5 takeaways from the Arizona Wildcats' loss at Houston

Khalil Tate (14) is tackled by Houston Cougars linebacker Leroy Godfrey (4) near the goal line during the fourth quarter at TDECU Stadium. Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

On the defense, Khalil Tate, punting and more

In the grand tradition of Saturday morning cartoons, the Arizona Wildcats played the part of Wily E. Coyote, stepping off a cliff and looking around for a few seconds while not realizing there was no ground beneath him before plummeting, helplessly, to the canyon floor.

Such was the physics-defying freefall for Arizona in the first quarter, in the first half ... heck, into the second half against Houston in an early kickoff on Saturday morning.

The Wildcats gave up touchdowns on the Cougars' first three drives of the game and fell behind 38-0 with 12:09 to go in the third quarterback before putting some lipstick on that deficit with some yards and points that were mostly irrelevant to the result.

Houston won 45-18.

Some thoughts as coach Kevin Sumlin dropped to 0-2 in his debut season at Arizona:

1. The Wildcats are not physical.

ESPN analyst David Pollack made this point on GameDay: "Have they played physical in the last 10 years? Everyone's physical against Arizona."

The defensive line has more size than it's had in several years, but 335-pound junior college transfer P.J. Johnson did not play because of an ankle injury suffered in practice, and Dereck Boles left the game with a leg injury at the end of the first half.

Whether it was the humidity, Houston's fast pace, lack of depth or poor conditioning, the Arizona defensive line looked gassed early.

As for the offensive line, senior left tackle Layth Friekh comes back from a two-game suspension next week but center Nathan Eldridge (injury) remains out.

Facing Ed Oliver, the best defensive tackle in the country, Arizona was stuffed on interior runs on third-and-1, third-and-4, third-and-5 and on four consecutive downs after having first-and-goal from the 1 in the fourth quarterback when the comeback flame still had a wisp of a flicker.

"I thought he got a touchdown on one of them," Oliver said in a postgame press conference, "so I'm glad they didn't call it and we got to play physical in the red zone."

2. We still haven't seen the real Khalil Tate.

Sumlin said during the week and reiterated on ESPN in the pregame that, "We're going to turn him loose a little bit today."

And then Tate hurt his left ankle on the Arizona's fifth snap of the game. That stayed in the game, despite some obvious limitations, until the final possession.

He completed 24 of a career-high 45 passes for 341 yards, with no touchdowns and two interceptions. He had seven runs for 8 yards.

Sumlin told WildcatsRadio 1290 that the injury certainly affected the game plan to "turn him loose" after Tate had a mere 14 yards on eight carries in last week's loss to BYU.

"He wanted to go and he did move the ball in the second half, but it was a decision that was made with him and our staff. He wanted to go and was still effective in the second half," Sumlin said.

"With the ankle at first, it is one of those deals where there is the original pain and then you start playing on it, the more you stop, the more it hurts. He felt like it was OK. We asked him every series. But it did change the conversation."'

3. There was no reason to punt with about 5 minutes to go.

The scenario: Arizona faced fourth-and-9 at its 45, trailing 38-18. So, it needed to score and get the ball back two more times while having only one timeout.

Maybe the chances of winning were about 0.01 percent at that point. But after punting, it had to be zero. (Houston ended up scoring a touchdown on the ensuing possession.)

Sumlin explained, but it still didn't make much sense.

"It was fourth and almost 10, we hadn't been very successful on third-and-long protection," Sumlin said in his postgame press conference. "We wanted to get the ball back in there so we could pin them. Once they broke out a big play on a sweep, it was over after that."

4. More on the defense

Arizona doesn't have a sack in two games. It hasn't forced a turnover.

Among the glaring miscues Saturday ...

Safety Isaiah Hayes and cornerback Tim Hough missed a tackle on a quick pass to the sideline on Houston's first drive, allowing Marquez Stevenson to squirt free for a 24-yard touchdown. Xavier Bell, starting at Spur safety for injured Tristan Cooper and (apparently still-in-doghouse) Scottie Young Jr. got faked out badly on a 52-yard scoring pass.

Young's one-game suspension was over, but he did not play. Starting cornerback Jace Whittaker sat because of injury for the second consecutive game. We mentioned the injuries up front.

It's just not pretty right now, especially with Arizona going to face more fast-paced, spread teams in the Pac-12.

"We practice against every day," Sumlin said on radio, "and it shouldn't have been the problem it presented."

5. What next?

Arizona is 0-2 when it hoped to be 2-0 en route to 4-0 before playing USC at home on Sept. 29. Khalil Tate, not a Heisman candidate.

Now comes a game against Southern Utah of the Football Championship Subdivision, an uninspiring opponent at an unpopular kickoff time (8 p.m.).

One guy still playing hard at end Saturday was linebacker Colin Schooler, who had nine tackles, including three for loss (and a safety), with two quarterback hurries and a pass break-up.

"With games like this you really find out what kind of team you have," he said in a postgame press conference.

"We were down 30-something points and had guys still fighting. They were playing their hardest and trying to get plays. That's something you can take away from this game. No matter what, the guys around here are going to play their hardest."

Comments (2)
No. 1-1

It looks bad. It can get worse. Remember old mackovic and stoops days. But sumlin has already lost the fan base. It going to be a long rebuilding process.

Anthony Gimino
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Anthony Gimino
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Anthony Gimino
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Brad Allis
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Anthony Gimino
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