Here’s what we learned in our Q&A:
UWDP: How is Khalil Tate playing so far this season? His numbers show very good efficiency passing. Is he still as dangerous as ever running the ball?
Brian Pedersen: Khalil Tate is still a very dangerous runner, but he’s much more selective with when he runs (and when Arizona designs runs for him). He’s more inclined to scramble in order to get a receiver open, which has sometimes led to him either running out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage or throwing an interception rather than tossing the ball away, but it does work a lot of the times because defenders have to account for his speed.
He’ll never regularly run at the rate he did in 2017, but he’s made up for that with much-improved passing thanks to great arm strength and, recently, a willingness to checkdown.
UWDP: How would you asses the offensive line play so far this season. Is JJ Taylor still the feature back when healthy? There are a number of Wildcat runners with 25 or more carries. Who will we see Saturday night?
Brian: Arizona’s offensive line has been very solid to this point, thanks to three returning starters from a year ago and improved depth. Before the last two games saw opponents really load the box, the Wildcats were leading the Pac-12 in rushing, but not having J.J. Taylor also impacted those numbers. He’s still by far Arizona’s best runner, and Kevin Sumlin wants him to be the primary guy, but if he’s not 100 percent there are four others who can split carries and they each bring something different. If J.J. can’t go, or can’t go much, expect different backs in there every series and sometimes two or three on the field at a time since many are used in the passing game.
UWDP: Tayvian Cunningham and Brian Casteel lead the way for the Arizona receivers in total yards and catches respectively. How are the two used in the offense? Who else is a threat in the passing game?
Brian: Arizona has had nine different receivers (not including running backs and tight ends) catch a pass this season, and seven different wideouts have started at least one game. Not because of injuries or ineffectiveness but because that group is very interchangeable, almost like how Washington State has so many receiving options it doesn’t matter who is out there. Cunningham is the speed guy and Casteel is the most physical of the receivers, but it’s really a ‘pick your poison’ situation where you never know which guy is going to get targeted.
UWDP: Arizona is 88th in scoring defense nationally and 119th in total defense. How has the play of the defense been in your opinion?
Brian: The numbers don’t truly tell the story of how much better this defense is. It’s going to give up too many yards, more third downs than you’d like and a handful of big plays, but one thing it won’t do is wear down. The defensive line, while still lacking in sacks and QB hurries, is staying fresh thanks to a near-constant rotation of bodies, and that’s also happening at times in the secondary. Arizona has outscored its opponents 29-3 in the fourth quarter of its last three games and it can attribute that to being in much better shape and better equipped for the final period.
UWDP: Kevin Sumlin is in year two, and now has a winning record at UA at 9-8 (5-7 last year). The fanbase must be pleased with him so far.
Brian: You’d think, right? Sadly, everything Arizona football does gets compared to the men’s basketball program, and that’s just not fair. This is a fanbase that should be content with 7-8 wins a season, with the occasional outlier one way or the other, like how Rich Rodriguez went 10-4 with a Pac-12 title game appearance but also a 3-9 season.
Yet that 10-win performance in 2014 once again got fans to believe Arizona should regularly contend for the Rose Bowl, which it has never played in, and thus most believed RichRod wasn’t good enough. They don’t think Sumlin is, either, but then again many don’t feel Sean Miller has been successful with the basketball team because he hasn’t made a Final Four.
UWDP: What is your prediction for Saturday?
Brian: Had Washington won at Stanford last week I would have given Arizona a better chance to take this one. But Chris Petersen hasn’t lost consecutive games since 2015 and I don’t see him doing so right now. The Wildcats are riding high but they really haven’t played a team as good as the Huskies.
Washington wins 27-23.
Thanks Brian. For more on the Wildcats, check out Arizona Desert Swarm.