Arizona Football: Grading the Wildcats' 2013 Season

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistDecember 4, 2013

Arizona Football: Grading the Wildcats' 2013 Season

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Arizona finished the 2013 season with the same record it had from the year before (7-5) and with the same kind of bowl prospects (probably the New Mexico Bowl again).

    But the route the Wildcats took to this point ventured along a far different path than in 2012, when they had to outscore and outlast nearly every team on the schedule just to get to what would become an eight-win season following a thrilling bowl victory over Nevada.

    There were parts of Arizona's game that were far better this season than last, while others took a significant step back in performance from the 2012 version.

    What grade does each facet of the Wildcats' 2013 team get? Click through the slideshow to find out.

Quarterback

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Season grade: B

    The expectations for senior B.J. Denker were modest coming into this season, especially after the electric numbers that Matt Scott put up in 2012. Though he saw some time as a backup last year, even starting one game when Scott sat out with a concussion, Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez often referred to Denker as a redshirt freshman because of his limited time running the offense.

    Denker came out of the gate very slowly as a passer, putting up very light numbers during Arizona's 3-0 start, then struggled in the Wildcats' first Pac-12 game. But then, he had a breakout performance in a loss to USC and, for most of the remainder of the year, was solid, if not spectacular.

    Where Denker excelled all season, though, was as a runner. He set a school record for rushing yards by a quarterback, with 898, and added 12 touchdowns.

Running Backs

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Season grade: A

    Ka'Deem Carey was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year on Monday, the result of his rushing for at least 119 yards in every game this season. The junior, who led FBS in rushing last year, sat out the first game of 2013 but still finished with 1,716 yards—to go with 17 rushing touchdowns.

    Carey was the textbook definition of a workhorse as the season wore on, carrying the ball as many as 48 times in a game and finishing the regular season with 322 carries.

    Because of how effective and durable Carey was, along with QB B.J. Denker's running ability, Arizona rarely went any deeper into its tailback collection. Senior Daniel Jenkins started in place of Carey in the season opener and ran for 139 yards and added 79 in the Wildcats' second game, but after that, he had just 29 carries for 159 yards.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

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    Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

    Season grade: B

    With Arizona breaking in a new quarterback, the hope was at least one receiver would step up and help B.J. Denker through his learning process.

    That never really happened.

    The Wildcats' receiving corps went the season without its best ball-catcher, Austin Hill, who tore knee ligaments during spring practice. Additionally, fifth-year senior WR/TE Terrence Miller's presence was almost nonexistent through the first two-thirds of the season, and he missed half the season with injuries and wasn't very effective when he returned to action.

    The biggest contributions came from a pair of true freshmen: Samajie Grant and Nate Phillips. Grant led the team with 45 receptions, while Phillips had a team-leading 502 yards and seven touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Trey Griffey emerged in the final three games, after being buried on the depth chart for much of the year.

Offensive Line

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    Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

    Season grade: B+

    The Wildcats remained mostly healthy on the offensive line this season with only one or two missed starts from the lot. And, that unit only gave up 16 sacks while blocking for a rushing attack that is currently ranked No. 12 in FBS at 265.8 yards per game.

    But, it's unfair to give all the credit to the line as QB B.J. Denker was elusive enough to dodge many other potential sacks and Ka'Deem Carey showed the ability to gain yards after contact and push the pile forward.

Defensive Line

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Season grade: B

    Arizona used a 3-3-5 defense, which on obvious passing downs converted to one that only featured two down linemen and seven defensive backs.

    As a whole, the defensive front fared far better than in 2012, simply by comparing the scoring allowed from last year (35 points per game) to this one (25). Sione Tuihalamaka was the most effective of the linemen, notching five sacks—three coming in the season-ending loss to Arizona State—and 11 tackles for a loss.

    The defense held opponents to just 39 percent efficiency on third-down conversions, with most of those failures falling on the secondary.

Linebackers

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    Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

    Season grade: B-

    Linebackers Jake Fischer, Marquis Flowers and Scooby Wright were, not surprisingly, among the top-four tacklers on Arizona's defense. 

    But, for every great open-field tackle this trio made, there were nearly as many missed ones, which led to many drives extending far longer than they should have.

    Granted, a lot was asked of Wildcats' LBs, as in the 3-3-5 formation in which they're used as much like defensive backs as those flying toward the backfield.

Secondary

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    Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

    Season grade: B-

    The Wildcats' secondary had most of the team's 16 picks for the year, but it seemed that, when they weren't able to intercept the ball, they weren't even close to knocking it away. Jonathan Knight and Shaquille Richardson, in particular, were regularly burned for big plays and long touchdowns.

    As it was in 2012, Arizona's cornerbacks were beat deep for most the season, even when the third-down "SWAT" defense would put eight defensive backs on the field.

Special Teams

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Season grade: C

    This area was, by far, the most disappointing for Arizona in 2013. To a man, hardly anybody performed with much consistency.

    Kicker Jake Smith was just 12-of-19 on field goals, missing from as close as 28 yards out and four times from within 40 yards. He also missed two extra points.

    Punter Drew Riggleman averaged 40.4 yards per kick, but that number would have been far higher if not for several shanked punts that caused the junior to revert to a rugby-style kick at times.

    And the return game was beyond awful. Muffed punts and poor decisions led to Arizona using two different punt returners and five unique kick returners, even going so far as putting backup RB Daniel Jenkins in last week.

Coaching

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Season grade: B

    With one of the best running backs in the country, it was understandable how many running plays Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez called during the season. What was baffling, though, were how many times he flat-out went away from calling Ka'Deem Carey's number, especially in tight situations or early in the game.

    The choice to have B.J. Denker move the pocket to make the run-pass option more viable was solid, though, and most of the decisions to go for it on fourth down made sense.

    Defensively, coordinator Jeff Casteel was more willing to bring the house and take chances with more experienced players this season, which enabled his SWAT defense to be successful at times. But, either he wasn't able to get across to his DBs the need to stick with their men or they weren't capable of doing so because whatever was usually called to cover the deep part of the field often failed.