Kevin Sumlin said repeatedly Monday that he and his staff have to do a better job of putting players in a better position to succeed. The implication: They didn’t do a good enough job in the Arizona Wildcats’ season-opening loss to BYU.
Sumlin didn’t specifically address how quarterback Khalil Tate was utilized in last week’s disappointing 28-23 defeat. But Sumlin did say this: “Our efficiency needs to be better. What we have to do is play to our team’s strengths, more so, offensively.”
Whether that means more designed QB runs against Houston on Saturday remains to be seen. Tate rushed only eight times against BYU – tying his lowest total since becoming the starter last year – for 14 yards. His 34 pass attempts were one shy of his career high.
At least part of that was attributable to game flow. Arizona fell behind 28-10 late in the third quarter. The Wildcats had to pass to get back into the game.
In the first half, 48.8 percent of Arizona’s plays were passes (including one sack, which technically counts as a rushing attempt.) In the second half, 53.8 percent were passes.
Said Sumlin: “We were only ahead in that game for what, two minutes right before the half? When you’re at quarterback in that situation and everybody knows you have to throw it. … Thought he did a really good job of staying poised, finding people and getting us back in the game.”
Tate led a pair of touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, and Arizona was a two-point conversion away from making it a field-goal game with 3:20 remaining. He and the offense didn’t get another crack at it, though, as BYU ran out the clock.
Sumlin lamented the offense’s inability to score in the first half, when Arizona ran 43 plays to BYU’s 28. The Wildcats managed only 10 points.
Sumlin acknowledged that he and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone are still getting to know Tate – and that the feeling-out process applies to the entire team. Sumlin said he and his staff know “a lot more” about their personnel after the opener and will adjust accordingly. For example, Sumlin didn’t seem pleased that receiver Shun Brown had only one reception, saying, “That’s not OK.”
“We’ve got a lot better feel for what we can do, where we’re going to go with what we’re doing offensively,” Sumlin said. “Unfortunately, Saturday night was not what we wanted. But in football, just like any other sport, just like in life, you learn from it. Now what are you going to do?”
The UA defense had its own issues. It surrendered 21 points in the third quarter and allowed BYU to convert 4 of 7 third downs.
But it appears that help is on the way.
Senior cornerback Jace Whittaker, who started every game last season, “probably” will be back for Houston, Sumlin said. Whittaker sat out the opener because of an undisclosed injury.
Additionally, safety Scottie Young Jr. is cleared to return after missing the first game because of a suspension. Young started nine games as a freshman, recording 53 tackles, including 3½ for losses, two pass breakups and an interception.
Whether Young stays at free safety, his main position last year, is unclear. Isaiah Hayes, who missed the 2017 season because of a shoulder injury, started the opener and had a team-high 11 solo tackles. Starting “Spur” safety Tristan Cooper got hurt in the third quarter.
Regardless of where Young plays, having him and Whittaker back would boost the Arizona secondary in a variety of ways.
“It’s not just their leadership (but) their experience and their talent level,” Sumlin said. “They’ve played in real ballgames. Particularly going into a first road game with a lot of these young guys. These guys been there, done it.”
Every coach has his own way of doing things.
When Rich Rodriguez was in charge, UA players who were injured or not part of the game plan stood on the sideline during home games. Under Sumlin, they have two options: Sit in the friends-and-family section of the stands or watch from home.
Sumlin said he prefers the sideline area to be less cluttered, making it easier for the coaches to communicate with the active players.
“Just for efficiency’s sake,” Sumlin said. “Forty more guys on the sideline is a lot of guys. There’s not a lot of room down there.”
The policy caught some players and their family members by surprise.
Saturday’s game will be Sumlin’s first at Houston since he left the school in late 2011. Sumlin, who served as the Cougars’ head coach for four seasons, said he has too many fond memories of his time there to pinpoint just one.
Who: Arizona (0-1) at Houston (1-0)
When: 9 a.m.
TV: Channel 15 or ESPN2
Radio: Fox Sports 910 AM
Streaming: Watch ESPN app
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