It doesn’t appear that Arizona’s quarterback experiment will be ending anytime soon — even though it didn’t have the intended affect last week and the Wildcats hit the road for a Friday night game this week.
Two days after lifting Khalil Tate for a series and inserting Jamarye Joiner to try to spark the offense, UA coach Kevin Sumlin further explained the thinking behind that move. It starts with having a contingency plan in case Tate’s sore ankle worsens.
“Khalil hasn’t been 100 percent,” Sumlin said Monday. “We have to have a plan for that. What is that plan? Is it wait until he gets hurt — until he’s really hurt and can’t play? We need to have a plan, and we need to have that kind of experience.”
Sumlin and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone see great value in getting inexperienced quarterbacks such as Joiner some snaps in game situations. The freshman from Cienega High School played the third offensive series against Cal on Saturday. He rushed the ball twice and handed it off once. Joiner’s second rush, on third-and-3, lost 6 yards, forcing Arizona to punt.
Sumlin and Mazzone planned to use Joiner again in the third quarter but changed their minds because the Wildcats barely possessed the ball (3 minutes, 42 seconds in the period) and had poor field position.
With Tate being limited in practice because of his ankle, Joiner, fellow freshman Kevin Doyle and sophomore Rhett Rodriguez have gotten more reps. Joiner has impressed the coaching staff, but he isn’t the only one who has.
“He’s been working like crazy. He’s gotten better. He’s a tremendous athlete,” Sumlin said. “It gave us the opportunity not just for Jamarye but also for Kevin Doyle to get more reps and more time.
“Just because that happened the other night doesn’t mean the other quarterbacks aren’t coming along, too. We have to have a plan based on where we are in this league and who’s going to give us the best chance to win in those games.”
Sumlin wouldn’t say which quarterback is next in line for this week’s game at Utah. It’s worth noting that the Utes are No. 1 in the Pac-12 and No. 3 in the nation at defending the run.
“Going forward,” Sumlin said, “we’re going to have some more situations for (Joiner) and maybe others to play.”
Rodriguez has appeared in three games — blowout wins over Southern Utah and Oregon State and a lopsided loss to Houston. The coaching staff knows what he can do.
The staff is still trying to figure out what it has in Joiner and Doyle. The new redshirt rule — which enables players to participate in up to four games, at any point in the season, without losing a year of eligibility — allows the coaches to evaluate them in live action.
“It doesn’t hurt you at all,” Sumlin said. “What it does is give guys experience. And at the end of four games, you make that decision based on the way that year’s gone. There’s really no downside to a young guy playing right now. If we need him to be ‘The Guy,’ he’s been in those situations instead of just running him out there.”
Tate ‘doing his job’
Although he isn’t fully healthy, Tate showed a flash of his 2017 explosiveness in the fourth quarter against Cal. He pulled the ball on a zone-read play and ran for 17 yards, a season long.
The Golden Bears gave Tate opportunities to run that other teams haven’t. He rushed eight times for a season-high 40 yards (a total that includes 10 yards lost on a sack).
“I thought he was doing his job,” Sumlin said. “There have been some different defenses and different things that people have put in place. Because he hasn’t run as much, defenses have kind of changed things a little bit.
“It was very obvious versus BYU what their plan was with a spy and how they were determined to keep him in the pocket by having guys coming up the field and stopping on the edge. We saw that for a couple of weeks. As you start to develop some other things in your running game and some other attacks, you’re seeing different defenses now. He’s just got to take advantage of what he sees.”
Sumlin said Tate did a good job in that regard by pursuing the pass option in RPO plays. Twelve of Tate’s 15 completed passes were quick hitters thrown at or near the line of scrimmage. Those plays averaged 6.83 yards.
“He made some really good decisions to flip it out, and our receivers ran hard,” Sumlin said. “If you’re going to get 4, 5, 6, 7 yards, that’s just as effective as him pulling the ball.”
Long and short of it
The Wildcats have one fewer day to recover from injuries and prepare for the Utes — tasks made even more difficult because Arizona has to travel to Salt Lake City. The players also have to deal with schoolwork. The team leaves for Utah on Thursday.
“It’s a completely different schedule for us,” Sumlin said. “How you do that becomes important.”
Sumlin has personal experience with unconventional work weeks. In his first year at Houston, in 2008, the Cougars played a Thursday game against UAB. Nineteen days later, they played a Tuesday game against Marshall. In between, Houston visited SMU on a Saturday.
“We had to sit down and get a calendar together at the beginning of the year,” Sumlin said. “It’s just odd because of school and the things you don’t face on a Saturday.”
Arizona has one more Friday game this year, at home vs. Colorado on Nov. 2. The Wildcats are off the following week.
- Sumlin said left tackle Layth Friekh‘s health has been a big factor in the offensive line’s struggles the past two weeks. Friekh has been a “game-day decision” each week, Sumlin said, and his practice time has been limited. That has affected the line’s consistency, cohesion and communication.
- Sumlin praised freshman Donovan Laie, who has started at left tackle and right tackle. “To play as well as he has, I don’t think we could ask much more from a true freshman,” Sumlin said. He did note that Laie and the line struggled with late movement and edge pressure early vs. Cal.
- Sumlin said Utah has “the best defense in the league right now.” The Utes rank first in the Pac-12 in total defense, rushing defense and third-down defense. They are second in scoring defense.
- Arizona’s Oct. 20 game at UCLA will kick off at 7:30 p.m. It will be televised by ESPN2.