Unlike the previous six games, senior Khalil Tate started and played the whole way. Typical of his post-October 2017 career, Tate provided mixed results. He ran hard and effectively, leading the team with 78 yards on the ground. He passed for 228 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw a career-high three interceptions. Were any of them Tate’s fault? The first and second were miscommunications between Tate and his receivers – so at least partially on the quarterback. The third was not. Tate hit Bam Smith leaking out of the backfield, but the ball bounded off Smith to an ASU defender. Tate completed 57.9% of his passes and finished his career as a sub-60% passer.
The Sun Devils set out to stop the Wildcats’ run game and mostly succeeded. More than half of Arizona’s production on the ground came from Tate, mainly on scrambles. J.J. Taylor was limited to 48 yards on 14 carries and had some near-misses on passes from Tate, including one down the sideline that could have been a touchdown if it hadn’t been overthrown. Gary Brightwell had 22 yards on five carries, displaying a Taylor-like spin move in the hole. Smith’s drop was costly. The score was 13-7 at the time, and Arizona would have had a first down in ASU territory.
Jamarye Joiner had a breakout game, notching career highs in catches (seven), yards (140) and touchdowns (two). The redshirt freshman displayed toughness in traffic as well as breakaway speed. Joiner’s 140 yards accounted for 69% of Arizona’s total among wideouts and tight ends. The rest combined for 11 catches for only 63 yards. Brian Casteel had six catches, but they netted only 18 yards; he invariably had defenders draped on him in the flats. Additionally, Boobie Curry and Cedric Peterson were the intended targets on Tate’s first two interceptions. Curry wasn’t looking for the ball, and Peterson stopped running.
Multiple players returned from injury and performed admirably. Veterans Cody Creason and Josh McCauley were the biggest question marks, yet they played the entire game. Jordan Morgan and Paiton Fears returned at the tackle spots, but Morgan couldn’t last, forcing Donovan Laie – who played despite the death of his father last weekend – to shift from left guard to left tackle during the game. The overall results were varied. Tate was sacked only one time but had to scramble on multiple occasions. Aside from those scrambles, the run game wasn’t particularly effective.
A real mixed bag here. The front accounted for all three of Arizona’s sacks and all of its seven tackles for losses. Colin Schooler led that charge with 2.5 TFLs among his team-high 10 total stops. Both of JB Brown’s tackles were TFLs. Anthony Pandy was credited with a forced fumble, and Trevon Mason had the Wildcats’ lone pass breakup. However, after a strong first half, Arizona couldn’t stop the run in the second. Game MVP Eno Benjamin had 142 of his 168 yards in the second half. ASU controlled the ball and the clock, making it extremely difficult for the Wildcats to rally.
This might have been the best performance of the season by the secondary. No one had a pick or a pass breakup, but Jayden Daniels passed for only 104 yards. (Arizona’s average yield entering Saturday: 306.7.) Brandon Aiyuk had five catches for 67 yards, but he never got loose over the top. Could the defensive backs have tackled better in the second half? Definitely. But Scottie Young Jr. still had nine stops. Christian Roland-Wallace, Tristan Cooper and Lorenzo Burns each had six in a game in which ASU completed only 12 passes.
Like many of his teammates, kicker Lucas Havrisik never got into a consistent groove this season. He missed both of his field-goal attempts, from 47 and 26 yards, and those misses were costly. Had he made even one of them, Arizona would have been within one score when Tate connected with Joiner for a touchdown with 4:48 remaining. Arizona’s punting again was sporadic. Kyle Ostendorp averaged 32 yards on two punts. Matt Aragon’s lone punt went for 56 yards, but the coverage unit couldn’t keep it out of the end zone. Arizona had a deficit in average starting field position for the 11th time in 12 games.
Kevin Sumlin made the right call by starting and sticking with Tate. Sumlin’s fourth-down decisions in the first quarter were questionable. He didn’t go for it on fourth-and-3 from the ASU 29 (missed field goal) and did on fourth-and-2 from the UA 40 (turnover on downs). Noel Mazzone’s offense struggled for the third straight week. Chuck Cecil’s defense was effective in the first half but couldn’t make the necessary adjustments in the second. Jeremy Springer’s special teams continued to flounder. The Wildcats were more competitive than many thought they would be, but they still lost.