Will Plummer was off to a promising start before making a fatal mistake. He had completed 15 of 21 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown before throwing a pick-six with less than two minutes remaining in the first half. The Wildcats’ lead shrunk from 13-0 to 13-7, and the Lumberjacks were emboldened. Plummer completed only 2 of 7 passes for 17 yards in the second half, including another interception that got him benched. Jordan McCloud entered in the fourth quarter and led a TD drive. Under intense pressure, he couldn’t complete the 2-point conversion that would have tied the game. He finished 6 of 7 for 66 yards.
Running room was difficult to come by, especially in the first half, when Arizona had just 22 yards on 13 attempts. Drake Anderson and Jalen John found some creases in the second half; they finished with a combined 109 yards on 17 rushes. Michael Wiley lost a fumble in the second quarter and wasn’t heard from again. Wiley was fighting for extra yards, but RB coach Scottie Graham appears to have a zero-tolerance policy for fumbles.
Stanley Berryhill III continued his stellar play; his 11-catch, 94-yard effort marked the second time in three games he has caught 11-plus passes. Boobie Curry had a career game, hauling in all three of his targets for 55 yards and scoring both of Arizona’s touchdowns. BJ Casteel had an early drop but still caught 4-49. Bryce Wolma had just one catch for 7 yards, and the TE group has to bear some of the blame for the run-blocking woes.
Run blocking was more of an issue than pass blocking in this one. Arizona finished with 106 net rushing yards against a defense that was allowing 221.5 per game. For the most part, the Wildcats couldn’t run when they wanted to – an indictment on the offensive line. Left-side veterans Jordan Morgan and Donovan Laie were healthy enough to start and play almost every snap, but lingering lower-leg injuries might be hampering their effectiveness.
The front produced six tackles for losses, including one sack – disappointing totals against an NAU offense that was scuffling entering the game. The Lumberjacks totaled 148 yards on the ground, although it took 45 attempts to get there. The biggest issue was stopping bruising RB Kevin Daniels, who accumulated 77 of his 127 yards in the second half. LB Treshaun Hayward led the group with eight tackles, including two TFLs. The front was missing veteran DT Trevon Mason, who was out because of an undisclosed injury.
Arizona allowed 92 passing yards, so it’s hard to ask for too much more from the secondary. The only truly costly breakdown happened in the fourth quarter, when Hendrix Johnson came free in the end zone for a 9-yard TD. CB Christian Roland-Wallace continued his strong play, totaling seven tackles, a TFL and an interception. Safety Jaxen Turner was having his best game of the season (four tackles, one forced fumble) before being ejected for targeting. CB Isaiah Rutherford had a fumble recovery and a pass breakup.
This unit produced mostly positive plays, but it wasn’t flawless. The highlight was Berryhill’s 51-yard punt return in the first quarter. Lucas Havrisik returned to the primary placekicking role and made all of his attempts (two field goals, one PAT). He also had three touchbacks in four kickoffs. Punter Kyle Ostendorp averaged 48.8 yards, including a 64-yarder. But his ratio of punts landed inside the 20 to touchbacks was just 3-4 – four missed opportunities to pin NAU deep in its own territory.
It’s as simple as this – you can’t lose to NAU. Period. Although Arizona struggled to run the ball, it’s fair to question Jedd Fisch’s game plan, which yielded 41 pass attempts and 27 rushes (43 and 25 if you adjust for sacks). The team never seemed to fully recover after Plummer’s pick-six late in the first half; it’s on the coaches to ensure that doesn’t happen. Whatever Fisch was trying to accomplish on the 2-point conversion play didn’t work. Nor did the subsequent onside kick attempt.