Just like the Oregon State Beavers, the Arizona Wildcats are 1-2 to start the year. Thanks to the performance of Khalil Tate the last few years and the addition of new head coach Kevin Sumlin, however, Arizona were expected to have another win or two already. The two programs open conference play against one another this Saturday in Corvallis at 1 PT.
For more on the Wildcats, we had the chance to pick the brain of Scott Moran: a contributor for SBN’s Arizona site AZ Desert Swarm. Check out how he responded to our questions below.
I think it’s safe to say that 1-2 isn’t quite where we thought Arizona would be right now. What your thoughts on whether or not the team has met expectations so far?
This team has definitely failed to live up to the hype. I and many others felt coming into the season that we were an eight-win team at worst and a Pac-12 South contender at best. The South is still absurdly wide open and conference play has barely started, but its safe to say Arizona isn’t considered a very good team right now. I think the most disconcerting thing thus far is how little the players have grown. One of the main things Arizona fans were touting preseason was how young this team was, but it seems like very few players have developed well in the offseason. The season is still young, but the general mood in Tucson is “panic mode” after three games.
Oregon State isn’t the only team with a new coach in this league. What’s Kevin Sumlin been like as the leader of this team?
Kevin Sumlin burnt up a lot of his preseason good will with the performances against BYU and Houston. That being said, I’m not sure I can directly pin Arizona’s rough start on him. Many have mentioned Noel Mazzone seems dead set on making Khalil Tate an NFL quarterback, and Marcel Yates has yet to field a good defense. Of course, Sumlin hired both of these guys, but I still feel he hasn’t personally doomed the team. The team still seems to support him and they looked like they were having fun against Southern Utah, so I’m gonna say Sumlin gets a C+ for me so far.
Khalil Tate is playing pretty well right now, but his demeanor as a leader has really impressed me despite the unexpected losses. Do you feel the same way?
Absolutely. A lot of people forget that Tate is just 19 years old. This is a young team, but a 19 year old being the unquestioned leader of a college football team is pretty remarkable. Even though Tate is having some issues and the coaching staff might be trying to change his style, he’s still keeping the team in check and making tough plays, all with a smile on his face. To tell you the truth, Tate is a leader for the whole campus. He’s always getting the crowd hyped up at Arizona Stadium when the defense is on the field, and I’ve seen him in plenty of videos produced by the university about our academics and campus culture. Even if the team doesn’t win another game while I’m at UA, I’ll consider myself lucky I was here at the same time as Tate.
Does Tate stay after this year, or do you see him heading to the NFL early?
This is a tough one, but if I had to go with my gut I think he’s gonna stay. Right now he’s still a running quarterback first who NFL teams aren’t really eyeing to play QB. I think that’s crucial because he mostly came to Arizona because RichRod was the only coach who would give him a chance at QB, so he’s gonna want NFL teams to take him seriously like they have with Robert Griffin and Lamar Jackson. It’s also worth mentioning again that he is still just 19. Take all that, and the fact that he seems to genuinely love the U of A, and I see him staying, but it depends on multiple factors throughout the rest of this season.
What’s the single biggest problem with this Arizona team right now?
Arizona fans mostly point to three things hurting this team: the coaching staff, the offensive line, and the defense. I think the jury is still out on the first two, but the defense is absolutely a weakness right now. BYU spent most of the fourth quarter against us running out the clock, and the D couldn’t stop them. Houston obviously dismantled our defense, and Southern Utah scored 31 and hung around the whole first half. There are some promising players back there, but right now there’s no question our defense (particularly against the run) is our biggest weakness. Against Jermar Jefferson on the road, that’s pretty scary.
I know Arizona has had their issues with defense, but who are the guys to watch on that side of the ball for the Wildcats?
I may have just lambasted the Wildcat defense, but there are some legitimately strong players back there. The secondary is full of seniors like Jace Whittaker and Demtrius Flannigan-Fowles. They’ve been huge in keeping the opponents passing game in check, and deserve more credit than they usually get. The real guys to watch for me though are sophomore linebackers Tony Fields and Colin Schooler. They are the best two players in the defensive front without question. Arizona has had trouble getting to the quarterback, but when we send one of these guys on a blitz they’ll usually cause some havoc. They’re also usually playing a role in the rare cases we stop the run, since our defensive line has had trouble in that regard. Schooler and Fields vs. Jefferson should be the matchup of the game in my opinion.
Your pick to win this game and a score prediction
Arizona fans gained some hope after Tate’s performance last weekend, but that was against Southern Utah. There are still very real issues for this team, and Oregon State has the weapons to attack those weaknesses. Besides, all Pac-12 teams know that weird stuff happens in Corvallis. Despite all that, I just think Sumlin and Mazzone only have to let Tate loose a few times for the offense to out duel the Beavers. I’m gonna say 41-31 Arizona, but Oregon State can absolutely win this game and it should be a great matchup.
For more on Arizona sports, check out AZDesertSwarm.com.