Coming off first win, Arizona travels to Corvallis to face Oregon State

Sep 21, 2018, 7:13 AM
AP Photos...
AP Photos

On Saturday, Arizona earned its first win of the season, defeating Southern Utah 62-31 at home.

The Wildcats’ offense, which struggled in their first two games, rebounded nicely, combining for 626 total yards. Coming off an ankle injury, quarterback Khalil Tate also had a solid game, throwing for 349 yards and five touchdowns.

Defensively, however, the woes from the first two games remained. Even though SUU has shown offensive prowess in each of its three games, it is never good to allow 31 points to an FCS school.

In spite of this, it was a much-needed victory for the Wildcats as they enter conference play. Arizona enters the Pac-12 schedule 1-2, and the Wildcats face Oregon State on the road to open conference play.

Essential Info

What: Arizona at Oregon State

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Key Storylines

Is Khalil Tate back to normal?

Despite a lingering ankle injury, Khalil Tate had his best game under the new coaching staff Saturday.

Not only did he produce a strong stat line, but he also showed comfortability in the pocket and threw well on the run. Part of this, however, may be a result of Southern Utah’s suspect defense, which has now allowed 144 points in three games.

Even so, Tate’s performance on Saturday was a breath of fresh air for Arizona fans, who had seen him struggle to start the year.

Although he played his best game of the season in Week 3, Tate still didn’t use his legs extensively. His longest run of the night was for 21 yards, and he finished with just 18 yards.

As a whole, head coach Kevin Sumlin said he was pleased with Tate’s performance.

“He moved the team, he got out of the pocket,” Sumlin said. “I thought he did a pretty good job of taking shots when he needed to.”

His injury is keeping him from his dual-threat ways, but he may have to take risks and run the ball more as the opponents get tougher in Pac-12 play. This week, Tate gets another shot at a dismal defense in Oregon State, with the Beavers allowing 46.9 points per game.

Will the line continually improve?

Against Southern Utah, Sumlin noted improvement in the offensive line, in part because of tackle Layth Friekh’s return. Sumlin, however, said he wants to see how the unit performs in its first Pac-12 game.

“To get Layth back is a combination of attitude and experience. Now we can get some continuity if we can stay healthy,” Sumlin said. “Our line play did improve, but we’ll see this week as we step back into conference play. There’s still a lot of work to do.”

Before Friekh’s return from his two-game suspension, the Wildcats’ line returned just one starter from last year’s unit, and with center Nathan Eldridge out indefinitely, Friekh will need to take a leadership role as Pac-12 play begins.

Can Wildcats capitalize in third quarter again?

In Week 3, the third quarter was the peak of the Wildcats’ season thus far.

Arizona fired on all cylinders after the half, for the Wildcats outscored Southern Utah 24-0 in the quarter, and Tate was 6-for-8 with 215 yards and three touchdowns.

Though Arizona led at halftime, it was the third that allowed the Wildcats to pull away without much opposition. In what will likely be a shootout, halftime adjustments may be crucial against Oregon State.

Will Arizona stop OSU’s two-headed passing attack?

Oregon State came just short of completing what would’ve been a comeback of epic proportions against Nevada, and a large part was due to quarterback Jake Luton’s performance off the bench.

The Beavers’ starter, Conor Blount, was inconsistent to start the game, throwing for 175 yards and a touchdown, but he also threw a pick and lost a fumble, which was returned for a touchdown. After the fumble, Luton came into the game and played exceptionally, finishing with 284 passing yards and a touchdown.

OSU head coach Jonathan Smith said he plans to utilize both QBs going forward, which could make it hard for Arizona to prepare.

Can Arizona’s defense step up?

Despite trashing SUU last week, one thing remained consistent from Arizona’s first two games: defensive struggles.

This season, Arizona’s opponents have converted on third down 44.2 percent of the time, which is 109th in the FBS. That’s not good.

The team has been without star cornerback Jace Whittaker for the majority of the season, and after briefly playing against SUU, he left the game, appearing to aggravate his arm injury. Without him, the coverage hasn’t been tight, allowing Arizona’s opponents to cash in on big plays.

Key Wildcats

WR Tony Ellison

As the season has progressed, wide out Tony Ellison has improved consistently. In Week 3, Ellison caught four passes for 111 yards, including a  55-yard touchdown reception.

Because Tate is less mobile with his injury, Ellison may prove vital to the Wildcats’ offense if he can continue to get open.

“All he does is get open,” Sumlin said. “Every Saturday he just makes plays. He’s been a consistent player on this team.”

CB Tim Hough

Whittaker’s status for Saturday is uncertain, and regardless of whether he plays or not, Tim Hough will need to step up to stop a Beaver offense that has put up points this year.

Against SUU, Hough committed several penalties and looked out of place at times. As one of the veteran players on the team, Hough has to be more disciplined and set an example for the younger pieces of the secondary.

Key Beavers

RB Jermar Jefferson

Running back Jermar Jefferson has started the season off hot, combining for almost 400 yards and averaging 7.1 yards per carry in his first three games. Most recently, Jefferson eclipsed 100 yards and found the end zone twice in OSU’s 37-35 loss to Nevada.

Arizona’s defensive issues are no secret, and Jefferson could be a force against a defense that has allowed 224.3 yards per game this year.

WR Isaiah Hodgins

Against Nevada, sophomore receiver Isaiah Hodgins had a breakout game. He caught 14 passes for 200 yards, his longest reception coming on a 50-yard pass from Luton.

If he can play, Whittaker will probably line up against Hodgins, and that matchup could play a big factor in the outcome of this game.

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