Arizona looks to rebound in home opener against NAU

JJ Taylor and Kahlil Tate should be on the attack against NAU.Casey Sapio - USA Today Images

Questions raised in loss to Hawaii need to be answered Saturday when Arizona hosts NAU in Tucson.

After watching Arizona struggle at Hawaii two weeks ago and Arizona State struggle against Sacramento State Friday night in Tempe, anything is possible when the Wildcats host NAU in Tucson. Arizona does own a 14-1 advantage in the series and has won 13-straight against the Lumberjacks. Still, the Wildcats enter their second game of the 2019 season with plenty of questions that need answers before next week’s matchup against Texas Tech.

Defense

The Wildcats (0-1), forced six turnovers by the Rainbow Warriors, yet still allowed 45 points and 595 yards of offense. Defensive Coordinator Marcel Yates advertised moving from a 3-man front to a 4-man front for months, but fans witnessed a less crowded line of scrimmage in Honolulu. Will Arizona play big on the defensive interior against NAU, or will they continue to test the patience of fans by only lining up with three down linemen?

Offense

Offensively, Arizona started slow against Hawaii, fell behind by 14 points, and never led once in the game. Despite gaining 539 yards of total offense and scoring 38 points, the Wildcats had a hard time extending drives by converting on only 27.3% of their third down tries. A key reason, at least in the first half, was the pass-first mindset off the offense. Incompletions on first down had the Wildcats playing behind the chains on far too many possessions. Against NAU (1-0), will Arizona take advantage of its strength and use its running game to set up passing strikes down the field, or continue to throw the ball early and risk facing down and distance situations predictable to defenses?

Special Teams

Aside from a 53-yard field goal by Lucas Havrisik, there was little to be excited about in the season opener. During the offseason, Kevin Sumlin touted special teams play as being an area of focus. A deeper roster meant more seasoned talent comprising special teams units. With a returner like J.J. Taylor, there was enthusiasm that big plays would be coming on special teams. Instead, Arizona averaged just 22 yards on returned kicks while fair catching punts for zero return yards. On the flip side, Arizona averaged just 34.6 yards on five punts.

Facts and Figures

  • Arizona in 9-0 against NAU in home openers, with an overall record of 90-19-5 in home openers.
  • Khalil Tate’s 361 passing yards and 108 rushing yards against Hawaii marked the first time a Pac-12 quarterback threw for at least 350 yards and rushed for more than 100 yards in a game since former Wildcat Matt Scott in 2012. The duo represent the only two conference quarterbacks to achieve such a feat this millennium.
  • NAU’s Chris Ball is in his first season as a head coach, taking over for Jerome Souers, who led the Lumberjacks program for 21 years. Ball and Sumlin were on the sidelines at Washington State under Mike Price in 1989 and 1990. Sumlin was a graduate assistant while Ball served as an assistant coach. 
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