Arizona-BYU: 10 storylines

Anthony Gimino

With this site up and running for only a day, I didn't have as much time as I will through the season in putting together a game preview for Arizona-BYU.

With the 7:45 p.m. kickoff, we have time to go up-tempo for 10 quick storylines:

  1. Khalil Tate. Of course. I've been in favor on Arizona playing a waiting game on any potential Heisman campaign, in large part because, from coach Kevin Sumlin's introductory news conference, he has wanted to make this all about the team.

Tate, too, has said all the right things, and not made it all about him. Through camp, his coaches and teammates talked about Tate becoming more of a leader. In addition to his physical skills, Tate -- still only 19 -- sounds like he has a good head on his shoulders.

"Now, he's kind of like has that senior leadership to him, even though he's only a junior," wide receiver Cedric Peterson said this week. "He's been the starting quarterback for the last season and you can just see he wants to take it to the next level.

"All this film and publicity that are coming on him now, he has no other choice but to manage and lead the team."

  1. Yeah, but what about Tate on the field? The new Arizona coaching staff won't take away Tate's legs -- that's what makes Tate Tate -- but new coordinator Noel Mazzone wants to see Tate stick around the pocket, make reads and deliver.

Tate has the arm to make the tight-window throws, not just the quick outs and deep fades often asked off him last season. That worked fine, but if Tate can start using the middle of the field, how do you stop him?

"Man, he's a very legit passer," said Arizona safety Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles. "He can scramble around, look downfield and make things happen."

  1. Kevin Sumlin's debut. Remember how TV producers would always have a camera just focused on Mike Stoops and his sideline antics? Rich Rodriguez followed in those overheated footsteps, but the guess is that, whatever happens Saturday night, the TV cameras won't capture a Sumlin meltdown.

Can Arizona Wildcats’ New Coach Kevin Sumlin Continue First-Game Winning Trend?
Can Arizona Wildcats’ New Coach Kevin Sumlin Continue First-Game Winning Trend?

Kevin Sumlin addressing the media after UA's first full day of practice. (Anthony Gimino photo) The Kevin Sumlin era begins on Saturday. He will be just the sixth full-time coach since 1980 (the Wildcats have had three interim coaches in that time). The five previous coaches are 2-3 in their debuts, but the last three all got wins in their first game on the Arizona sidelines. How they fared. Larry Smith – 1980 Smith had a rough start to his Wildcat career, falling 15-13 at home to Colorado State. The season was up and down. After dropping the game to the Rams, they won two straight road games, beating Cal and Iowa (by a 5-3 score). They would also upset No 2 UCLA and were 5-5 heading into the ASU game, but fell 44-7. Dick Tomey – 1987 Oddly enough, Tomey also gave up 15 points and lost in his debut. Iowa came to Tucson and spoiled Tomey's debut 15-14. It was a strange season that saw the Wildcats go 4-4-3. Also strange was the fact that Arizona did not repeat a result all season, with every win, loss or tie streak being a single game. AT ARIZONA MAVEN -- From's Anthony Gimino: Arizona-BYU top 10 storylines John Mackovic – 2001 Mackovic may have had a terrible Wildcat coaching career, but his debut was a good one. The Wildcats went to San Diego and beat San Diego State 23-10. Down 10-0, Arizona scored the next 27 points. A safety off a punt put Arizona on the board and the Wildcats took the lead for good when Brandon Nash returned a fumble 58-yards for the score. Arizona won their next two games, but lost five in a row, before taking two of their last three games. Mike Stoops – 2004 Stoops also won his first game, before going on a losing streak. Arizona scored 14 fourth quarter points to beat NAU 21-3. Mike Bell scored a pair of touchdowns, and Kris Heavner found Syndric Steptoe for the final score. Things went downhill from there as the Wildcats lost their next seven games, before finally edging Washington 23-13. They also beat ASU to finish 3-8. Rich Rodriguez – 2012 Like Stoops, Rodriguez won his first game and it was a close one. The Wildcats needed overtime to beat Toledo (though to be fair, they won 9 games that year, including 8 straight after falling in Tucson). Arizona led 3-0, but found themselves down 14-10 at the half. Arizona had a chance to win the game in regulation but missed a short field goal as time expired. Matt Scott gave Arizona the win in overtime when he found Terrance Miller on a 10-yard touchdown pass. The Cats started the season 3-0 and went on to win five of their last seven, including a win on the New Mexico Bowl. Rodriguez was the first Arizona coach to qualify for a bowl in his inaugural season. I know you are curious about the interim coaches. Mike Hankwitz – 2003 Arizona lost 13-10 to No. 19 TCU in overtime to fall to 1-4 and Mackovic was out. In stepped Mike Hankwitz. In his debut the Wildcats fell to No. 14 Washington State 30-7 on the road. Hankwitz would go 1-6, with the lone win coming against Washington. Tim Kish – 2011 The Wildcats opened the season at 1-5 and had lost 10 of 11 games dating back to 2010. That prompted then AD Greg Byrne to fire Stoops and promote Kish. In his first game as interim head coach, the Wildcats defeated UCLA, 48–12. It was exactly 355 days after their last win over an FBS opponent, which also came against UCLA. Marcel Yates – 2018 Yates was named interim coach after the dismissal of Rodriguez after the 2018 season and held the position until Sumlin was hired.

