NCAA Sports

Cats Stats: Arizona has improved in some areas at season’s midpoint — but not nearly enough

How did the Arizona football program get into this mess? There are myriad reasons, from coaching to recruiting to culture.

Those aspects are all difficult to quantify, aside from that pesky win-loss record. We’re all about the numbers here at “Cats Stats,” so we’re going to dive into some important ones that defined the first half of the Wildcats’ season.

Arizona is 0-6 — and seeking to end an 18-game losing streak, the nation’s longest — heading into Friday night’s game against Washington. The following figures help explain how the Wildcats got here. Two notes about these five sets of numbers: (1) The first three revisit stats we deemed critical before the season; and (2) they’re not all bad!

1. Turnover margin

Arizona had a minus-9 turnover margin last season, tied for worst in the Pac-12. Through six games this season, the Wildcats are … minus-9 and last in the conference.

Arizona has the most giveaways (14) and is tied for the fewest takeaways (five). It’s a major problem.

Interceptions by a struggling quarterback corps account for 11 of the giveaways. None of the Wildcats’ passers — Gunner Cruz, Jordan McCloud, Will Plummer — has a positive touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Arizona’s takeaway total is mildly disappointing given the basis of Don Brown’s scheme is generating pressure (more on that to come).

A case could be made that safeties and fourth-down stops should count in the takeaway column. If you add those to the mix, the Wildcats would have twice as many takeaways.

“It doesn’t go down … as a turnover, but it’s a stop,” Brown said Tuesday. “If those were part of the package, that would help us.”

But that goes both ways. Arizona has been stopped on fourth down six times. The Wildcats have 16 fourth-down attempts, third most in the Pac-12.

2. Sack differential

Arizona once again is in the red in this department.

The Wildcats have eight sacks for a total of 41 yards in losses. Their opponents have 16 sacks worth 116 yards in losses.

The difference in yardage shouldn’t be overlooked. It translates to 12.5 yards per game. For a downtrodden team that needs every edge it can find, that’s significant.

Cruz is the most-sacked of the quarterbacks — nine times in 93 pass attempts vs. seven in 143 for the other two — a reflection of Cruz’s propensity to hold onto the ball too long. He and McCloud are out for the season because of injuries.

The eight sacks by the UA defense represent legitimate improvement. The Wildcats had just two sacks in five games last season.

Arizona has 28 total tackles for losses, putting the Cats on pace for 56. We’d also put that figure in the mildly disappointing category considering that Arizona had 25 TFLs last season (which would be 60 in 12 games), 60 in 2019 and averaged 75 across the previous two seasons.


Editor’s note: Each week throughout the football season, we’ll take an in-depth look at the Arizona Wildcats from a statistical perspective.

3. Yards per pass attemptThe Wildcats are averaging 5.9 yards per attempt, which is up slightly from last year’s 5.6 – but well below the top passing attacks in the nation. The top 28 quarterbacks in efficiency rating all average at least 8.0 yards per attempt.

In the five games that preceded the losing streak, UA passers averaged 9.1 yards per attempt. They’ve been below 7.0 ever since.

Unsurprisingly, McCloud has the highest average this year at 6.7. Cruz is next at 5.8, and Plummer is third at 5.4.

What’s interesting about that is that McCloud has an ADOT (average depth of target) of just 6.2 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. His average per attempt is higher because he passed with accuracy, timing and rhythm before getting hurt.

Cruz has an ADOT of 5.2 yards. His completion percentage is almost on par with McCloud’s (65.6 vs. 66.7). But Cruz’s unwillingness to take chances downfield has tamped down his average per attempt.

Plummer has the highest ADOT by far – 11.0 yards. He also has the lowest completion percentage (50.7). Hence the reason he’s last among UA quarterbacks in average per attempt.

4. Yards allowed per gameThe Wildcats have improved substantially here. They’re allowing 372 yards per game, which ranks fifth in the Pac-12.

The last time Arizona ranked higher than eighth in the conference was 2010 (when it was still the Pac-10). That also was the last time the Wildcats allowed fewer than 400 yards per game for a full season.

Despite yielding less than 400 to four of its first six opponents — something Arizona did only once over the previous two seasons — the Wildcats have yet to win a game.

“We’re not doing our job because we’re not winning. That’s the only thing that matters,” Brown said.

“But I’m also going to say this: Progress has to come before W’s, and we are showing progress.”

Arizona is allowing 5.9 yards per play. The last time the Wildcats held the opposition to fewer than 6.0 over a full season was 2018. If they can keep that up, it ought to translate into a win or two at some point … right?


San Diego State linebacker Caden McDonald sacks Arizona quarterback Will Plummer during the Wildcats’ home opener.

Kelly Presnell, Arizona Daily Star

5. Red-zone touchdown percentage

Well, not if this doesn’t get fixed.

Arizona is last in the Pac-12 in red-zone TD rate by a mile. The Wildcats have converted just five of their 20 trips inside the 20-yard line — 25% — into touchdowns. Washington State, which is 11th in the conference, is at 50%.

Arizona’s overall red-zone scoring rate — TDs plus field goals — is 65%. Eight teams in the league have higher touchdown percentages.

Last week’s game at Colorado didn’t help. Arizona went 0 for 2 in the red zone. The second trip was relatively insignificant; it came on the Wildcats’ last possession of the game, when they were down 34-0 and faced fourth-and-12 at the CU 20. Jedd Fisch elected to go for it, and Plummer couldn’t connect with Jalen Johnson on a pass to the end zone.

The previous trip might have swung the game. Arizona had first-and-goal at the 1 in the second quarter and couldn’t score.

“We gotta execute,” offensive coordinator Brennan Carroll said. “We had some missed assignments down there that you can’t have.

“As long as we can execute in the red zone, I think we’ll have a shot. In critical situations, we haven’t had the execution we needed.”

It’s been an all-too-familiar refrain.

Depth-chart update

Arizona released an updated depth chart Tuesday.

Plummer is listed as the No. 1 quarterback. He is backed up by walk-ons Luke Ashworth and Brayden Zermeno.

Jalen John, who had a career-high 71 rushing yards at Colorado, is listed as the No. 2 tailback behind Michael Wiley. Drake Anderson has been dropped to fourth. He’s a game-time decision (shoulder).

Second-year freshman Josh Baker, who started at right guard vs. the Buffaloes, is listed as the second-team center behind Josh McCauley. McCauley is also a game-time decision vs. Washington.

Middle linebacker Treshaun Hayward, who didn’t play at Colorado because of what Fisch deemed “personal reasons,” isn’t listed on the depth chart. Hayward started the first five games.

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