The Arizona Wildcats are 0-2. Their problems are multifold.
“When you’ve lost two games, there’s a lot of things you’ve got to improve,” UA coach Kevin Sumlin said Monday. “It’s across the board.”
You can’t fix all your issues at once, though. So Sumlin and his staff are focusing on two areas heading into Game 3 against Southern Utah on Saturday night.
The first is generating more explosive plays on offense. Arizona’s longest play from scrimmage is 46 yards, on a pass from Khalil Tate to Tony Ellison in what was essentially garbage time at Houston last week.
The Wildcats’ longest rush is 26 yards, by J.J. Taylor in the opener against BYU. Tate’s longest run is 10 yards.
Arizona is averaging 3.3 yards per rush and 5.1 yards per play. Those figures were 6.6 and 7.0, respectively, last season.
The trademark of the 2017 UA offense, once Tate took over at quarterback, was its quick-strike ability.
Tate had four touchdown runs of 70-plus yards. He averaged 47.7 yards on 12 rushing touchdowns and 28.6 yards on 14 passing TDs.
“That’s the conversation we’ve had for the last 48 hours,” Sumlin said. “You’ve gotta get bigger chunks of yardage at certain times.”
The Wildcats have scored 41 points in two games. Their AVERAGE last season was 41.3.
The defense isn’t doing its part to set up the offense for success. Arizona has yet to record a sack or a takeaway.
The Wildcats didn’t have a single game without one or the other last season.
Arizona has yet to start a drive in opposition territory. Its best starting field position so far — in 26 possessions — is its 46-yard line.
So objective No. 2 is pretty clear.
“Schematically, we’ve got to generate more negative-yardage plays,” Sumlin said. “That’s just the bottom line.”
Sumlin wasn’t sure whether Tate’s left ankle injury, suffering in the first quarter against Houston, would hamper him against Southern Utah.
“I don’t know,” Sumlin said. “It’s a long time till Saturday. He was in this morning (visiting with coaches). We’ll see what happens.”
Tate went down without being touched on Arizona’s fifth offensive play. He said he got hurt on a previous play, perhaps on a 2-yard rush up the middle on the second play from scrimmage.
Tate rolled toward the left sideline on the next play, throwing on the run to Shawn Poindexter for a 30-yard gain.
Regardless of when or how it happened, Tate clearly was impaired for much of the game. Sumlin praised the junior for conversing with the coaches throughout and for playing through the injury deep into the fourth quarter of a blowout.
“He did a pretty good job of communicating with me and Noel (Mazzone, the offensive coordinator) about where he was during that football game and whether he could help the team or hurt the team by being out there,” Sumlin said. “The second half, he showed that he was going to help the team by fighting through this deal and generating yardage and points.”
With senior left tackle Layth Friekh eligible to return from NCAA limbo, the presumption was that his substitute, freshman Donovan Laie, would slide into a reserve role.
That won’t be the case.
Laie has proved to be one of Arizona’s better linemen and will remain in the lineup, shifting to right tackle. Cody Creason, who started the first two games at that spot, will move to left guard. Bryson Cain and Tshiyombu Lukusa are expected to rotate at right guard.
Laie was forced into the lineup because of circumstances — Friekh’s situation, plus injuries to others — but Arizona might have unearthed a gem as a result.
“He’s extremely talented,” Sumlin said of Laie. “In pass protection, he’s been awesome. He’s still learning what to do all the time.
“He’s very athletic. He’s a big man for 18 years old (6-4, 318). He’s only going to get better.
“The experience that he’s had the last two weeks has helped him. He’s exactly what you’re looking when it comes to an offensive lineman.”
- Arizona’s Sept. 22 game at Oregon State will kick off at 1 p.m. It will be the second straight UA game televised by Pac-12 Networks. The kickoff time for the Wildcats’ Sept. 29 home game against USC could be announced as soon as next Monday.
- Sumlin is hopeful that cornerback Jace Whittaker and safety Scottie Young Jr. will be able to return Saturday. Both dressed but did not play last week. ESPN reported that both players had hamstring injuries.
- Sumlin said he’d find out more later Monday about the status of defensive tackle Dereck Boles and safety Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles. Both left the Houston game and did not return. Boles had to be carted off because of an apparent right knee injury.
- Regarding Arizona’s 0-2 start, Sumlin said: “Nobody expected that. We don’t expect that. What we can do is get better every week. That’s our approach, and we start back on that today.”
- To that end, Sumlin said he and his staff have a much better feel for their personnel through two games. “We’ve got a two-game résumé right now really of who we are and what guys can do,” he said.
- Sumlin on QB Rhett Rodriguez, who went 4 of 5 off the bench at the end of the game: “He operated (the offense) well. He’s a guy that’s very, very capable of playing winning football.”
- Sumlin said putting the quarterback under center in a short-yardage situation like the goal-to-go sequence in the fourth quarter vs. Houston is easier said than done when the offense operates out of the shotgun or pistol.