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Sumlin kicks off 2nd year with Arizona on the road Saturday

Arizona head coach Kevin Sumlin reacts to an official's call in the first half during an NCAA college football game against Southern Utah, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

For the first time since 2010, the Arizona Wildcats are playing a true road game to open their season.

The meeting is the sixth time the two programs have met, and Arizona has been successful in each one to date, including a 47-28 victory Sept. 17, 2016, on the island.

The meeting is also significant because it marks the first game for both programs since coach Dick Tomey passed away in May 2019. Tomey coached at Hawaii for 10 seasons (1977-86) before leaving for Tucson where he spent 14 seasons (1987-2000) and became the winningest coach in program history.

Essential Info
What: Arizona @ Hawaii Rainbow Warriors
When: Saturday, @ 7:30 p.m.
TV: CBS Sports Network

Key Storylines

How consistent can the Wildcats be?

Arizona went just 5-7 last season during Sumlin’s first year at the helm. The Wildcats found themselves in a few situations where they really weren’t in the game, including losses to Utah (42-10), Oregon (44-15) and Washington State (69-28).

“From day one, this fall camp, we’ve been talking about being consistent, proving to your teammates, proving to your coaches this is what we’re going to get from you every day,” Sumlin said at his weekly press conference.

Sumlin also noted that with more consistency, they have a more stable roster of players and more depth.

Adding depth to the D-line

Last season, Arizona lacked depth on the defensive line. It led to that unit going through the majority of the game without relief.

“We’ve got more able bodies, guys that can really play without the talent level dropping off that much,” Sumlin said. “Some guys on the two-deep now, on the second team, they started games for us last year. The talent bar has been raised. There’s been great competition.”

Sumlin said offseason conditioning has helped to ready of their transfer players like Trevon Mason and Myles Tapusoa. Both are slated to start for the defensive line.

Will DeMarco Murray have an impact?

During the offseason, Arizona announced that former NFL running back DeMarco Murray would be joining their coaching staff as an assistant running backs coach.

“When he says something to the players, they listen,” Sumlin said. “They want to know his opinion because he’s played at the highest level and been successful.”

Sumlin noted its not just running backs looking to pick his brain but players like linebacker Colin Schooler.

Key Wildcats

QB Khalil Tate

When the depth chart was released, it should come as no surprise that senior Khalil Tate was named the starter. The only surprise the quarterback room might have been that junior Rhett Rodriguez was named his backup instead of freshman Grant Gunnell. Sumlin said that decision boiled down to the fact the Rodriguez has more experience and has seen game time for the Wildcats.

Throughout his career for Arizona, Tate has 4,364 passing yards, 43 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. His 2018 season was hijacked by lingering injuries, but he has the potential to return to the Heisman candidate the football world saw in 2017.

RB J.J. Taylor

Taylor finished last season with 1,434 rushing yards, the fourth-most in a single season in Arizona school history and the seventh-most in the nation last year.

His 2018 campaign made him the 14th player in school history to accumulate 1,000-plus rushing yards in a single season. During his time in the red and blue, Taylor’s had eight 100-plus yard games.

His first 100-plus yard game? In 2016 against Hawaii.

WR Cedric Peterson

With Tony Ellison and Shawn Poindexter graduating from the program, Peterson is the most experienced player in the wide receiver room for the Wildcats.

Over the course of his career, Peterson has tallied 29 catches for 372 yards and four scores. Last season, Peterson started all 12 games and had 18 receptions for 268 yards and four touchdowns.

Key Rainbow Warrior

QB Cole McDonald

As Sumlin pointed out, McDonald and the Rainbow Warriors are a representation of head coach Nick Rolovich, whose background is as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.

“They have some weapons offensively and defensively, but they have a QB that’s as good there probably is in the country,” Sumlin said.

Last season, McDonald had 3,875 passing yards, 36 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He was eighth in the nation in total passing yards.

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