Arizona game plans to perfection in 28-14 win over Texas Tech
Saturday in Tucson was not a matter of everything going right for Arizona. Instead, it was a matter of Arizona doing everything right as the Wildcats overpowered visiting Texas Tech, 28-14.
Arizona (2-1) rushed for more than 300 yards and converted on 14-of-20 third downs. The defense held Texas Tech’s fuel-injected offense to 14 points, limiting the Red Raiders to just over 25 minutes of possession. It was as if Arizona pulled a George Costanza and defied every natural instinct to instead do the ‘opposite’.
Arizona withstood a monsoon of criticism in the first three weeks of the season, with a rough loss at Hawaii and a ho-hum win over FCS school Northern Arizona. Notably, Defensive Coordinator Marcel Yates was at the center of attention, with Arizona’s defense giving up an average of 43 points and 518 yards against two non-Power 5 programs.
Against Texas Tech, things just clicked.
More importantly, the game plan was masterful; a word not loosely thrown around in these parts.
Defensively, yes, the Wildcats used a 3-man front for the majority of downs. However, rather than playing on their heels all night, Arizona instead was on the attack. The Wildcats ruthlessly blitzed from all directions, they used a Cover 1 scheme with defensive backs in tight, on-the-line-of-scrimmage, man coverage, they dropped out of blitz looks to a combination of man coverage underneath and 2 and 3 zone coverage over the top, they swarmed to the football in defending Texas Tech’s short passing game, they tackled in the open field, they stuffed the run, and they actually pressured the quarterback.
Arizona’s defensive performance has the late Dick Tomey applauding somewhere for sure. In fact, it was a great way to honor the legacy head coach who embraced Kevin Sumlin to Tucson the way basketball coaching legend Lute Olson has embraced Sean Miller in the Old Pueblo.
Offensively, Arizona played to win the football game, not fill up the stat sheets and make highlight reels. Amazingly, Arizona’s pound-it-out offensive football still filled up the stat sheet and produced memorable moments that will be showed and talked about on airwaves this upcoming week.
Despite throwing two interceptions and fumbling away the football on a botched R.P.O exchange, Khalil Tate threw for 185 yards and rushed for a game-high 129 yards. In doing so, Tate become only the second quarterback in Pac-12 history to pass for more than 5,000 yards and rush for more than 2,000 yards in his career, joining former Oregon Duck Marcus Mariota. Tate’s highlight moment came on an 84-yard touchdown run that showcased his speed as Tate split two defenders who each had the angle on him. Tate’s evolution moment came on a critical drive late in the game and the Wildcats holding a narrow 20-14 margin.
Following a Texas Tech punt that pinned the Wildcats on their own 1-yard line, Tate led Arizona on a 16-play, 99-yard scoring drive to put the Red Raiders on ice for good. The beauty of the drive, in addition to the distance, was the fact all 16 plays were rushes that helped the Wildcats milk seven minutes and ten seconds off the clock.
In fact, Arizona’s final two scoring drives went for a combined 27 plays, 186 yards and thirteen minutes and twenty one seconds.
Texas Tech’s Alan Bowman entered the game throwing for nearly 700 yards in two victories. Against Arizona, Bowman did not disappoint with 311 pass yards and touchdown. However, his 30-for-55 passing effort was far from the model of efficiency he was experiencing prior to visiting Tucson. Similarly, Saturday night’s 104 rush yards by the Red Raiders was literally half of their season average.
The Wildcat defense forced Bowman into two interceptions and had seven pass break ups. That makes eight interceptions through three games, which is now two more than Arizona had in all of 2018.
Tony Fields led Arizona with nine tackles, while Lorenzo Burns was easily Arizona’s defensive player of the game with six tackles, an interception and three pass break ups.
For all the complaints the Wildcats have heard and read since the start of the season, Saturday’s win had to feel a bit like redemption. Yates looked intensely focused on the sidelines, Head Coach Kevin Sumlin looked unfazed – even when things did not go Arizona’s way – and the players delivered on an offensive and defensive scheme that was designed to produce results.
Up next, Arizona continues its three-game home stand when the Wildcats kickoff conference play against UCLA on September 28. Normally, a bye week after a performance like tonight’s is not ideal. However, game film to analyze what worked against Texas Tech and an extra week of preparation for a must-win Pac-12 game might be just the thing Arizona needs to not ride too high on its horse and focus on turning in another effort like the one they did against the Red Raiders.