Arizona-Hawaii matchup promises offensive fireworks

How often will Arizona QB Khalil Tate take off and run in the opener at Hawaii? We'll have to wait and see. 

Here are three things to watch in the Arizona Wildcats’ season opener vs. Hawaii at Aloha Stadium (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network), plus a score prediction and some pertinent preview links:

1. THIS STORY STILL HAS LEGS

We begin in the thought bubble we occupied for much of last season – wondering just how much Khalil Tate will run. It’s ground we’ve covered extensively leading up to the opener, but now that we’re here, it just can’t be ignored. Tate’s drop-off in rushing attempts and yards might have been the single biggest head-scratcher in college football last year. Was it injuries? The system? Something else? Whatever the case, Tate says he’s healthy now. He also seems to be in a better frame of mind. He looked fast – like, October 2017 fast – the few times we saw him take off during training camp. But it’s one thing to do that in practice, when you know you won’t get hit; it’s another to do it in games. So the return of “2017 Tate” that UA fans are pining for remains a seeing-is-believing construct. Before we move on (thankfully) to 2019 and (hopefully) put this narrative to bed, here’s one last fun fact on this topic: Tate averaged 47.7 yards on 12 rushing touchdowns in 2017. His highest output for an entire game in ’18 was 46 yards in the season finale against Arizona State.

2. RECEIVING CORPS CATCH-ALL

The @michaeljlev Twitter feed has gotten a ton of questions this week about Arizona’s rebuilt receiving corps. Apparently, with a sparse slate of games in Week 0, this is a subject of great importance in the world of DFS (daily fantasy sports). It’s also a critical issue for the ’19 Wildcats. So here’s a stab at how this thing might go: Cedric Peterson is the clear No. 1 for now, although he’s more of a high-floor option than a high-ceiling one. He’ll be dependable but seldom spectacular. Brian Casteel should occupy the Shun Brown role out of the slot – high volume, lots of run-after-the-catch opportunities. Jamarye Joiner is the wild card. He probably won’t catch as many passes as Peterson or Casteel, but Joiner’s big-play potential exceeds both. Drew Dixon likely will slide into Peterson’s role from last season – mostly doing the dirty work while others get the catches and the glory. Boobie Curry leads an impressive-looking trio of freshmen that also includes Jalen Johnson and Jaden Mitchell. It isn’t difficult to envision those three forming one of the most prolific units in the Pac-12 in, say, 2021. Only Curry is in line for regular playing time to start 2019.

3. DEEPER DEFENSE

Don’t know about you guys, but we’re fascinated to see what Arizona’s defense looks like – especially against Hawaii’s run-and-shoot offense. If the depth chart holds, a maximum of five defenders who started the 2018 finale will start the ’19 opener: defensive ends JB Brown and Jalen Harris; linebackers Colin Schooler and Tony Fields II; and safety Tristan Cooper. The defensive tackles, Trevon Mason and Myles Tapusoa, are new, and four-fifths of the secondary is sort of new. Veterans Jace Whittaker, Lorenzo Burns and Scottie Young Jr. all missed time because of injuries last season, while then-freshman Christian Young wasn’t quite ready for the role he’s slated to have now. While most of the focus this offseason has been on the redesigned defensive line, a sneaky pick for the defense’s top breakout candidate can be found in the linebacking corps. Junior Anthony Pandy has generated a lot of buzz lately, earning a co-starter designation alongside Fields at “Will” linebacker. Pandy indicated this week that all of the linebackers have been cross-training, turning the idea of a three-man rotation into a reality. Could we see all three ’backers on the field at the same time? At some point, yes, but it might not make as much sense against the Rainbow Warriors.

FINAL SCORE: Arizona 45, Hawaii 38

GAME PREVIEW LINKS:

SEASON PREVIEW LINKS:

Contact sports reporter Michael Lev at 573-4148 or mlev@tucson.com. On Twitter @michaeljlev 

Reporter

Michael is an award-winning journalist who has been covering sports professionally since the early '90s. He started at the Star in 2015 after spending 15 years at The Orange County Register. Michael is a graduate of Northwestern University.