Changes coming to Arizona Wildcats offensive line

Arizona left tackle Layth Friekh celebrates a touchdown with running back J.J. Taylor in a 2016 game against the Washington Huskies.Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Layth Friekh's return to lineup means some shuffling

The Arizona Wildcats' offensive line, through the first two games of the season, featured a true freshman, a transfer, a walk-on center, a third-year player with no previous college game experience, and no seniors.

Young, inexperienced, unaccustomed to playing together, with little help from backups ... you can see why "growing pains" and "work in progress" have been two well-worn phrases about UA's group up front.

"It's not what we want. We want to be better," said Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin, whose team has lost at home to BYU and at Houston to start the season. "Certainly, from the first game to the second game, there was improvement in the our offensive line. We were pretty effective in the second half (against Houston).

"We had four of our offensive linemen play 100 snaps Saturday. That's a lot," Sumlin added. "We just don't have a lot of depth there and that takes a toll. Those guys couldn't come off the field. They didn't always do the right thing, but they battled. You see that in the second half from that whole offensive line."

Help -- Arizona hopes -- is on the way.

The team's best offensive lineman -- senior left tackle Layth Friekh (34 career starts) -- is back this week vs. Southern Utah. He had to sit out the first two games as a penalty for the restoration of a year of eligibility originally lost when he played sparingly as a true freshman.

His return will move true freshman Donovan Laie to right tackle, which means Cody Creason heads inside, likely to left guard. That would push Michigan State sophomore transfer Tshiyombu Lukusa out of the lineup, unless he flips to right guard to replace redshirt sophomore Bryson Cain, who did not play in his first two years at UA.

Walk-on Josh McCauley, a redshirt sophomore, figures to continue at center in place of injured Nathan Eldridge.

Creason entered the season with seven career starts at right tackle, accounting for all the starting experience on the line other than Friekh.

"He has done everything we have asked him to do at tackle," Sumlin said of Creason. "But he's probably better suited to be inside, just to give us some experience and size inside."

Arizona is averaging 3.28 yards per rush; only 15 teams in the country are worse.

Against Houston, the Wildcats failed to convert third-and-1 on a run up the middle, fourth-and-1 on a pitch and couldn't get into the end zone on four runs up the middle on first-and-goal from the 1 in the fourth quarter. Sumlin said the similar play-calling there was to try to make a point to his team.

"Just to make sure our team understands it and it's a point that, right or wrong, that's what we wanted to do," he said. "Hopefully it's a learning experience, because things are going to happen down there. When you need to get a yard, you need to get a yard.

"That didn't happen. That's where we have to get better also."

Laie (6-foot-4, 318 pounds) has been starting out of need, but the former three-star recruit from Oceanside, Calif., has taken advantage of the opportunity. Arizona might have a long-term keeper.

"I think he's extremely talented," Sumlin said. "In pass protection, he's been awesome. He's still learning about what to do all the time. ...

"It's been a real learning experience for him. He's very athletic. He's a big man for 18 years old, and he's only going to get better. The experience that he's had in the last two weeks has helped him. Athletically and size-wise, he's exactly what you're looking for when it comes to an offensive lineman."

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