After one of the best all-around efforts in recent Arizona football history, it’s hard to find fault. The Wildcats excelled in just every area across all four quarters in Saturday’s 44-15 victory over then-No. 19 Oregon.
But it wasn’t a perfect performance. It’s Kevin Sumlin’s job to figure out where his team can get better. That thought process was on his mind when he met the media Monday amid preparations for Friday night’s game against Colorado.
The most obvious place to look is the offense. Yes, the Cats scored 44 points. They easily could have had more.
Arizona took the ball away from Oregon twice in the first half and blocked a Ducks punt. The Wildcats’ worst field position on the ensuing possessions was their 49-yard line. Their best was the Oregon 6. All three drives ended in field goals instead of touchdowns.
“We’d like to get seven instead of three … off of any sudden-change or turnover situation,” Sumlin said.
“That’s something we’re aware of and we need to improve.”
Quarterback Khalil Tate, back in the lineup after a one-week absence to rest his sore ankle, completed 57.6 percent of his passes. That figure also could have been better.
Several times Tate tried to hit home runs when he could have settled for singles or doubles. The coaches continue to work with Tate on “just taking what the defense gives you,” Sumlin said.
“We had some underneath things,” Sumlin said. “He understands that.”
Tate’s accuracy was inconsistent, perhaps a byproduct of missing almost two full games. (Tate sat out the final two-plus quarters at Utah.) One example: His 17-yard completion to Thomas Marcus Jr. late in the first quarter might have been a touchdown if it had been thrown in front of him.
It was another aspect of that play that provided Sumlin with another teachable moment. The reception was the first of Marcus’ career. Sumlin thought the freshmen could have done a better job of securing the ball after the catch.
He spoke to Marcus about it soon after.
“It’s not like high school anymore,” Sumlin said. “You’re in the teeth of the defense. You need to put that ball way.
“He’s a big, strong guy. He can run. He’s gotta learn right there, you’ve got a first down. You can look to go, but right in the middle of the defense you need to cover that ball up, because he was swinging it everywhere.”
Turnovers could swing Friday’s game. The Buffaloes have a league-best plus-7 turnover margin. The Wildcats are plus-2. They’ve had a plus-2 edge in each of their past two victories.
Win for recruiting, too
The victory over Oregon could have a positive side effect: It might be a boon for recruiting.
Arizona hosted several high-profile prospects Saturday night. They saw the Wildcats at their best.
“It doesn’t hurt, I’ll put it that way,” Sumlin said. “It can only help. The energy, the exposure, the vision becomes a little bit easier (to sell) when a young man is able to come in here and get a feeling for what this program can be.”
The visitors included four-star Houston cornerback Bobby Wolfe, who was committed to Texas A&M at the time. On Sunday, Wolfe tweeted that he was opening up his recruitment.
Georgia offensive lineman Jakai Clark, who once was committed to Auburn, tweeted a picture of himself in an Arizona uniform with the following message: “This might be it!! #BearDown.”
Neither tweet guarantees those players are coming to Arizona. But Saturday night’s result gives the Wildcats recruiting momentum they previously lacked.
Shenault out again?
It remains to be seen if Colorado’s best player will be available Friday. Sophomore receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. is considered day to day because of a toe injury that has kept him out the past two weeks.
Despite missing those games, Shenault leads the Pac-12 with 60 receptions for 780 yards. He also has 11 touchdowns, including five on the ground, where he sometimes operates as a wildcat quarterback.
Shenault is from DeSoto, Texas. He was recruited by Sumlin’s staff at Texas A&M but never offered, according to Shenault’s 247Sports recruiting profile.
Sumlin described Shenault as “exceptional” and “one of the most dynamic players” in the Pac-12.
“He’s bigger than people think,” Sumlin said.
“You look at how fluid he is, but he’s 220 pounds, too. He can create some real problems.”
Colorado, coming off a devasting loss at home to Oregon State, also is banged up in the secondary. Cornerback Chris Miller is out for the season, and safety Evan Worthington is in the concussion protocol. Another safety, Kyle Trego, must sit out the first half against Arizona because of a targeting foul.
- Arizona could be shorthanded at running back. No. 2 tailback Gary Brightwell left the Oregon game in the second quarter because of an ankle injury and did not return. “We’ll see,” Sumlin said. “We’re checking on everything today. We’ll have a plan for that based on what comes out medically.” Starter J.J. Taylor ended up with a career-high 30 carries. Sumlin said Taylor’s workload would be managed during this week.
- Sumlin gave offensive lineman Michael Eletise credit for helping Arizona finish an 18-play, 88-yard touchdown drive against Oregon. The redshirt sophomore entered at right guard for the injured Bryson Cain (knee) and “did a really nice job,” Sumlin said. “That’s as consistent a performance as he’s had since we’ve been here. He made some mistakes, but he showed that he belongs.”
- Sumlin praised senior safety Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles’ eye discipline and aggressiveness vs. Oregon. Flannigan-Fowles had three pass breakups.
- Tristan Cooper is listed as the starter at Spur on Arizona’s depth chart, with Scottie Young Jr. at free safety and Flannigan-Fowles at Bandit. That conforms with the configuration the Wildcats used against Oregon.
- Sumlin said redshirt-freshman cornerback Azizi Hearn gained confidence from playing extensively on special teams. He has become a key part of the rotation at corner, a position depleted by injuries and other issues.