 rushing yards – but their 4.1-yard per-carry average paled compared to Dawkins’ 9.5. For the most part, the backs simply didn’t have a ton of room to run. However, they helped move the chains and set up Dawkins’ passes and outside runs. J.J. Taylor led the group with 55 yards on 12 carries and hauled in his first career receiving touchdown. Freshman Nathan Tilford recorded the first two TDs of his career.
Comment: Freshman tight end Bryce Wolma led the team with six receptions, giving him 11 catches in the past two games. He also scored his first career touchdown. Tyrell Johnson had a career-high four catches for 45 yards and provided a perimeter threat on jet-sweep shovel passes. After struggling with drops the previous week, Shun Brown caught a 36-yard touchdown. TE Jamie Nunley recorded his first two career receptions.
As UA coach Rich Rodriguez noted, the blocking was lackluster for much of the first half. Taking out Dawkins’ 35-yard run, the Wildcats gained only 84 yards on 24 first-half carries. But Arizona eventually wore down UTEP and finished with 326 yards on the ground. The line surrendered only one sack and generally gave Dawkins a clean pocket.
Arizona sent waves of players at overmatched UTEP and limited the Miners to 17 rushing yards and 218 total yards. Freshman linebacker Colin Schooler forced a fumble and returned an interception 53 yards to set up a touchdown. Fellow freshman ’backers Tony Fields II and Anthony Pandy (in his college debut) recorded sacks. Freshman JB Brown, making his UA debut, was credited with two QB hits. The defensive front combined for five of Arizona’s season-high seven tackles for losses.
On the rare occasions the Miners did move the ball, they did it through the air. But UTEP’s quarterbacks were far from efficient, completing only 18 of 39 passes for 201 yards. Cornerback Jace Whittaker led the team with five tackles and three pass breakups. Safety Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles recovered a fumble, giving him four takeaways in three games.
Brown’s brilliant 63-yard punt return for a touchdown delivered a dagger late in the second quarter, putting Arizona up 28-0. Otherwise, the special teams’ performance was just OK. Jake Glatting averaged only 27.5 yards on two punts. Lucas Havrisik couldn’t sustain his touchback pace on kickoffs, going 3 for 8, although the wind had something to do with that. The Wildcats limited the Miners to less than 20 yards per return.
The Wildcats did what they were supposed to do, easily dispatching an inferior opponent. Their offensive game plan was relatively conservative but ultimately effective. Rodriguez went for it on fourth down four times, converting all of them. Did he leave his offensive starters in too long? Dawkins and injury-prone tailback Nick Wilson played into the fourth quarter, with Arizona leading 49-16.