The Arizona Wildcats could have a new starting quarterback when they visit No. 6 Oregon on Saturday.
UA coach Kevin Sumlin said Monday that whichever QB performed best in practice would start against the Ducks — a departure from his previous stance.
Senior Khalil Tate has started eight of Arizona’s nine games, missing the UCLA game on Sept. 28 because of injury. Freshman Grant Gunnell started that contest and has shared time with Tate each of the past four weeks.
Gunnell replaced Tate at different points in the second half against Washington and USC. The two rotated against Stanford and Oregon State. Gunnell finished three of those four games.
Sumlin said he informed the quarterbacks of the plan at the outset of Arizona’s bye last week.
“I told them last Monday, ‘We’re going to go through this week and next week. Whoever performs the best is going to go run out there first,’ ” Sumlin said. “So that’s where we are.”
Gunnell performed well in his lone start, passing for 352 yards and a touchdown in the Wildcats’ 20-17 victory over UCLA. He has posted better passing numbers than Tate, including a 66.4% completion rate and a 9-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Tate has been inconsistent since a career passing day at Colorado on Oct. 5 (404 yards, three touchdowns). Since then, he has completed just 54.3% of his throws with three TDs and three interceptions.
Gunnell’s start came at home. Of his six appearances, only two have come on the road.
Oregon’s Autzen Stadium is probably the loudest, toughest venue for visiting teams in the Pac-12. The Ducks are 5-0 at home, outscoring their opponents 211-54.
Oregon also ranks first or second in the conference in points allowed, total defense, rushing defense, passing defense, sacks and interceptions. The Ducks’ 17 picks are tops in the nation.
Sumlin believes Arizona will see Oregon at its best because the Ducks are legitimate contenders to make the College Football Playoff.
“They’re right on the edge, and they’re going to play like crazy,” Sumlin said.
“The place will be rocking. They’re going to try and make some statements to try to get to the playoffs.”
Oregon has won eight in a row since losing its opener against Auburn. The Ducks defeated USC 56-24 in Los Angeles on Nov. 2 before also having last week off.
‘Chuck is our guy right now’
Sumlin will have to hire a defensive coordinator at some point in the offseason, whether that’s interim DC Chuck Cecil or another candidate. For now, Sumlin said, he is focused solely on finding a way to defeat Oregon.
“We’re still evaluating everything,” Sumlin said. “We’re going to do what we need to do and make decisions based on what we think’s best for this football team.
“Chuck is our guy right now. We’ll see where we go with that.
“We’re just trying to win this week. That’s not coach-speak – that’s where we are.”
The defense continued to struggle in its first game under Cecil, surrendering a season-high 56 points in a homecoming loss to Oregon State (which failed to score an offensive touchdown last week at Washington). Communication issues were among several problems.
Cecil moved from the sideline to the coaches’ box in the second half, and that seemed to help.
Sumlin has gotten a chance to see Cecil work with the players in practice over the past two-plus weeks. That’s where his presence can be felt the most.
“He’s got energy,” Sumlin said. “He’s got passion. He loves the University of Arizona. He’s a legend here. And because of that, he has a tremendous amount of pride in what he’s doing right now. I think our players feel that.”
Offensive lineman Jordan Morgan won’t be redshirting this season.
The promising freshman from Marana High School will be part of the rotation — and could start — the rest of the way, Sumlin said.
Morgan reached the four-game threshold to preserve his redshirt year when he played in the second half against Oregon State. Several UA linemen missed time in that game because of injuries.
Sumlin said he talked with Morgan and his family last week, and they agreed that forgoing his redshirt was the right move.
“The decision with Jordan Morgan is, Jordan Morgan’s going,” Sumlin said. “He’s ready to go. He’s been practicing the whole time. He’s gonna play.”
Sumlin has been impressed with Morgan’s “elite” athleticism, and he has proved to be tough enough to play in the trenches against older, bigger, stronger players.
Sumlin said Morgan had a tooth pulled last Thursday – but was dressed and ready for practice a few hours later.
“A lot of people in this room couldn’t do that,” Sumlin said. “We had to pull him out of practice because he was there, strapped up, ready to go.
“He likes to play the game. He wants to compete. … He wants to be part of everything and know what’s going on.”
Where Morgan plays and how much is unclear. He subbed for left tackle Donovan Laie against OSU after Laie got banged up in the second half. Laie is expected back against Oregon.
In the first quarter, Arizona lost center Josh McCauley (knee) and guard Bryson Cain (ankle) on the same play. The Wildcats already were without starting right guard Cody Creason, who missed his third straight game.
No unit needed the bye more than the offensive line.
“We were down to our eighth, ninth and 10th linemen,” Sumlin said. “I don’t know if all those guys are gonna be back. But it gives us a better chance this weekend than certainly we had last weekend with losing those guys during the game.”
• The start time and TV assignment for Arizona’s Nov. 23 home finale vs. No. 8 Utah won’t be known until this weekend at the earliest. The networks elected to use one of their six-day pick windows for the UA-Utah game, as well as three others in the Pac-12. Possible start times are 1:30 p.m. (ESPN), 5:30 p.m. (ABC) and 8 p.m. (ESPN or FS1).
• The UA has partnered with Conventions, Sports & Leisure for the next phase of the Arizona Stadium renovation project. The firm will help the university “collect and organize valuable input and feedback from Wildcat fans on the vision for the home of Arizona football,” according to an email sent from Athletic Director Dave Heeke to UA alumni. CSL has assisted in dozens of college and pro stadium projects across the country.
• Junior Brady Breeze will start at the boundary safety position for Oregon in place of Nick Pickett, who has to set out the first half because of a targeting ejection vs. USC. Breeze had a fumble recovery and a pick-six against the Trojans.