Spring practice is already underway in Tucson but it took until the end of this week for Arizona to finally have a complete offensive coaching staff.
The Wildcats announced on Saturday that Theron Aych would be taking over as the team’s new receivers coach, filling a vacancy created when Tony Dews left for West Virginia.
Aych helped provide a nice boost to the Miners’ passing game in his one season in El Paso and spent five seasons at Division II Angelo State prior to that. He served as the offensive coordinator and assistant head coach with the Rams during his five-year stint before moving up to the FBS level.
The Pac-12 is no new experience for Aych though, as he served as a graduate assistant at Washington over a decade ago.
Aych should have his work cut out for him this spring with the team featuring plenty of young players at the receiver position while also dealing with the loss of standouts like Trey Griffey and reliable veteran Nate Phillips both gone.
It’s pretty rare to say a Power Five team had no shot of beating a fellow team in their conference but based on the way things went during Arizona’s trip to Pullman on Saturday, it’s safe to say that the Wildcats stood no shot of beating a red-hot Washington State team.
That was evident if you looked at the final score, in which the Cougars won by a very nice number of 69-7 but a margin that somehow doesn’t even convey the level of beatdown that took place on the Palouse.
Consider that budding Heisman Trophy candidate Luke Falk threw for 311 yards and four scores against just three incompletions. His backup was just as effective, with Tyler Hilinski having two incompletions to match his two touchdown throws. Maybe just as surprising was the fact that a Mike Leach-coached team scored three times running the ball.
Washington State also forced three turnovers and out-gained Arizona by 328 yards.
The Wildcats probably want to avoid looking at the box score on their flight back to Tucson, as three quarterbacks went a combined 11-of-23 for 128 yards, one score and a pair of interceptions. Samajie Grant had a decent outing at least, rushing for 77 yards, but there wasn’t much to be happy about as the team remained winless in conference and have a fan base ready to run out head coach Rich Rodriguez.
The seventh win of the season for Washington State was probably their most impressive from a game-control standpoint and should help boost their ranking when the College Football Playoff Selection Committee releases their set on Tuesday. With two of their final three at home, a conference crown and Rose Bowl trip remains in the cards for the Cougars and might even be likely if they continue to play like they did on Saturday.
With four losses in a row, Arizona’s season is quickly taking on water, and this development certainly won’t help.
It’s believed that Nick Wilson sustained some sort of injury to his right knee in the Week 8 loss to USC. The specific nature of the injury hasn’t been detailed; however, head coach Rich Rodriguez indicated that it’s an injury that will sideline the running back for a significant number of games.
Wilson’s 320 yards rushing and three rushing touchdowns are tops among Wildcat backs this season. However, he’s rushed for just 66 yards the last five games — he had been dealing with an ankle issue — and doesn’t have a touchdown in that span.
Wilson’s latest injury continues the depth issues the Wildcats have experienced in the backfield. Late last month, J.J. Taylor, still third on the team in rushing with 261 yards, suffered a broken left ankle and is out for the year.
Given the injuries, Rodriguez is down to using converted wide receivers and walk-ons at the position. From 247Sports.com:
With recently converted running back Tyrell Johnson also less than 100%, wide out Samajie Grant is listed as a co-starter at running back with Zach Green. Grant had been splitting reps between wide receiver and running back the past few weeks, but all indications are that he has been getting all his reps in the back field.
Walk-on Brandon Leon is listed as the third string running back. He had his first collegiate carries late against USC, carrying 4 times for 18 yards.
Grant is currently tied for second on the team… in receptions with 19. Green’s 164 yards rushing are fifth on the team.
Arizona may be without starting quarterback Anu Solomon for the second straight week.
The school’s latest injury report had Solomon listed as questionable on Thursday heading into this week’s home game against Hawaii. That is the same status the junior signal-caller was listed with when he missed the Wildcats’ win over Grambling last Saturday.
Solomon started Arizona’s opener in a narrow loss against BYU but injured his knee in a practice two weeks ago. Redshirt sophomore Brandon Dawkins, who battled Solomon through fall camp for the job, made his first start at Arizona last week and and struggled initially before a big second half comeback. He finished the game 15-of-29 for 223 yards, throwing for a touchdown and running for two others.
Safety Tellas Jones was also listed as questionable on the injury report and could sit out his second straight game as the result of an ankle injury.
If there was any good news to come out of Thursday’s report, it was likely that receiver Nate Phillips was not listed after battling shoulder issues. His addition could provide a big boost for either quarterback given some of the Wildcats’ struggles in the passing game to begin the season.
None of it may matter with Hawaii coming to town for Arizona but then again, the Wildcats did struggle to put away Grambling last week.
If it seems like Taysom Hill has been around forever, you would not be mistaken. Saturday night’s Cactus Kickoff Classic was the fifth BYU season opener that the quarterback took a snap in and his fourth straight start in the first game of the year for the Cougars.
By all accounts however, this opener was probably the sweetest of them all for the signal-caller who graduated high school back in 2009. Hill suffered season-ending injuries in 2012, 2014 and last year but triumphantly returned to the field against Arizona to deliver a rousing 18-16 victory in the final two minutes that also doubled as head coach Kalani Sitake’s first win with the Cougars.
Hill finished the evening 21-of-29 for 202 yards and a touchdown through the air, leading his team on the game-winning drive with just 1:38 left on the clock. The quarterback built like a tank also rushed for 37 yards and provided plenty of veteran leadership on the sidelines next to first time college coordinator (and former BYU legend) Ty Detmer.
The Cougars defense also came to play, sacking Wildcats quarterback Anu Solomon four times and picking him off twice. They are active in the trenches against a young offensive line and linebacker Butch Pau’u seemed to be all over the field on his way to an eight tackle (2.5 for a loss) and one sack night.
There was a bit of mystery as to whether Solomon would start behind center for Arizona or if head coach Rich Rodriguez would opt to go with redshirt sophomore Brandon Dawkins instead. It was Solomon’s show all game long and he extended a few plays with his legs but was otherwise middle of the road until the final quarter. That’s when the team came roaring back, with the quarterback keying a crazy comeback that gave the Wildcats the lead after a 49 yard run by tailback Nick Wilson.
That late game situation put the pressure on a first year head coach in Sitake, who took over at his alma mater from now Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall. BYU had to sweat things out at the end a bit but thankfully they had Hill behind center to help calmly march the Cougars down the field.
Sitake remarkably tapped freshman Jake Oldroyd — not the team’s other kicker, Rhett Almond — for his first ever college kick to be the eventual 33 yard game-winner.
It was a extraordinary way to win your first game but it was likely just as memorable for the team’s veteran quarterback.