The Arizona Wildcats who take the field against Texas Tech on Saturday night won’t resemble the squad that played most of the second half against NAU. As UA coach Kevin Sumlin put it Monday, Arizona used “a lot of guys who never played before” in a lopsided game to see how they would fare in live competition.
But just because those young players aren’t slated for major roles against the Red Raiders doesn’t mean the Wildcats won’t need them at some point. That point could be Saturday night during the “whiteout” vs. Texas Tech. It could be later this season.
So while he was disappointed in the Wildcats’ performance in the second half, Sumlin is hopeful they can get something out of it.
“We got some guys in the game that got some valuable experience and learned some things,” Sumlin said. “Some guys weren’t ready to play. Some guys were, and they’re going to continue to help us.”
Most of the focus since the NAU game has been on the defense. Arizona won handily but gave up 41 points, including 28 in the second half. The Wildcats rank near the bottom nationally in several defensive categories.
First- and second-year players got a ton of work on that side of the ball over the final 30 minutes last week. Freshman defensive tackle Kyon Barrs was one of them, and his performance personified the growth curve for most young players.
“Barrs is gonna be a great player,” Sumlin said. “He made some great plays. But at the same time, he jumped out of a couple gaps and hurt us.
“That’s part of a young player coming on. We need him to come on, because he’s got real talent. I think it’s a learning experience for him.”
Freshman cornerback Christian Roland-Wallace has played extensively so far and is expected to be part of the rotation for the rest of the season. But despite playing the majority of the defensive snaps in the season opener at Hawaii, Roland-Wallace still had bouts of inconsistency against NAU. He surrendered a touchdown in the first quarter before intercepting a pass in the third.
“He started slow,” Sumlin said. “It was kind of weird. I thought Bobby Wolfe (another freshman cornerback) started slow. And then they picked it up.
“When you’ve got young guys, that’s part of the problem. Hopefully, that was a learning process for Christian.
“Early in the game (on the touchdown), he grabs a guy and stops running. It’s like, ‘What are you doing?’ Then he comes back, leaves his guy … and makes an interception. He’s got great talent.”
Sumlin mentioned three areas of preparation that the coaching staff emphasizes: physical, mental and emotional. The coaches can provide help with the first two; the third falls on the players. It can be difficult for inexperienced players to master that part.
“You better be emotionally ready to go,” Sumlin said, “or you’ll get exposed.”
Besides gap integrity, Sumlin said communication was an issue for the patchwork defense in the second half. That’s not surprising when you consider that middle linebacker Colin Schooler didn’t play after halftime.
With the game out of hand, the coaches elected to hold out Arizona’s leading tackler to rest him for Texas Tech. Sumlin said Schooler “was a little beat up after Hawaii.” He and others who played sparingly in the second half vs. the Lumberjacks should be fresh for the Red Raiders.
“Hopefully that’ll pay dividends this week,” Sumlin said.
But Sumlin doesn’t want Schooler to have to play as much as he did last year, when he wore down late in the season – even though the Wildcats aren’t the same when he’s off the field, as evidenced by the NAU game.
“If you just go by numbers alone … there’s a huge impact,” Sumlin said. “But we’ve got to continue to develop depth.
“That whole rotation (at linebacker), you feel better about it than last year. We need the two young guys (Day Day Coleman and Derrion Clark) to keep coming so that we can really have a rotation that’s sound and doesn’t drop off.”
Clark, a freshman, has been a standout on special teams. He got his first taste of action on defense in the second half vs. NAU but didn’t finish the game after being disqualified for targeting. He’ll have to sit out the first half vs. Texas Tech as a result.
The play happened in the fourth quarter when NAU backup quarterback Heath Beemiller went into a slide. Clark hit him in the head, a clear targeting infraction.
Sumlin didn’t have an issue with that call. He did have a problem with a call that wasn’t made earlier in the game.
Khalil Tate got knocked into the UA bench area after releasing a pass near the sideline. The officials initially threw a flag but changed their minds after discussing the play.
“Once somebody starts a slide, particularly a quarterback, they’re going to protect the quarterback every time. But there needs to be some consistency,” Sumlin said. “If you’re going to protect quarterbacks, protect quarterbacks across the board.”
From Wolma to Williams
Redshirt freshman Zach Williams started at tight end in place of veteran Bryce Wolma, who had a protective boot on his left foot during warmups.
Williams performed well as a blocker, and Sumlin implied that the Georgia product will get another shot at it against Texas Tech.
“He’s really been working at it,” Sumlin said. “With Bryce hurt … he knew what was coming. He had a week or so to really get ready. It didn’t start the way it looked Saturday night.
“We’ll see where he is this week, because we’re playing a different cat. He’s got a couple of different people to handle … that are a lot bigger, a lot faster.
“But I thought he thought he handled it (vs. NAU). It wasn’t great all the time, but he was a lot better than he was a year ago at this time. He’s going to gain some confidence from last Saturday night.”
- Texas Tech coach Matt Wells, whose team is 2-0, on facing the Wildcats: “Arizona will be the most talented team we’ve played so far. Obviously, their skill is really good. Khalil Tate has been there for several years. Very familiar with him. Dual-threat guy. Throws the ball very well, and when he pulls it and runs, he’s a threat to hit a home run every single time.”
- Both coaches implied that the game would be a high-scoring affair. Wells said that if you let Arizona turn the game into a “track meet” you can get in trouble “real quick.” Arizona is averaging 51.5 points per game, Texas Tech 41.5. The over/under has risen from 71.5 to 74.5, per VegasInsider.com.
- Freshman receiver Boobie Curry, listed as a co-starter on the depth chart, has yet to play. “He’s been injured,” Sumlin said. “He’s been nicked up a little bit.” Sumlin implied that Curry could return soon.
- The coaches took J.J. Taylor off kickoff-return duty to ease the star tailback’s workload and to “get looks at other guys,” Sumlin said. He said the change isn’t necessarily permanent.
- Sumlin said the punting job will be reopened this week. Matt Aragon handled it at Hawaii and averaged 34.6 yards per punt. Freshman Kyle Ostendorp took over against Northern Arizona and averaged 38.0, which is “not good enough,” Sumlin said.