The high point in Arizona’s season to-date is no-doubt Saturday’s big homecoming win against a ranked Oregon team. The win pulled the Wildcats to within two games of the PAC-12 South lead (although USC has the head-to-head tiebreaker). So, in an impressive victory that spanned all three facets of the game, let’s see how the Wildcat’s top prospects did on Saturday.
Khalil Tate, QB
Game Stats: 19-33, 189 YDS, 3 TD, 1 INT, 7 CAR, 26 YDS.
The Arizona offense was sparked by the return of quarterback Khalil Tate, who threw three touchdowns and led the Wildcats to their best win of the season after taking down the top-25 Oregon Ducks. The blowout win over a nationally ranked team no-doubt helps raise Arizona’s perception, but Tate’s prior struggles were still visible.
In Saturday’s win, Tate’s 57% completion percentage was right in line with his season average of 54%, and Tate still has not flashed the running ability that made him one of college football’s most exciting players last season. The Arizona quarterback has been hampered by ankle injuries all season long, but we have to assume that if Tate is playing, he is healthy. Right now, Tate is only a junior. Best case scenario – a big win over Oregon sparks a month of dominant play that peaks with a big bowl win that puts Tate into the later rounds of the draft. However, realistically, Tate has been slowed by injuries, learning a new offensive system, and even when healthy, has posted a QBR this season that is 38 points lower than last season.
Gameday Grade: B
Current Draft Stock: Undrafted Free Agent
Next Week: Khalil Tate and the Wildcats now get to host Colorado, a team that started out 5-0 before losing three straight, including blowing a 31-3 lead to basement dweller Oregon State. This, and a Buffs passing defense that is middling, could set Tate up for nice performance, and hopefully, the second win in a row.
Shawn Poindexter, WR
Game Stats: 2 REC, 30 YDS, 2 TDS
For a two-catch performance, this was about as good as Shawn Poindexter could’ve hoped. Both catches went for touchdowns, and both capped off long scoring drives of 75+ yards. The senior wideout now has four touchdowns in his last two games, and finally is starting to become a threat in the red zone after producing yards but not putting up points over the first month and a half of the season.
Poindexter has had to deal with a new offensive system, and a starting quarterback that has battled injuries and ineffectiveness, but still has managed to haul in a team-best 582 yards, also good for sixth-best in the conference. Arizona’s top receiver has recovered from a mid-season slump and is now in great shape heading into the final month of the season.
Gameday Grade: B
Current Draft Stock: 2nd Round
Next Week: The Wildcats stay in Tuscon for a week, where Poindexter has averaged a touch over 40 yards per game. A favorable matchup against a CU secondary that gives up over 260 yards per game provides Shawn Poindexter a chance for a big game next week.
Layth Friekh, OL
With Layth Friekh back in the lineup and finally looking healthy, the Arizona offensive line dominated the Oregon front seven and opened up massive holes for J.J. Taylor, who turned in his second game of the season with at least 200 yards on the ground. After a two game NCAA suspension to begin the season, and a series of ankle injuries, Friekh showed his chops in controlling an Oregon defensive line that likely features NFL talent across the board. The big tackle has shown flashes of NFL potential against Oregon State and Southern Utah, but this kind of performance against a ranked team speaks volumes. The Wildcats pummeled the Ducks on Saturday, and the running game powered by Friekh and the offensive line was the biggest reason why.
Gameday Grade: A-
Current Draft Stock: 6th Round
Next Week: It is a good thing Friekh is back and looking healthy for a showdown against Colorado in the desert. While CU has lost three straight, the defense can get after the quarterback. The Buffs lead the PAC-12 with 23 sacks on the season, and Mustafa Johnson is second in the conference with seven sacks and can play all over the defensive line. Arizona’s success on Saturday will be largely based on how Friekh and Co. can hold up against the talented Colorado pass rush.
Kylan Wilborn, DL
Game Stats: 1 Tackle, 1 Solo
After missing last week’s game against UCLA, speedster Kylan Wilborn returned to help the ‘Cats down the Ducks by chipping in a solo tackle. The win and defensive dominance help the draft stocks of all Arizona defenders, but for Wilborn, Saturday was the fourth game this season in which the edge rusher had just one tackle.
Wilborn was able to impress last season with exceptional speed from the edge, but it is looking more and more like opponents have figured out how to neutralize his trademark speed. While there was no stat sheet stuffing in the blowout (easier to do from the edge than the middle of the line), Wilborn still managed to make an impact in the game, recovering a Chacho Ulloa blocked punt and getting down to the six-yard line to set up a Josh Pollack field goal.
Gameday Grade: B-
Current Draft Stock: Undrafted Free Agent
Next Week: Colorado is in town, where the Buffs season has quickly fallen off the rails following a 5-0 start. This sets up a decent matchup for Wilborn – Buffs quarterback Steven Montez has taken 16 sacks this season, third most in the conference. If Arizona can get an early lead, Wilborn could unleash his speed and get to the quarterback if Colorado is forced to throw the ball to try to get into the game.
Dereck Boles, DL
Game Stats: 4 tackle, 4 solo, 1 Tackle For Loss
Defensive tackle Dereck Boles has been a machine over the past five weeks. Arizona’s most productive lineman registered four stops, all solo, and had a tackle for a loss for the second week in a row. Boles consistently stuffed Ducks running backs at the line of scrimmage, helping the Wildcat defense hold Oregon to 84 rushing yards – more than 100 yards below the Ducks average coming into Saturday’s game. While the Arizona defense is one of the worst in the conference, Boles has been productive and playing well all season, and is ready for the NFL. Boles only has one sack this season but has been able to control the line of scrimmage and fill running lanes – something that will be big at the next level.
Gameday Grade: A-
Current Draft Stock: 5th Round
Next Week: After an impressive win over Oregon, Boles welcomes a Colorado team that averages a healthy 177 yards per game on the ground. While this is only the sixth best in the 12-team conference, the Buffs are second in the PAC-12 with 17 rushing touchdowns and Travon McMillian ranks fifth with 778 yards – so Boles and the defense will have their hands full.
Jace Whittaker, CB
Game Stats: Did not play
Cornerback Jace Whittaker missed his ninth game of a 2018 season that is now halfway over for Arizona. Surprisingly, Arizona was able to shut down the Oregon passing game without its top cornerback, but it shouldn’t take away the impact that a cover corner who can also line up as a safety over the top can have on the season. Whittaker has only seen action in one game, and with the new NCAA rules, there is a possibility that Kevin Sumlin could make this into a redshirt year and return next season with a healthy Khalil Tate on offense and a top cornerback to lead the defense.
Gameday Grade: Incomplete
Current Draft Stock: Incomplete
Next Week: Colorado receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. leads the conference with 780 yards, even though he has not played in the last two weeks. Shenault is exactly the big-bodied receiver that can give any secondary nightmares, so Whittaker can make a big statement if he can return next week and shut the door on the CU passing attack.