It was like a few short weeks ago that the Arizona Wildcats took the Washington Huskies to overtime in Tucson. Moral victories don’t count in the standings but many believed despite that loss, this team could be on to something with how they played in the game and a stretch of Pac-12 South games ahead of them.
Arizona would then go on to lose their next two games on the road to UCLA and Utah in games that showed flashes that but an injury-laden roster caught up with them over the course of the game. The Wildcats performance on Saturday in their 48-14 loss at home vs USC was one of a team that is every bit their record which is now 2-5.
Turnovers, missed tackles, missed assignments, and unnecessary penalties was the story of Arizona in this game. True freshman quarterback Khalil Tate, who played decent in his first action in previous games, really struggled in what was his first start for Arizona. He broke off some nice first half runs which moved the chains early but his decision making was not good. In the first half, he fumbled the ball on a play he probably should have slid, he turned the ball over on downs on 4th and goal from the one on a play that he clearly hesitated and the Cats had no chance and lastly, threw a first half interception where he had a wide open Trey Griffey and the ball sailed on him.
There will be growing pains when you play a true freshman and there could very well been some nerves there for Tate as he attended Serra high school in Southern California which has long been a pipeline for the Trojans and some of the best to wear their uniform. Tate going up against the team he grew up watching had to have stirred up some emotions.
This loss by no means is solely on Tate. In fact, a play that was a microcosm of this entire game happened in the first half on special teams. USC had scored their 27th point of the game on what was the first touchdown of the game for Juju Smith-Schuster (which was way too easy). On the point after that score, USC’s holder botched the snap and fumbled the ball. Michael Barton for Arizona went on to take it back the other way for two points which would have made it 27-9 mid-way through the 2nd. Instead, about 20 to 30 yards behind Barton, Aiulua Fanene laid out a USC lineman and drew a personal foul penalty that negated the two points. A completely unnecessary and undisciplined play for Arizona.
USC on the other hand looked spectacular. Juju Smith-Schuster went off for nine catches for 132 yards and three touchdowns. The Trojans are seeing success from their freshman quarterback Sam Darnold who did it with his arm and legs will looking poised when picking apart the Wildcat defense. USC was great on third down finishing the game 7-13 after starting six for their first seven. Arizona was out-gained 574-343 in total yards in the game.
One positive from this game and it has been a positive for the Wildcats to this point in the season, the aforementioned Michael Barton has been a very good player at the linebacker position for Arizona this season. The graduate transfer from California has been steady consistency for Arizona on defense and has somewhat flown under the radar. He made some nice plays defensively and on special teams and his leadership could be important to the young players on this Wildcat roster who are now in the midst of the longest losing streak of the Rich Rodriguez in Arizona.
The Wildcats will have to dig down this week in practice as Stanford comes to town for homecoming next weekend as their chances of being at least Bowl eligible are now slipping by the week.