Arizona-Southern Utah: The glass-half-full edition

Arizona wide receiver Shawn Poindexter runs away from Southern Utah safety AJ Stanley en route to a 75-yard TD reception.Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

What went right in the 62-31 victory

Arizona Wildcats coach Kevin Sumlin was about halfway through his press conference following a 62-31 over Southern Utah, when he said, "Tonight is a glass-half-full night."

Fine. Fair enough. Sumlin did pick up his first victory in three tries Saturday night, and the Cats did put up 626 yards and all those points, so at least there was something resembling a sigh of relief.

Sumlin acknowledged that the glass-half-full feeling might not last after reviewing the game film, but we'll play along, looking for positives while dispensing the usual caveat in a matchup like this: It was only against a Football Championship Subdivision team.

1. Khalil Tate did Khalil Tate things. No, he wasn't back to being one of the most dynamic running quarterbacks in the nation, but he set his career high with 349 passing yards and matched his personal best with five touchdown passes.

"He kept some plays alive," Sumlin said. "Obviously, we had some big plays that he created either in the pocket or he got outside it and kept his eyes downfield and did some really nice things with some explosive plays. ...

"He managed the game well."

Tate's arm strength has never been a question. On a play in the third quarter, he scrambled and, without being able to step into the throw, fired the ball 63 yards in the air for a completion to a diving Devaughn Cooper.

Later in the quarter, he rolled to his right and lofted a touch pass over the defender and over the shoulder of receiver Shawn Poindexter, who caught the ball in stride down the sideline for a 75-yard touchdown.

Arizona's second-half scoring started with a Tebow-esque jump pass to Cedric Peterson for a 2-yard score.

Strength, touch and creativity. That's a nice passing package.

Tate completed 13 of 20 passes without an interception.

"He was pretty accurate tonight," Sumlin said. "He took care of the ball for the most part and there weren't a lot of dangerous throws into double coverage or anything like that. When he scrambled, he kept his eyes downfield and put the ball on people, instead of having it sail."

2. Layth Friekh is back. The senior left tackle was back after missing two games because of an eligibility issue, giving the Wildcats the veteran piece it has been missing.

"What Layth brings is attitude and experience. He's played a lot of football," Sumlin said. "I think what you saw tonight also gave us opportunity to be effective in pass protection. We have a long way to go. Don't get me wrong.

"But certainly that group was more solid tonight than they've been. The addition of Layth, you can't overlook that."

True freshman Donovan Laie, who started the first two games at left tackle, moved to right tackle, while right tackle Cody Creason switched to left guard.

"It was good to be back with my guys, and I'm ready to keep going," Friekh said. "I didn't forget nothing. I've played a lot. I know what it is. I know how fast the game is."

3. Explosive plays. Arizona entered the game 80th in the country with only eight plays of 20-play yards and no play longer than 46 yards.

Against the Thunderbirds, the Cats struck for gains of 75, 65, 55, 53, 33, 30, 29 and 21 yards -- plus a pick-up of 26 yards on a play in which Shun Brown advanced a fumble by Tate.

"We just made plays," Tate said. "Like I said last week, we're one play away. Tonight, we made that one play."

Suddenly, Arizona jumped to 35th nationally in plays of 20-plus yards with 17.

"It's just a new offense. It takes times with anybody," Friekh said. "And Khalil is the best quarterback in the country. Now, he's on a roll, so let's go."

4. Sacks and turnovers. OK, this is setting the bar of expectations really low, but Arizona's managed its first sack of the season (it had two) and came up with its first turnover (safety Jarrius Wallace's fourth-quarter interception of a tipped pass.

It's a start.

"It feels great to get one for the entire defense," Wallace said. "This is what we wanted. Get some momentum. You have to get one to get two. Hopefully, we go into Pac play causing turnovers and getting picks."

5. Confidence. While it's best to not draw too many glass-half-full conclusions because of the level of competition, if the Wildcats end up feeling good about themselves (at least until that film review), then the win Saturday night will prove valuable heading into a wide-open Pac-12 South race.

The 24-point third quarter is something to build on.

"We came to play," Friekh said of the mood after halftime. "We didn't come out and B.S. Everybody did their job and it just showed what we can do."

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