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Arizona’s first win of the season featured a much-improved offense and plenty of strong performances on both sides of the ball. With conference play right around the corner, let’s take a look at players expected to make the most noise this season, hand out game day grades, and check draft stock.

Khalil Tate, QB

Game Stats: 13-20, 349 YDS, 5 TD, 4 CAR, 18 YDS

Khalil Tate, like so many other Wildcats, found a consistent offensive rhythm over the course of lighting up the lower-level Thunderbirds for 62 points. Among Tate’s highlights: career-highs in yards, TDs, and a much-improved 13 completions over 20 passes.

The Arizona quarterback showed poise in the pocket and an ability to stretch the field, as well as a deep touch on a 75-yard scoring strike to do-everything receiver Shawn Poindexter. We still haven’t seen much from Tate in the rushing department, but a first-quarter fumble followed up by a 21-yard scamper could be a sign that Tate’s legs are heating up ahead of conference play.

While the Wildcats have yet to beat a Power 5 team or win a road game, Tate looked like a next-level quarterback, and two early-season losses can easily be dismissed with a complete body of conference work, starting with a trip to Corvallis next week.

Game Day Grade: A  

Current Draft Stock: 5th Round.

Shawn Poindexter, WR

Game Stats: 1 REC, 75 YDS, TD

Tate’s favorite target, Shawn Poindexter, didn’t have a great statistical game, but in a 31-point laugher, the 6’5” matchup nightmare didn’t need to. Poindexter has been the Wildcats most consistent deep threat and hauled in his only catch for an over-the-shoulder 75-yard touchdown, his first of the season.

Poindexter has always had NFL-ready size and has only improved his draft stock by averaging a career-best 23.1 yards per catch. The lack of touchdowns is somewhat concerning, but Poindexter’s size, speed, and deep play ability have the Arizona receiver a firm second-round pick. If Poindexter can continue this production against a conference slate of opponents and the Wildcats can scratch out six wins, the first round awaits.

Game Day Grade: B+

Current Draft Stock: 2nd Round

Layth Friekh, OL

Layth Friekh returned from a two-game suspension, the same week the Wildcats exploded for 62 points. Some of this is due to playing an FCS opponent at home, but for what is it worth, the Arizona offensive line played it’s best game of the season. They could be coming together just in time for conference play.

The season-high 268 rushing yards speaks volumes about the way Friekh and co. can take care of business when playing up to potential. Friekh only has one game under his belt this season, and playing lower-level Southern Utah probably won’t move the draft needle very much. The most important thing, Arizona gets its first win of the season. The lengthy, 6’5” Friekh can move well, but at under 300 pounds, is undersized for the NFL right now.

Game Day Grade: A

Current Draft Stock: 6th Round

Kylan Wilborn, DL

Game Stats: 4 tackle, 4 solos, 1 sack, 2 TFL

Last year’s freshman phenom Kylan Wilborn showed signs of breaking out of a sophomore slump with a season-best four solo stops. The Wildcats defense shutout the Thunderbirds in the first and third quarter, and Wilborn added his first sack of the season to go with two tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

The second-year defensive end has an impressive body of work from a season ago and can easily make NFL execs forget about a two-game slump to start the season with consistent production over PAC 12 play. Last year’s breakout season only helps Wilbron jump back into the draft, especially with the importance of edge players who can get after the quarterback at the next level.

Game Day Grade: A

Current Draft Stock: 6th Round

Dereck Boles, DL

Game Stats: 2 tackle, 1 solo

Dereck Boles and the Arizona defense has been disappointing so far to start the season, with a streakiness that can be frustrating. The Wildcats shutout Southern Utah in the first and third quarters, but the Thunderbirds scored 17 points against the starters in the second quarter, tying the game before the Arizona offense took control.

Boles had two tackles one of them a solo stop but was part of a defensive front that gave up 193 yards on the ground. This continues a disturbing trend of giving up way too many yards on the ground. It’s good the Wildcats picked up the first win of the 2018 season, but the defense needs to improve in a big way for Arizona to find success in the PAC 12 South.

Game Day Grade: C+

Current Draft Stock: 7th Round

Jace Whittaker, CB

Game Stats: Did not play

Cornerback Jace Whittaker missed his third game to open the season with an undisclosed injury. The Wildcats were able to pick up the win in his absence, but the secondary gave up 270 yards a week after Houston quarterback D’eriq King had a four-touchdown day.

The defense has been iffy at best, giving up over 34 points per game. Next week’s conference opener at Oregon State probably won’t be too much of a test, but if Whittaker misses extended time, it could be a long season for Arizona. The smaller, speedy Whittaker can play both as a safety and as a cornerback, but has not played all season and is most likely a late round pick until scouts see him in action.

Game Day Grade: Incomplete

Current Draft Stock: Incomplete

Henry Rounds

Author Henry Rounds

23 year-old from Pasadena who is an aspiring sports writer. I am a big football, baseball, basketball fan who loves the Dodgers and spending time outdoors.

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Sports Al Dente 2019

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