Week three for the Texas Tech Red Raiders has the guys traveling out to Tucson, Arizona to face off against Kevin Sumlin and the Arizona Wildcats. Like most fans of the Double-T, who we play week by week are largely defined by box scores. Last weekend Arizona outpaced Northern Arizona, 65-41, but we want to know more about the team entering its second season with the famed coach Sumlin. Who better to ask than Brian Pedersen of our SB Nation sister-site AZ Desert Swarm?
1. Arizona is in its second season with Kevin Sumlin, who went 5-8 last year. After their loss in the season opener against Hawaii, what is the overall mood or expectation going forward for Wildcat fans? Are there any notable changes that have come under Sumlin that spell success in the near-future?
There was definitely a certain amount of ‘here we go again’ after Arizona lost at Hawaii, much like last year when the Wildcats fell at home to BYU in Sumlin’s debut en route to an 0-2 start. The win over NAU didn’t do much to calm concerns, particularly on the defensive side. The most promising change from last season was the addition of two former NFL players as assistants: DeMarco Murray as running backs coach and Kyle DeVan as offensive line coach. But nothing is going to really change unless the defense improves, and that might not be possible with that side’s staff.
2. This match up has a lot more history than fans may understand. Texas Tech and Arizona played each other frequently throughout the fifties and seventies, with the last time they faced off being in ‘89: where Tech got its revenge at home for a ‘88 loss in Tucson. I know Red Raiders have this game circled as the prime metric for seeing how far our team has come since last year, but how does Texas Tech fit into Arizona’s goals for the season? What’s the possible impact of this game nobody is paying attention to?
It was definitely circled as the big non-conference test, but after losing to Hawaii and giving up 41 (!!!) points to an FCS school the prospect of taking on an offense with the explosive capability of Texas Tech has scared the heck out of many. The Pac-12 schedule is brutal for Arizona, so it needed to go 3-0 to have a good chance to make a bowl game, whereas being 1-2 would almost guarantee another season ending before December.
3. There are two Power Five QBs with 1,500-plus yards rushing and 4,000-plus yards passing in their careers. Khalil Tate is one of those. What’s he mean to the offense and, more importantly, what does he mean going against a revitalized Tech defense? What kind of weapons can we expect to see in Arizona’s offensive game plan this Saturday?
The Khalil Tate you’ll see on Saturday is not the one that burst onto the scene in 2017 with amazingly long runs, nor is he the one that was handcuffed last season first by a change in scheme and then a bum ankle. He’s still a major threat to run, but his elusiveness is best used as a way to avoid pressure and throw on the move, which he does surprisingly well. However, his receiving corps is still a work in progress with so many unproven pass catchers, though a speedy JUCO transfer named Tayvian Cunningham is emerging as a real weapon. Then there’s J.J. Taylor, who ran for 1,400-plus yards last season and is hard to take down, though so far Arizona has been spreading the carries around to five different backs.
4. On the flip side of that: Texas Tech doesn’t seem to have skipped an offensive beat in the coaching transition. How does Arizona, a team that hasn’t played as effectively on defense thus far, plan for a team so hell-bent on scoring the ball? Who are the key players for the Wildcat defense that we should become familiar with before Saturday?
It all comes down to getting pressure on the quarterback for Arizona, which apparently is much easier said than done. The Wildcats have two sacks so far, and very few hurries, and while they have some good individual defensive backs, teams so far have been able to identify the many weak spots in the passing game and have thrown at will. Defensive end Jalen Harris has a lot of potential and linebacker Colin Schooler is an all-around stud, while corner back Jace Whittaker already has three interceptions.
5. Opening as an underdog in your own house is never a good feeling. What are the keys to the game for Arizona to pull off the win against a team trying to get everything in order before facing Oklahoma? What’s your score prediction?
Arizona has to start fast in order to avoid getting down by multiple scores early and playing catch up. Its offense is very good and can score almost at will, but when having to play from behind Tate is more susceptible to mistakes and this is a game where neither team can afford to squander a scoring opportunity. Under Sumlin, the Wildcats are 5-1 when scoring on their first drive and 1-7 when they come up empty on that opening possession.
As for a score, I think Arizona somehow finds a way to come out on top. Maybe the presence of a whiteout—last done in 2014, for the comeback win over Cal that’s become known as the ‘Hill Mary’ game—gets the Wildcats ramped up for a barn burner, 52-48.