  1. Beer. There will be beer sold at Arizona Stadium. Mmmm ... beer.

  2. Matt Bushman returns to Tucson. The former Sabino tight end was a Freshman All-American last season, catching 49 passes for 520 yards and three scores in a disastrous 4-9 season, after which coach Kilani Sitake overhauled his offensive coaching staff.

Bushman, at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, will be trying to make an impact, catching passes from Tanner Mangum, who has started 20 career games but is coming back from an Achilles injury.

Arizona's Flannigan-Fowles remembered competing against Bushman, who took a two-year church mission after high school, as prep players.

"He caught a slant for a touchdown, and I'm like, 'Yeah, nobody's hitting that. He's 6-5, 2-whatever he was back then ... yeah, no," Flannigan-Fowles said.

  1. Camp stars: Lots of buzz around these newcomers/young guys -- DT PJ Johnson, CB McKenzie Barnes, RB Gary Brightwell, WR Stanley Berryhill III.

  2. UA's offensive line. This is the No. 1 concern on the team, probably by a wide margin at this point. Will true freshman Donovan Laie start and play OK at left tackle while stalwart Layth Friekh is ineligible for two games?

Sumlin said Monday he saw recent signs of the offensive line coming together, but was that just something to say?

Much will depend on sophomore Josh McCauley and/or junior college transfer Steven Bailey at center.

  1. The Zona Zoo. Arizona's student section has a revamped and more spacious playground on the east side of Arizona Stadium. Construction crews have been working furiously to put the finishing touches on the renovations (which won't be complete until the second home game), but there is now one less excuse for much of the Zoo deciding to leave after halftime.

  2. Season prediction. Arizona is getting plenty of love nationally, picked in some circles to win 9-plus games and win the Pac-12 South. I get it. The window of opportunity is wide open: A Heisman candidate at QB, new energy from Kevin Sumlin's debut, a favorable schedule, an improving defense.

I'm troubled by the offensive line for the moment. I'm going 8-4.

  1. Who wins tonight? One team has Khalil Tate, the other doesn't ... which might be the deciding factor in a lot of predictions this season.

Arizona fans have been chalking this one up as a win for months, but BYU's talent didn't suddenly drop off the cliff last season. I can see reasons to need to stick around into the second half before the Wildcats win (and cover) 31-17.

Comments (4)
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Javier Morales
Javier Morales


More on this being the first game: Talked to a previous Arizona season ticket holder yesterday, and he told me he is not going tonight because he can enjoy the game at home on his big screen TV, especially with the game starting at almost 8. I know it's becoming a tired story but if the Kevin Sumlin Era does not start with a great crowd, these are big reasons (luxury, start of game, etc.) why. These are different times.

Javier Morales
Javier Morales


Good rundown Anthony. If Arizona finishes 8-4, which is feasible, it bodes well for next season if Khalil Tate returns and the defense stays intact. A lot of returners there in 2019. Sumlin can have a banner two seasons to start his career, best in recent history for UA coaches. Rich Rod won the Pac-12 South in his third year.