Here are three things to watch in the Arizona Wildcats’ game at Houston (Saturday, 9 a.m., ABC/ESPN2), plus a score prediction and some pertinent preview links:
1. WHAT’S ON TATE’S PLATE?
Kevin Sumlin suggested that Khalil Tate will run more than in Week 1, when he had only eight rushing attempts for 14 yards. But how much? And what will those runs look like? Whether Tate runs 10 times or 20, he must operate the offense more efficiently. Against BYU, we saw signs of the “hero ball” syndrome that plagued Tate at times last season, especially when Arizona fell behind. He couldn’t resist throwing deep last week, and while all those incompletions weren’t necessarily on him, they were still incompletions that stalled the offense. At least some of what Noel Mazzone does with Tate in Week 2 will depend on how the Cougars play the Wildcats. ESPN analyst Todd McShay, who’s calling the game, doesn’t think Houston will sit back the way BYU did. He also suggested that few teams are as disciplined as BYU, which simply refused to let Tate get to the perimeter. In some ways, then, the second game is just like the opener: We don’t know what to expect when Arizona has possession and the ball is in Tate’s hands.
2. OLIVER AND THE O-LINE
BYU used its best defensive lineman, Corbin Kaufusi, as a spy for much of the game. Could Houston possibly do that with Ed Oliver? That doesn’t seem like the smartest way to utilize Oliver, whose ability to penetrate the backfield is among his best traits. But Oliver also is athletic enough to do it, at least on occasion. Whether he’s rushing or dropping, it’s impossible not to watch Oliver’s every move. He’s that compelling a player, that great a force. He poses the ultimate test for a young, undermanned UA offensive line that hasn’t seen anything like him. The O-line, featuring four new starters, played OK against BYU. It didn’t generate a consistent push in the run game, but it generally gave Tate a clean pocket. He wasn’t running for his life. It could be a different story against Oliver. Even if Mazzone rolls Tate out, Oliver is capable of chasing him down. His effort left an impression on Arizona’s veteran linemen last season. Their young replacements will learn a lot about themselves at TDECU Stadium.
3. JACE AND SCOTTIE
Senior cornerback Jace Whittaker, who missed the opener because of an undisclosed injury, is expected to be back. The same goes for sophomore safety Scottie Young Jr., who was suspended for Week 1. Both are welcome additions to a secondary that will be tested in new and different ways. Unlike BYU, which huddled and relied mainly on inside runs, jet sweeps and play-action passes, Houston runs a hyper-fast spread and will throw the ball down the field with greater frequency. Whittaker was Arizona’s best cornerback last season. His value extends beyond statistics; he is the gritty leader of the defense whose toughness was missed last week. I’ve been told Young will be in the mix in his first game back; the question is where. Young played free safety last season, a spot that Isaiah Hayes manned last week. Hayes was one of the Wildcats’ most productive defenders and had a strong training camp. It might make more sense to try Young at the “Spur” position. Tristan Cooper started there last week but got hurt in the third quarter. Young is physical enough to play in the box.
FINAL SCORE: Houston 30, Arizona 27