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The Wildcats’ first half of the season was marked by a loss to Div. I FCS Northern Arizona and injuries to two of its three scholarship quarterbacks.

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Asked to describe the winless start to the first half of the Arizona Wildcats’ season, Jedd Fisch turned to basketball.

“We’re playing with great effort … but just like Kobe Bryant (said), ‘You can go out there and try to outwork everybody, but unless your shots go in, in the end it doesn’t matter,’” Fisch said earlier this week. “At this point in time, we need our shots to fall. That’s why Kobe was so special; his shots went in.”

In other words, great effort doesn’t always translate to wins. The Wildcats have lost 18 consecutive games, but are “in great mental spirits” heading into Friday night’s matchup against Washington at Arizona Stadium, Fisch said.

The team has six games left to get back in the wins column.

“They’re very confident in the second half of the season,” Fisch said. “We talked to our team about it being halftime, and that none of us have been a part of a game in our lives that at halftime, you don’t say the score is 0-0.

“The way we look at it is we just finished the first half of the season and it is now time to go play the second half of the season.”

Here’s how the Wildcats have fared over the first half of the season, as rated by the Star’s Michael Lev, Justin Spears and Alec White:

Quarterbacks

Lev’s grade: D

Spears’ grade: D

White’s grade: D-

Comment: The Wildcats have played all three of their scholarship quarterbacks so far this season, and each one has thrown an interception that was returned for a touchdown. Gunner Cruz, a big-bodied Washington State transfer, threw his pick-six in the Wildcats’ 34-0 loss to Colorado this past weekend. Second-year freshman Will Plummer threw a pick-six in the Wildcats’ historic loss to Northern Arizona, while South Florida transfer Jordan McCloud tossed his during the UA’s road loss at Oregon. McCloud boosted Arizona’s offense when he started against the Ducks and UCLA, and had the Wildcats within a possession in the fourth quarter in both games, but five interceptions on the road and a season-ending leg injury prevented Arizona from capitalizing. Cruz suffered a season-ending thumb injury against Colorado, which leaves Plummer as the only available scholarship quarterback, with walk-ons Luke Ashworth and Brayden Zermeno as reserves. Quarterback play is essential for any successful program; at Arizona, it’s at the root of this team’s problems.

Running backs

Lev’s grade: B

Spears’ grade: B

White’s grade: B

Comment: This was a position dripping with potential and depth ever since the start of spring ball, albeit Arizona lost Gary Brightwell to the NFL draft. Returning standout Michael Wiley was named to the preseason Doak Walker Award watch list, but has posted just 185 rushing yards; his only touchdown of the year so far came on a trick play against UCLA. Although he’s questionable to play this week due to injury, Northwestern transfer Drake Anderson leads the Wildcats in rushing with 239 yards. The latest positive development from Arizona’s running back room is Oregon native and freshman Jalen John, who posted a career-high 71 yards against Colorado. Tucsonan Stevie Rocker has also entered the rotation and is the final piece of Scottie Graham’s rushing quartet. As the Wildcats continue to deal with quarterback problems, this group could be the only hope Arizona has to win a game this season.

Wide receivers/tight ends

Lev’s grade: C+

Spears’ grade: B-

White’s grade: B

Comment: The good news: Arizona tight end Bryce Wolma has the most receptions (six) in a season since his freshman year in 2017, so Fisch’s promise to incorporate tight ends more has come to fruition. The bad news? Despite having a passing offense that’s in the top half of the Pac-12, the Wildcats rank 10th in passing touchdowns. UA captain Stanley Berryhill III is Arizona’s top pass-catcher with 48 receptions; the next guy in line, BJ Casteel, has 21, with Wiley (16), Tayvian Cunningham (14) and Anderson (14) just behind.

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First-year coach Jedd Fisch is staying positive, even as the program remains mired in an 18-game losing streak that’s the longest in the country.

Offensive line

Lev’s grade: C-

Spears’ grade: D

White’s grade: F

Comment: Arizona returned all five of its starters from a year ago in left tackle Jordan Morgan, left guard Donovan Laie, center Josh McCauley, right guard Josh Donovan and right tackle Paiton Fears with center-guard hybrid Josh Baker as the “sixth starter,” but attrition and growing pains have shown through six games.

Defensive line/linebackers

Lev’s grade: C+

Spears’ grade: C

White’s grade: C

Comment: Don Brown — also known as “Dr. Blitz” — has turned the Wildcats loose on defense. “Will” linebacker Anthony Pandy leads the team with 44 tackles, while “Mike” linebacker Treshaun Hayward has 34. Hayward missed the Colorado game and will be out this week for personal reasons, but fellow transfer Jerry Roberts is expected to fill the void. Up front, Mo Diallo, Kyon Barrs, Jalen Harris and Trevon Mason have shown they are Arizona’s core in the trenches, but the Wildcats are 11th in the conference in sacks. Arizona’s front seven has considerably improved from last season, but there’s still plenty of room to improve.

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BYU wide receiver Neil Pau’u stiff-arms Arizona cornerback Isaiah Rutherford on his way to the end zone during the teams’ season opener. Rutherford, a Notre Dame transfer, has impressed alongside fellow corner Christian Roland-Wallace.

Defensive backs

Lev’s grade: B-

Spears’ grade: B-

White’s grade: B

Comment: Four of Arizona’s top 10 tacklers play in the backfield. Christian Young is operating as Arizona’s “Viper,” which is a safety-linebacker hybrid in Brown’s defense, and “CY” is third on the team in tackles and leads the Wildcats in pass breakups (four). Christian Roland-Wallace and Notre Dame transfer Isaiah Rutherford have also given the Wildcats a nice 1-2 punch at cornerback.

Special teams

Lev’s grade: D+

Spears’ grade: C-

White’s grade: D

Comment: Lucas Havrisik is the Wildcats’ long-distance kicker, with Tyler Loop as the 30-yards-and-in guy. Special teams ignited Arizona in the season-opening loss to BYU, when punter Kyle Ostendorp pinned the Cougars on the 1-yard line, which was followed up with a safety, a kickoff return by Cunningham into BYU territory and an offensive touchdown to give the UA a spark. Ostendorp leads the Pac-12 with 48.8 yards per punt. On the flip side, Arizona has given up two blocked punts for touchdowns this season. Woof.

Coaching

Lev’s grade: D

Spears’ grade: D+

White’s grade: C-

Comment: While Fisch has changed the morale of the team and is arguably recruiting better than his two predecessors, he still hasn’t won a game. The Wildcats lost to a Div. I FCS school in NAU and got shut out (by Colorado) for the first time since 2012. Fisch has the benefit of the doubt given it’s just Year 1, but he and the Wildcats’ coaching staff have their work cut out for them.

Contact sports producer Justin Spears at 573-4312 or jspears@tucson.com. On Twitter: @JustinESports

This article originally ran on tucson.com.

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