University of Arizona vs Washington

Arizona head coach Jedd Fisch and his bench watch the replay during a review on a targeting call in the fourth quarter against Washington at Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Ariz., October 22, 2021.

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Every week throughout the season, we take a look back at the Arizona Wildcats’ previous game after re-watching it via the TV broadcast. Here are five key takeaways from the UA’s 21-16 loss to Washington on Friday:

1. LONG AND SHORT OF IT

UA fans were furious that Jedd Fisch called a pass play – even a theoretically safe one – when the Wildcats had first-and-10 at the UW 28-yard line with a 16-7 lead in the fourth quarter. Will Plummer didn’t see Huskies defensive tackle Tuli Letuligasenoa, who drifted into the path of Plummer’s screen pass and picked him off. Arizona had been running the ball so well, so why not stick with that? We found greater fault in a subsequent decision. After the Huskies cut the lead to 16-14, the Wildcats faced fourth-and-1 from their 34. Fisch decided to punt, not wanting to give UW the ball in field-goal range, or close to it. He should have gone for it for three reasons: (1) The psychological tide of the game had turned, and Arizona needed to seize back the momentum; (2) the Wildcats were having success in short-yardage situations with Jamarye Joiner operating as a “Wildcat” quarterback; and (3) they were trying to snap an 18-game losing streak! If ever there was a time to take a chance, that was it. The earlier fourth-and-1 in the first half, on the opening drive of the third quarter, was different. The score was 13-0 at the time. Arizona’s defense had been dominating. The tenor changed after Plummer’s pick. Fisch could have flipped it.

2. MO AND JALEN

For most of the offseason, it appeared Arizona would have two stout bookends on its defensive line in Jalen Harris and JB Brown. Late in training camp, the Wildcats added transfer Mo Diallo to compete with and/or share time with Brown. Brown then fell out of the mix because of an off-field issue. Diallo has filled the void and then some. Diallo, who made the All-MAC first team last year at Central Michigan, put together one of the most dominant performances by a UA defensive lineman in recent memory. He had eight tackles, including four stops for losses (1.5 sacks), and he did it from beginning to end. When Arizona was desperately trying to get the ball back in the final minutes, Diallo knifed inside tight end Cade Otton to record his fourth TFL. On third-and-9, Diallo shed a block and chased down Sean McGrew from behind. Harris, meanwhile, hasn’t put up the sack numbers he and others expected of him (just one so far in 2021). But he has improved significantly as a run defender. The play he made against McGrew late in the second quarter – reading the run to the outside and beating the 5-7, 180-pound running back to the perimeter – was just exceptional.

3. REPPING THE 520

It was a cool moment for the team and for Tucson when freshman running back Stevie Rocker Jr. ripped off a career-long 52-yard run in the second quarter. Rocker’s escort down the left sideline was fellow Tusconan Jamarye Joiner, who had handed the ball to Rocker on a zone-read play. The key initial block was thrown by tight end Bryce Wolma, who cut down linebacker Ryan Bowman. That enabled Rocker, who had bounced the run outside, to get to the edge. Joiner sprinted ahead of him and got a piece of UW safety Julius Irvin. Without that block, Rocker might have gained 22 yards instead of 52. Arizona doesn’t have the same type of recruiting base that, say, Arizona State does. So it’s pretty remarkable that three of its best players are from Tucson: Rocker (Canyon del Oro High School), Joiner (Cienega) and receiver Stanley Berryhill III (Mountain View). Now, if they can start landing some of the top players from right down the street at Salpointe Catholic who’ve been fleeing the state to attend national powers and Pac-12 rivals, Fisch and his staff really will have achieved something. It’s a critical next step for the program.

4. THIS TIME IT’S PERSONNEL

Each week we provide some notes on individual players, so here goes … Plummer’s performance wasn’t as bad as his numbers or Twitter suggested. Can he be better? Of course. But we see no reason to change starting quarterbacks again. The Plummer-Joiner combo can work. ... RB Jalen John gained only 65 yards on 19 carries, but we liked two things about his performance: (1) the subtle moves he made to avoid tacklers in the hole; and (2) the way he kept his legs churning at the end of runs. ... It might be time to give Joiner, Boobie Curry and Jalen Johnson more playing time opposite Berryhill. BJ Casteel, who’s in the lineup because of his experience, has a team-high six drops. ... OT Paiton Fears really struggled with the speed rush of Zion Tupuola-Fetui, who appears to be all the way back from his Achilles’ injury. ... MLB Jerry Roberts looked more comfortable and aggressive in his second start. Only one of his eight tackles was a solo, but he was around the ball constantly. ... It was shocking to see CB Christian Roland-Wallace getting beaten so regularly in pass coverage. Credit Washington for creating separation on that third-and-10 play in the third quarter. The Huskies ran a mesh concept. Roland-Wallace had to run around Otton, allowing Terrell Bynum to gain a step on him on his crossing route.

5 ‘SELF-INFLICTED WOUNDS’

In some ways, this game felt like progress. Arizona controlled the action for three-plus quarters. The Wildcats went toe to toe with a team full of future pros (even with several regulars out because of injury). While the two previous meetings were wipeouts, this one went down to the wire. In other ways, it felt like same old, same old. Arizona continued to fall victim to what Fisch and others refer to as “self-inflicted wounds.” The Wildcats were whistled for 10 penalties – a season-long problem – and some of them were absolute killers. A holding penalty on Arizona’s long drive in the third quarter turned a potential touchdown into a field goal. A foul for defensive holding in the fourth turned a potential Washington field goal into a touchdown. Having 12 defenders on the field on the game’s most important defensive play was inexcusable. In the Wildcats’ current situation – desperately seeking to an end a 19-game losing streak and lacking in difference-makers at key spots – they simply cannot afford to make so many mistakes. They have to do all the little things right. That they aren’t falls back on Fisch and his staff. Coaches often urge players to do their jobs. Arizona’s coaches need to do theirs better.

Contact sports reporter Michael Lev at 573-4148 or mlev@tucson.com. On Twitter @michaeljlev 

This article originally ran on tucson.com.

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