Arizona Wildcats host Cal fresh off Golden Bears’ first loss
While Arizona fell to USC a week ago, the Wildcats saw quarterback Khalil Tate use his legs more than he had in any of the first four games, and going forward, his speed on the ground could be key.
Saturday, Arizona fell to USC 24-20 for their first Pac-12 loss, but considering the Wildcats were trailing 24-0 at one point, the loss was respectable.
In the loss, Tate rushed for a season-high 38 yards, but in the air, he was inconsistent. While throwing for 232 yards and two touchdowns, he was inaccurate in the process, completing just 16 of his 33 pass attempts.
The Wildcats are now 2-3 (1-1 Pac-12) this season, and Saturday, they host California. A week ago, Cal’s undefeated season ended at the hands of Oregon in a 42-24 defeat.
What: California at Arizona
When: 7 p.m.
Will Tate use his legs as often as he did against USC?
For the first time of 2018, Khalil Tate exercised his dual-threat abilities last week, finishing the game with 13 carries. While averaging only 2.9 yards per carry, it was a breath of fresh air for Arizona fans, who have been anxious to see him run the ball more this year.
“It was some good, some bad,” Arizona head coach Kevin Sumlin said. “As a team, we were inconsistent. But he made some throws at the end to get us back in the game.”
Arizona’s Week 6 opponent, Cal, has established its pass defense as one of the best in the conference, allowing 184.3 passing yards per game.
Because of this, Arizona may lean on Tate and running back J.J. Taylor to carry the offense. If his ankle allows, Tate may see more carries than he has previously this year.
How will Arizona start the game?
So far this season, one thing has remained relatively consistent for Arizona football: sluggish starts. The Wildcats have been outscored 79-48 in the first half, compared to the second half in which Arizona has outscored opponents 110-63.
This was no different against USC. The Trojans opened up to a 24-0 lead last week, and by the time Arizona started playing well, it was too late.
On the other hand, Cal has scored first in each of its first four games this season.
Can Arizona’s defense keep Cal’s passing game in check?
After a couple woeful games to start the season, Arizona’s pass defense has stepped up recently. In both of its last two games, the unit has held opposing quarterbacks Conor Blount and J.T. Daniels of Oregon State and USC, respectively, to under 200 passing yards.
This week, Arizona’s defense faces a quarterback committee in Chase Garbers and South Carolina transfer Brandon McIlwain.
Garbers has been inconsistent this year, throwing one interception for every 19 pass attempts. McIlwain hasn’t exactly been a star himself, completing only 57.9 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and two picks.
Which J.J. Taylor will show up?
Two weeks ago against Oregon State, Arizona running back J.J. Taylor was a force in the backfield, running for 284 yards and two touchdowns.
Last week, however, it was a different story. Taylor was held to just 50 yards on 18 carries, which was a season low.
Though Saturday was statistically the worst game of his season, Sumlin said not all of Taylor’s dismal performance was his fault.
“There’s more to it than just the running back,” Sumlin said. “Just like anything on offense, defense or special teams, it’s a team effort. We’ve got to block some folks and create some creases for him.”
Because stopping the pass is Cal’s defensive strength, Arizona may rely more on Taylor and Tate to use their legs against a mediocre run defense. Most recently, Cal struggled to stop the run against Oregon, who rushed for 260 yards on the ground.
QB Khalil Tate
Still fighting an ankle injury, Tate hasn’t looked 100 percent this year. He was inaccurate against USC last week, but even so, he showed flashes of brilliance, throwing two touchdown passes.
He may be limited in the air against Cal, so much of this game’s outcome rests on Tate’s ability to escape the pocket and run.
LB Colin Schooler
The last two games, Arizona’s defense has looked better, and a key reason for that is Colin Schooler.
In Pac-12 play, the sophomore linebacker has combined for 23 tackles, 4.5 of which were for a loss. Cal’s running game is No. 5 in the Pac-12 in yards per game (195.3), and Arizona’s ability to control the line of scrimmage depends heavily on Schooler’s performance.
Key Golden Bears
RB Patrick Laird
One of Cal’s most versatile players, Patrick Laird has made his presence known both on the ground and as a target for Garbers and McIlwain.
While he only caught one pass against Oregon, Laird rushed for 92 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. If Garbers and McIlwain struggle as they have, Laird could be the offense’s saving grace against Arizona.
KR Ashtyn Davis
Though often overlooked, a good kick returner can be pivotal to a team’s success, and that is no exception for Ashtyn Davis, Cal’s return man.
On 11 returns this year, Davis has accumulated 308 kickoff return yards with an average of 28 yards per return. That figure is good enough for No. 16 in the nation and No. 2 in the Pac-12.
In what could be a tight game, Davis’ ability to set the Golden Bears up with solid field position may be critical.