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'We needed a week': UA coach Kevin Sumlin said Wildcats used bye to rest, recover
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Arizona football

'We needed a week': UA coach Kevin Sumlin said Wildcats used bye to rest, recover

No team in the Pac-12 needed a bye week more than Arizona — even if the Wildcats entered last weekend’s break as one of the league’s hottest teams.

The UA — and quarterback Khalil Tate — are finally healthy as it heads into Saturday’s game at No. 8 Washington State.

Tate suffered an ankle injury during the season opener against BYU, and the ailment lingered throughout the season. As recently as four weeks ago, Tate was kept out of a game against UCLA.

It wasn’t just Tate who needed the break. Running back J.J. Taylor rushed a career-high 40 times against Colorado, six days after posting 30 carries in Arizona’s 44-15 win over Oregon. Taylor ranks fourth in FBS in rushing with 1,221 yards; he trails ASU’s Eno Benjamin (1,295), Memphis’ Darrell Henderson (1,446) and Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor (1,548).

Arizona’s late bye was a first for coach Kevin Sumlin. Washington State, by comparison, had its bye the second week of October.

“I know we’re one of few teams to play 10 weeks in a row. From that standpoint and just from physical and mental health with the combination of travel and late games 10 weeks in a row, we needed a week,” Sumlin said Monday. “I don’t think there’s been a time in my coaching career in 30 years that we’ve gone to the schedule and played 10 straight weeks in a row.”

What did the UA accomplish during the week off? The Wildcats practiced three times and sought treatment for injuries. Sumlin and his staff dispersed to California, Kansas, Texas, Georgia, Florida and parts of Arizona to recruit. Sumlin said Monday he attended a junior college football game, but didn’t specify which one.

Several players also traveled back to their hometowns for the first time since June, when preseason camp began.

Familiarity with WSU’s Leach

Saturday marks the first time Sumlin and Washington State’s Mike Leach will coach against each other in the Pac-12, but the two have a long history dating to their time in the Big 12 Conference.

Sumlin was the tight ends coach and co-offensive coordinator at Oklahoma from 2003-07. Leach, himself a former Sooners offensive coordinator, was the head coach at Texas Tech from 2000-09.

The coaches have “shared ideas, we’ve visited with each other and we’ve just known each other for a long time,” Sumlin said.

Leach’s quirky personality is part of his charm, whether he’s providing dating advice, referring to slot wide receivers as “elves” or making his picks for which Pac-12 mascots would win if they came to life.

Sumlin said he has plenty of stories about Leach — just none he can repeat.

“Not one that I could share,” he said. “I’ve got plenty of good ones though.”

Minshew’s Cougs chew clock

Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew is now college football’s top passer with 3,852 yards. Some could even make a case that he’s entered the Heisman Trophy discussion.

Minshew is averaging 385.2 yards per game and completing 69.6 percent of his passes. How does that compare to Tate? Well, Arizona’s quarterback threw for a career-high 350 yards two weeks ago against Colorado. Minshew’s worst statistical performance was a 41-19 road win over Wyoming, in which he passed for 319 yards.

“He has gotten more and more confident throughout the year as he’s played,” Sumlin said of Minshew. “He’s a leader, a competitor, and you see that in games.”

Washington State’s offense is pass-first, but the Cougars have worn down defenses with short passes that serve as runs. The Cougars lead the Pac-12 in time of possession, averaging 32 minutes 54 seconds per game.

WSU ranks 12th nationally in time of possession. Arizona holds the ball for an average of 28:37 per game, the 93rd-best mark in the country.

TV exposure helping Arizona on the recruiting trail

Saturday will mark Arizona’s seventh game (out of 11) this season on ESPN. Next week’s Territorial Cup game against ASU will be televised on Fox Sports 1, marking the Wildcats’ third time on that network this season. Ten of Arizona’s 12 games this season will be played on national television, which Sumlin says has helped the Wildcats in recruiting.

“We’ve been on national TV just about every week, so from a lot of people’s perspective, they’ve seen us,” he said. “That’s been good for us just from brand recognition and people seeing who’s playing and what’s going on. That has helped us.”

Extra points

  • Sumlin on Arizona having another kickoff time past 7 p.m. local time: “I don’t control that. It’s my first year in the league, I’ll assess all of that at the end.” Nine of UA’s 11 games this season have had late-night kickoff times, which include this week’s 8:30 p.m. start at Washington State.
  • Sumlin shied away from talking about the division race, even though Arizona can win the Pac-12 South if Colorado upsets Utah on Saturday and if the Wildcats win out.

“We’re a better team when we focus on one thing at a time,” Sumlin said.

  • Sumlin said he “internally disciplined” freshmen Jamarye Joiner, Dayven Coleman and Darrius Smith after the three were cited for trespassing in the early morning of Oct. 23. According to the Daily Wildcat, which broke the story, Coleman was charged with possession of marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia.

Sports producer

Justin writes stories and produces digital content about UA football and basketball and high school football. A Tucson native, Justin graduated from the UA in 2017 and is the host of the Wildcast Podcast and a radio host on ESPN Tucson.

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