In a season of close losses for the Arizona Wildcats, there are a handful of areas where coach Rich Rodriguez’s team could have been better through the first 10 games.
One is more glaring than the rest. Third downs, on both sides of the ball, haven’t been kind to the UA.
Exhibit A: In a 38-31 loss to USC last month, the Wildcats had a chance with 1:38 left on the clock to get the ball back and tie the game. Instead, Trojans running back Silas Redd ran for 10 yards on third-and-eight. USC took two knees after Redd’s run. Game over.
Exhibit B: In a 31-26 setback to UCLA, the Wildcats forced the Bruins into a third-and-one at their own 34-yard line. Down 24-19 at the time, UCLA freshman Myles Jack busted through the UA defense for a 66-yard touchdown to make it 31-19 in the fourth quarter. The UA got within five points, but never overcame Jack’s game-changing run.
Exhibit C: On Saturday, in a 24-17 loss to Washington State, Arizona forced the Cougars into a third-and-four from the Wildcats’ 25-yard line. Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday found receiver Isiah Myers for a touchdown with 2:15 left on the clock for the game-winning score.
You want to add insult to injury?
“We ran that (play) about 30 times this game,” Myers said of the game-winning touchdown. “If you do it over and over, it’s going to work eventually.”
Washington State was 7 for 16 on third downs in Saturday’s game. In the UA’s last two games, both losses, opponents have converted on third down 16 of 34 times, or 47 percent. In the UA’s first eight games, opponents were just converting 36 percent of the time.
“There were too many times where we let them convert on third downs and were hesitant on breaking to the ball,” Rodriguez said of the Washington State game. “We were trying to get more guys fresh to pass rush, but I didn’t think our pressure was what it needed to be. I don’t know if we have that guy that’s a scary off-the-edge pass rush guy yet.”
Offensively, the numbers are trending down in an even worse way.
In Arizona’s first seven games of the season, the Wildcats went 58 for 118 on third downs, converting 49 percent of the time. The last three games, Arizona is just 15 for 48, getting a first down just 31 percent of the time.
In Saturday’s loss, Arizona failed to convert on its final three third downs. The first one came on its second-to-last drive. Faced with a third-and-five, quarterback B.J. Denker fired a pass for Nate Phillips, but it fell incomplete.
Kicker Jake Smith was called on for a 34-yard field goal, but missed it, setting up Washington State’s game-winning drive.
On the UA’s final drive of the game, Denker was stopped on a rush on third-and-eight, before converting on fourth down. And then later in the drive, Denker again tried to run on third-and-six, but was held to a 2-yard gain.
All total, Arizona was 6 for 18 on third downs.
Top CB recruit Tabor enjoys official visit
The weekend wasn’t a total loss for the UA.
Jalen Tabor, ranked as the fifth-best cornerback recruit in the country by the Scout.com recruiting service and fourth-best by Rivals.com, said his official visit to Arizona “definitely exceeded my expectations.”
Tabor, a product of Edison-Friendship Charter School in Washington D.C., visited the UA with his high school teammate and UA running back commit Jonathan Haden.
The two arrived Thursday night and returned home Sunday morning. UA safety Will Parks and receiver Cayleb Jones hosted Tabor throughout the weekend.
“I loved it out there,” Tabor told the Star on Sunday night. “Will and Cayleb are two tremendous guys, who are like my best friends now. I got to see all the ins-and-outs of the program and just really liked what I saw.”
Tabor said Arizona is in his top four along with Maryland, Alabama and Florida. He will officially visit Alabama on Dec. 13 and Florida later that month. One of the appealing factors to Tabor of Arizona is the chance to play right away.
“I just want to help out a program and come in and work hard,” Tabor said. “I want to be there for the program from day one. I think I can come in and contribute at Arizona and be an impact player right away.”
Tabor said he will make his decision Jan. 2 at the Under Armour All-America Game in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The cornerback said a big reason he took the trip is because of Haden, who committed to the UA in May.
“He was always on my case about taking a visit,” Tabor said. “He kept telling me I wouldn’t be disappointed if I came out and he was right.
“I’m really glad I listened to him and visited.”
Oregon game at 1:30
Arizona’s game with Oregon on Saturday will kick off at 1:30 p.m., the Pac-12 announced Sunday night.
The game will be televised by ABC and ESPN2, depending on location. A viewing map will be released mid-week. The game will likely be televised locally on ABC and on ESPN2 in non-Pac-12 markets.
Game times and television plans are normally announced 13 days before kickoff, but Fox exercised its right for a six-day selection window. The network then picked the Arizona State-UCLA game for its national broadcast.
ESPN had the second pick and chose Arizona-Oregon for the 1:30 p.m., slot.
It’s the second straight day game for the UA and third in the last four weeks.
— RB Ka’Deem Carey was named the team’s offensive player of the game by Rodriguez and the coaching staff on Sunday. Freshman linebacker Derrick Turituri was named the defensive player of the game. The staff didn’t name a special teams player of the game.