TUCSON, Ariz. — First-year Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin has a reputation for developing productive, prolific quarterbacks.
Everybody knows he coached Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M. But before that, Sumlin was around Drew Bledsoe at Washington State, Drew Brees at Purdue, Jason White and Sam Bradford at Oklahoma and Case Keenum at Houston.
Now, as he prepares for his first game as the Wildcats’ coach Saturday (8:45 p.m., MDT, ESPN) against BYU, Sumlin has inherited another star QB — junior Khalil Tate, a Heisman Trophy candidate.
But Sumlin knows that quarterbacks, no matter how talented, can’t win games by themselves.
The task of protecting Tate from the Cougars’ defense falls on Arizona’s offensive line. The Wildcats are replacing three starters from last season. Another starter, left tackle Layth Friekh, has been suspended for the first two games of the season while center Nathan Eldridge is doubtful for Saturday’s opener due to a knee injury.
So Arizona could have an entirely new O-line Saturday. How is the Wildcats' rebuilt line coming along?
“We better be coming together pretty quickly,” Sumlin said. “We’ve made some strides, certainly, in the last three or four days. This whole O-line situation is being solidified.”
Meanwhile, Sumlin is wary of BYU’s size on the defensive line, including 6-foot-9, 275-pound end Corbin Kaufusi and 6-4, 340-pound tackle Khyiris Tonga.
“We’ve got a real challenge this week. BYU is a well-coached team,” he said. “It will be as large a team as we’ll face this year. This is going to be a large football team.”
Arizona wide receiver Cedric Peterson said the Cougars “are a little bit older than most teams we play against, but the main thing is their D-line. They’ve got a few bigger bodies up there that we haven’t really seen, but I think we can handle them."
BYU senior linebacker Butch Pau’u said Tate reminds him of former BYU QB Taysom Hill.
“He’s a different type of QB. We’ve faced quarterbacks that can run. As a defense, the only quarterback like that we’ve ever gone against like him is Taysom Hill but that was in practice,” he said. “In a game situation, this is first opportunity to be able to play a quarterback of this caliber — a Heisman candidate, who can run and has breakaway speed. We hope to be able to contain him and stop him from running.”
The key to stopping Arizona’s offense?
“It always starts with our defensive line,” Pau’u said. “If they’re stout, they’ll make more plays than we do. We know this game will come down to our defensive line containing him. If he does roll out of the pocket, it’s making sure we’re swarming as a defense to get to Khalil Tate.”
“He’s a dynamic player, man. There’s a lot of good defenses that he’s played against and he’s shredded them all. He’s going to get his. It’s just a matter of trying to keep him contained and not letting out for 300 yards,” said BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki. “He’s got an arm. He has arm strength and it looks like he throws it with ease. We want to force him to beat us with his arm. He capable of doing both … They’re an offense that’s capable of putting up a lot of points. We’ve got to hold them down.”
“We’ve been watching a lot of film and he’s a really fast guy. He looks to run. He wants to pass but as soon as he starts to feel pressure he looks to run the ball,” sophomore defensive lineman Bracken El-Bakri said of Tate. “Coach Tuiaki and coach (Kalani) Sitake have built a really good scheme on how we’re going to corral him … We’re going to shut him down and we’re going to win the game. It’s what’s going to happen. You shut down his run game, we’re going to win the game.
“He’s definitely a fantastic player. You’ve got to respect his speed and athleticism,” El-Bakri added. “Our middle linebacker Butch Pau’u is going to be right on him, whacking that guy. Give him a couple of clean whacks and he might not want to run it as much.”
Aside from Tate, Arizona has other playmakers, including wide receivers Shun Brown, who caught 43 passes for 573 yards and six touchdowns last season, and Tony Ellison, who hauled in 37 passes for 593 yards and six touchdowns a year ago.
But the Cougars know shutting down Tate's running ability is crucial.
“We’ve got to try to stop the run and keep the quarterback bottled up and turn the game into a little more of a one-dimensional game,” Tuiaki said. “But it’s real difficult with a quarterback like this. It’s important every single week for us — something we take pride in is being stout and physical in the run.”
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Cougars on the air
at Arizona (0-0)
Saturday, 8:45 p.m. MDT Arizona Stadium
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM