Hawaii's offense poses challenge to Arizona in season opener

Gary Randazzo

Arizona football opens at Hawaii this Saturday in Week “Zero” of the 2019 college football season. Despite being an early 11-point favorite, the Wildcats will need to bring their A-Game on both sides of the football to avoid the type of anticipated shootout that could quickly devolve into a wrong side of the scoreboard blowout.

Kevin Sumlin, Arizona’s second year coach, has been preaching discipline on and off the field this offseason. He touted the team’s improvement at Pac-12 Media Day, highlighted by a solid team G.P.A. and enhanced focus in everything from film sessions to on-field drills.

The Rainbow Warriors finished ninth nationally in passing last season and return an experienced offensive line that features a combined 70 starts. Although Arizona’s defensive line has undergone a positive overhaul (Read Gimino's take on Arizona's defensive line), it’s difficult to imagine the Wildcats finding ways to apply enough pressure in the pocket to disrupt Hawaii’s Run-n-Shoot offense that passed for more than 4,000 yards and 42 touchdowns against only 12 interceptions in 2018.

Perhaps they have already figured it out, and perhaps they will show it on Saturday, but in recent years Arizona’s defense has been unable to defend the short-strike passing attack. Cornerbacks have given up too much space and linebackers have been tripped up in defending the crossing routes. All of this exacerbated by lack of a consistent pass rush unless the Wildcats commit 5 or 6 on the blitz.

With limited exposure to live practices, nobody in the media has any idea how much Arizona’s defense has improved in these areas.

Granted, Arizona will counter with its own potent offense, led by the dynamic duo of all-everything quarterback Khalil Tate and the shifty running style of J.J. Taylor. Combined, the two offenses are capable of totaling 80 points or more. However, one or two miscues at the wrong time could derail any hope of a victory, especially if Arizona’s defense isn’t getting enough stops to create a cushion.

Defensively, Arizona needs to find a way to disrupt the usually efficient Rainbow Warriors by making tackles, increasing deflections, and avoiding costly penalties that extend drives. A season ago, there were times when 3rd-and-15 might as well have been 2nd-and-1 as these key plays would result in an opposing receiver flashing across the middle of the field wide open for significant, back-breaking gains. If this happens Saturday, on the road, in what will undoubtedly be a windy, hostile environment, then the pressure to execute and keep pace with Hawaii will fall squarely on the offense. One or two mishaps on that side of the ball and suddenly the Wildcats can be the team scratching its head on the sidelines.

It happens far too often at the collegiate level, particularly in the first few games of the season.

One team is on point, while the other is struggling to simply fasten their chin straps.

In 2018, Arizona opened the season against BYU, at home, was outscored 21-0 in the third quarter and dropped a close one, 28-23. A week later, the Wildcats gave up the game’s first 38 points and were routed at Houston, 45-18.

Bad things happened that quickly.

Hawaii, despite being a home underdog, is capable of such a performance if Arizona does not instill its will, play disciplined football, execute, and find ways to contain a Rainbow Warriors offense equally as explosive as their own.

If they do, fans will be smiling. If they do not, fans will again question everything positive they have read or heard about the Wildcats this summer.

Comments (11)
No. 1-9
Gary Randazzo
Gary Randazzo

Editor

As someone who is absolutely sickened by bad defense, I no longer want excuses. I remember Rich Rod would always say that offenses are just too good these days. Hogwash! Plenty of schools have figured out ways to still play not just good, but great defense. It's no surprise that these same schools are also perennial contenders in their respective conferences. Arizona needs to figure it out and become more consistent on that side of the ball for sure.

Anthony22
Anthony22

Defense was and has been awful. Definitely need to pressure the QB more. But also contain the ground game as well. Wayyyyy too many times in the recent past have we been run all over. I'd like to see some definite improvement over the recent past. Was listening to Gimino this morning on Sirius xm and he brought up a great point. We've not had anyone have double digit sacks in any year since Brooks Rieid. That is just sad and hard to grasp being an Arizona fan.

Rockdoc
Rockdoc

i wonder what confidence the coaches truly have. seems that in the past, especially first few games, pass coverage is loose and they dont show much.

i think we will still not show much but i hope the confidence to take Hawaii out of the game motivates aggressive defensive calls.

Steve Buchanan
Steve Buchanan

Editor

In regard to the potential on the Defensive side of the Football, there really BETTER be significant improvement. This is Marcel Yates 4th year on the job. The defense should have been the strength of the program last year, but was only marginally better. Hawaii will be a good test, but Arizona NEEDS to shut this offense down to establish an identity for 2019.

Gary Randazzo
Gary Randazzo

Editor

I agree about getting pressure, but I'd prefer we do that without having to commit so many to the box. I'd like to see the front 3 or 4 be able to get pressure by beating the OL 1-on-1. Gimino, made a great point. Having 1 lock down CB allows our defense to take away one side of the field and perhaps force the QB to hold on to the ball longer, which in turn will theoretically give our DL time to apply some pressure.

Wineknow
Wineknow

Totally stoked for season finally being here. I am cautiously optimistic. I really want to see 1. Tate run WAY more than Mazzone wants him to. 2. We figure out serious pressure on QB's - bring the corners or whatever but it seems like we need to figure out a way to get to the QB, IMO.

Anthony Gimino
Anthony Gimino

Editor

Defense needs a legit pass-rusher (Harris?) and a true No. 1 CB (Whittaker?). Those are the building blocks of any good D. I'm cautiously optimistic defense can be decent to above average.

Gary Randazzo
Gary Randazzo

Editor

I do think Arizona's cornerbacks are going to be more aggressive this year and the safety spots should pack a punch. For me, I'll believe any improvements along the DL when I actually see it against live action. Still, the added size and relative quickness upfront is indeed promising. Offensively, Arizona can have a big year if the skill players remain healthy.

Steve Buchanan
Steve Buchanan

Great take, Gary. Arizona should show improvement on both sides of the line, and more experience with the offensive scheme of Mazzone. I expect the D to be OK, and the offense slightly better.


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