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Texas Tech visits Arizona for first road test of the Matt Wells era

With what has all the ingredients of a barnburner in the desert, Texas Tech and Arizona look to reignite Border Conference rivalry.

UTEP v Texas Tech Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images

I got some ocean front property in Arizona,

From my front porch you can see the sea.

I got some ocean front property in Arizona,

If you’ll buy that I’ll throw the golden gate in free.

I have a confession... I LOVE old school country music. I get that from my mom. One of my favorites is George Strait’s 1987 hit single “Ocean Front Property.” It’s subtly clever, deceptively simple, and it also lyrically describes perfectly what is happening in Tucson right now.

Somehow, Kevin Sumlin sold someone within the University of Arizona athletic department, to give him millions of dollars to lead a program from the weirdness that Rich Rodriguez left them in, to the heights of… whatever the heights of winning the Pac 12 South are these days is. I assume he did this with a one-page resume that reads “I BEAT ALABAMA THAT ONE TIME IN THAT ONE GAME” in size 28 font and bolded.

And to that person who decided that was a good idea, I have some mountainside property in Lubbock, Texas, that I’d like to sell to the Wildcats Athletic Department, as well.

First Down - The Enemy:

Northern Arizona v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

As previously mentioned, Arizona hired former Texas A&M Head coach Kevin Sumlin prior to the 2018 season. Sumlin’s teams are known for finding new ways to lose, blowing big leads, being undisciplined and playing bad defense. It’s amazing what people pay millions of dollars for these days, right?

While I don’t think the season has largely been what anyone could call a success up to this point, I wouldn’t put it past Sumlin to pull out all the stops against Tech this weekend in a game largely considered, by most, as a must-win for the Wildcats.

Second Down - Key Players:

Northern Arizona v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Arizona offense revolves around their extremely talented senior QB Khalil Tate, and rightfully so. Tate busted on the college football scene in 2017 with a game that saw him set the FBS record for most rushing yards by quarterback in a single game (387 yards). Tate even got some Heisman hype going into 2018, before a nagging ankle injury slowed him down all season. Tate is joined in the backfield by a pair of really good running backs in senior workhorse J.J. Taylor and speedster in junior Gary Brightwell, who has legit 4.3 speed.

Tech’s defense should expect to see a steady diet of RPOs and runs designed to lull the defense asleep in order to open up vertical shots downfield. The key for the Tech defense will be to bring pressure from different angles on Tate, who completed less than 40% of his passes and threw five of his eight total interceptions when facing pressure last season. While this strategy might give way to Tate’s ability to scramble, it also may force him to make mistakes that the defense can capitalize on. This is a game where one turnover could make the difference.

Defensively, below are the current ranks of Arizona’s defense through two games:

• 126th in scoring defense

• 126th in passing defense

• 127th in First down defense

• 128th in Third down defense

While those are absolutely terrible, the Arizona defense has gotten six interceptions, while only logging two sacks. What that tells me is that they have been able to get turnovers without bringing much pressure, which I kind of chalk up to being luck from facing teams like Hawaii and FCS Northern Arizona.

Northern Arizona v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

I don’t think the Arizona defense can sit back to wait for a mistake and let a quarterback like Alan Bowman pick them apart. This is a game where the Tech veteran offensive line, which should get Jack Anderson and Terence Steele back this week, needs to shine by keeping the pocket clean all night.

Third Down - By the Numbers:

• The Wildcats have been flagged an FBS worst 21 times already this season for 215 total yards. Last season, Arizona was flagged 95 times for 908 total yards. Yikes.

• There are only two active Power Five quarterbacks with 1,500-plus career rushing yards and 4,000-plus career passing yards. One is this week’s opponent, Khalil Tate (4,863 passing and 1,981 rushing). The other? Texas Tech’s next opponent, Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts (6,217 passing and 2,199 rushing).

Fourth Down - Prediction:

While I don’t feel like this is an easy win by any means, I do feel confident that the Wildcat defense isn’t going to morph into the college version of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens defense and somehow find a way not to commit stupid penalties. Khalil Tate is a wonderful talent and should be respected as such, but he has shown he can be forced into making mistakes when defenses pressure him.

Tech’s job this weekend is to not get lulled to sleep by the running game, take advantage of a really undisciplined team and give Alan Bowman a clean pocket to run the offense from.

Texas Tech 52, Arizona 45