The Wildcats found a way to win a must-win game against California, this time fueled by a defense that stepped up to force four turnovers. Offensively, Arizona continued to struggle, and with the season now halfway over, let’s take a look at how the Wildcats draft prospects have fared this season.
Khalil Tate, QB
Game Stats: 15-25, 141 YDS, 1 TD, 1 INT, 8 CAR, 40 YDS
Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate’s disappointing season continued with Saturday’s effort in a win over California. A year after being a focal point and offensive juggernaut in the Wildcat offense, Tate has been mired in a season-long slump that has been one of the surprising stories of the season.
Part of this can be attributed to a lingering ankle injury (that was aggravated after a sack on Saturday), a new coach and playbook to learn, and an offensive line that had to be pieced together before Layth Friekh returned in week three.
However, the Wildcat offense has been inconsistent all season and it is on Tate to keep the Arizona offense moving up and down the field. While the Wildcats have gone 3-1 in the last month to help offset a 0-2 start, Tate has not been the driving force behind the turnaround.
For the better part of the last month, and again on Saturday, Tate played the role of game manager and the Golden Bear defense held the dual-threat quarterback to 181 total yards. At this point, Tate’s slow start and pedestrian stats have moved the Arizona product towards the bottom of most draft boards, if not off completely.
Game Day Grade: C-
Current Draft Stock: 7th Round
Next Week: Khalil Tate takes the Wildcats into hostile Eccles’ Rice Stadium to take on the Utes in a prime-time game with PAC-12 South implications. Utah has held opponents to 17.2 points per game and is coming off an impressive win against Stanford. After struggling against USC and California, Tate absolutely needs to have a big game if the Wildcats want to move ahead in the South.
Shawn Poindexter, WR
Game Stats: 3 REC, 16 YDS
Khalil Tate’s offensive struggles have started to affect the other pieces of the offense, starting with the normally-productive Shawn Poindexter, who registered his second lackluster game in a row after a hot month to start the season. Poindexter still has the size and speed combination to succeed in the NFL, but playing against subpar Trojan and Golden Bear defenses have net the receiver only five catches for 38 yards.
While Arizona’s biggest threat downfield has been struggling to maintain offensive production as Tate and the offense has found itself in a slump, it is important to remember that Poindexter also has to play with a new head coach and playbook as well. When the Arizona offense struggles as it has for the past two weeks, impressive stats will be harder to come by.
Game Day Grade: C-
Current Draft Stock: 2nd Round
Next Up: Saturday’s game against Utah represents a major chance for Poindexter to remind NFL execs that he can still impact the game at the next level. The Utes give up just over 220 passing yards each game, so how Poindexter matches up cornerback Jaylon Johnson is a good measuring stick for things to come.
Layth Friekh, OL
For the second week in a row, Layth Friekh and the Wildcat offensive line turned in a middling effort, this week against a much less talented California defensive front. Arizona was able to churn out a productive 130+ yards on the ground, but the Golden Bears are winless in conference play and were coming off a week in which Oregon put up 42 points, so more production was expected from Friekh and co.
It is unfair to place offensive struggles solely on the offensive line with a new head coach and a struggling quarterback, but the Arizona offense has struggled to control the line of scrimmage, and has been streaky all season.
Game Day Grade: C+
Current Draft Stock: 7th Round
Next Week: For the Wildcat offense, the going does not get easier and Friekh is now tasked with stopping Utah defensive end Bradlee Anae, who is fourth in the PAC 12 with four sacks. As a team, the Utes have a sixth-best 12 sacks, so Friekh has a chance to show how he holds up against a defense that can get after the quarterback.
Kylan Wilborn, DL
Game Stats: 1 tackle, 1 solo
Defensive end Kylan Wilborn did not stuff the box score with eye-popping numbers, but has steadily contributed over the last three weeks. The sophomore has had three productive games and two that have been nonfactors, so Wilborn’s season has been a mixed bag, and thus, his draft stock has hardly moved.
While Wilborn wowed last season, the NFL is a performance-based league, and the edge-rusher needs to consistently impact games to show that he is ready for the next level. I think that there is an NFL roster spot for Wilborn, he has the speed and length on the edge to get after the passer, but needs show more than he has this season to get the chance to prove himself.
Game Day Grade: C
Current Draft Stock: 6th Round
Next Week: Arizona is known for its offense, so a nationally televised game against PAC-12 South foe Utah represents a golden chance for Wilborn and other Arizona defensive draft hopefuls to step up. The Utes are averaging 177 yards on the ground, so Wilborn and the defensive line have a big chance to improve their collective draft stock.
Dereck Boles, DL
Game Stats: 4 tackle, 3 solo
300-pounder Dereck Boles had a second productive week in a row from the interior of Arizona’s defensive line. Arizona’s most polished defensive lineman again came up big for the second week in a row, stopping Brandon McIlwain and turning the Golden Bears over on downs on the three-yard line. As the conference schedule has ramped up, Boles has upped his game and worked to show that he is ready for the next level.
At 306 pounds, Boles has the size for the NFL and over the past two weeks, he has shown that he also has the quickness to succeed at the next level. Arizona is a school not known for producing defensive talent, so it is that much more important for Boles to maintain his production to raise his draft stock over the second half of the season.
Game Day Grade: A-
Current Draft Stock: 5th Round
Next Week: Dereck Boles and co. now are tasked with stopping Utah running back Zack Moss, who ranks fifth among the PAC 12 rushing leaders. However, the Utes are 11th in the 12-team conference with 389 yards per game, so expect Boles to keep production up.
Jace Whittaker, CB
Game Stats: Did not play
Cornerback Jace Whittaker missed his sixth game of a 2018 season that is now halfway over for Arizona. Whittaker has not suited up for the last three games, so it is mostly guesswork to when the talented defensive back will return to the field.
The Wildcats are 3-3, but have a pair of single-score losses to USC and BYU. It begs the question, if Whittaker is healthy and playing all season, what might the Arizona season look like?
Game Day Grade: Incomplete
Current Draft Stock: Incomplete