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Arizona looking to bounce back after shaky opener

September 2, 2019
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With no time left in the 4th quarter, Hawaii defensive back Kalen Hicks (3) and defensive lineman Manly Williams (49) tackle Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate (14) just short of the end zone during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
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With no time left in the 4th quarter, Hawaii defensive back Kalen Hicks (3) and defensive lineman Manly Williams (49) tackle Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate (14) just short of the end zone during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona’s offense revved up after a slow start in its opener against Hawaii, reeling off big-chunk plays, scoring 35 points in the middle two quarters.

The defense stumbled from the start and never fully recovered, leading to a disheartening loss — and a long bye week.

“A lot of guys are looking forward to playing this weekend,” Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin said on Monday during his weekly news conference. “Nobody in this building is happy about what happened a week ago.”

Arizona had hopes of a bounce back from a mediocre first season under Sumlin in 2018. Quarterback Khalil Tate was healthy after an injury-plagued junior season, running back J.J. Taylor returned following a 1,400-yard season, and the Wildcats had playmakers on defense.

The offense lived up to its billing in the opener, racking up 539 yards and 38 points while coming up a yard short of a tying touchdown on the game’s final play. Tate threw for 361 yards and three touchdowns, ran for 108 more yards.

But the defense foundered from the start, allowing Hawaii to score the first 14 points, 45 total, and roll up 595 yards of total offense.

Because of a fluky schedule with a bye after the first game, the Wildcats had a week to address what went wrong and, they hope, get it fixed before Saturday’s game against FCS Northern Arizona.

“Because you have a bye week, you don’t really have a chance to get back on the field that quickly, but it does give you the opportunity to really look inside, where you are, and work on yourself,” Sumlin said. “Without having to play a game, there’s good and bad with that. In this situation, it really gave us an opportunity to look at personnel, really address some issues from a chemistry standpoint.”

Arizona’s defense is anchored by its linebackers, and that group, for the most part, had a solid first game, led by Colin Schooler’s nine tackles. The Wildcats also forced six turnovers, including their first four-interception road game since 2006.

But when the Wildcats weren’t picking off passes, they were repeatedly getting beat. Arizona’s secondary had a rough game, allowing the Rainbow Warriors to throw for 436 yards and four touchdowns.

The Wildcats also struggled to get any pressure against Hawaii’s quick-hitting offense,0 and the one time they did get to the quarterback, it led to a roughing penalty. Even against an FCS school, Arizona knows that has to change against Northern Arizona.

“There’s a blueprint from that game, with the quick throwing, that we’re going to have to change things up defensively, probably pressure some more, but also cover,” Sumlin said. “We’ve got to get more pressure on the quarterback. We just have to.”

The Hawaii loss was a letdown not just because it came against a smaller-conference school — in the opener, no less — but it fit the inconsistent pattern the Wildcats had in their first season under Sumlin.

Arizona showed flashes of being a good team a year ago, but would follow good games with clunkers, good plays with big mistakes on the way to a 5-7 record. The focus this season was to find more consistency, and the Wildcats came up short on that goal in Hawaii, from the shaky effort on defense to Tate’s 30-yard run that ended at the 1 as time expired.

“The things we saw coming into that first game, point to, hey, we’re growing up as a team, we’re more consistent,” Sumlin said. “But life pays on performance and our performance was not consistent. That will still be the message and I think our guys understand that. There were some things we did very well and there were things we were awful at.”

The Wildcats hope to have more consistency against Northern Arizona. They better or it could get ugly quick with high-scoring Texas Tech next on the schedule.

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