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Arizona’s defense faces major test against red hot Texas Tech

Arizona running back J.J. Taylor, celebrates as he crosses the goal line on a 40 yard touchdown run in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Oregon State, in Corvallis, Ore., Saturday, Sept 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Timothy J. Gonzalez)

Saturday’s matchup between Arizona and Texas Tech could be a major statement game for both sides.

UA’s 65-41 bounce-back victory against Northern Arizona last weekend did not show much improvement within the team’s deficiencies. The offense looked strong for the second straight week, but the Wildcats’ defense allowed 442 total yards, 373 of which came through the air. NAU quarterback Case Cookus had not produced that many yards since October 2017 against Sacramento State.

The Wildcats have now allowed 436 and 373 passing yards in their two games (fifth-most in FBS), which does not bode well against their Week 3 opponent.

Texas Tech’s air raid has been dynamic through two weeks. But Arizona will be the toughest opponent it will have faced so far.

Essential Info
What: Texas Tech @ Arizona
When: Saturday, @ 7:30 p.m.
TV: ESPN

On Texas Tech

The Red Raiders are 11th in the FBS in passing yards and have outscored their first two opponents 83-13. UA head coach Kevin Sumlin lined up what challenges they bring.

“They’re playing really well right now,” Sumlin said during his Monday press conference. “They base out of a 3-4 defense but they move around. They have real team speed on defense. Offensively, they have a quarterback (Alan Bowman) that is completing 71 percent of his passes. They have real skill on the outside, (T.J.) Vasher is a problem with his size. Veteran offensive line too.”

Bowman has been terrific since returning from a scary lung injury in 2018. He has the impressive completion percentage mentioned by Sumlin along with 696 yards and five touchdowns through two games.

The running game has equated six more scores, as Utah transfer Armand Shyne (153 yards in two games against UA) has led the way with 8.9 yards per carry.

However, Texas Tech has racked up a ton of points and yards against the easiest two-game stretch in its schedule with wins over Montana State (FCS) and Texas-El Paso (1-11 in 2018). Arizona is its first power-five opponent.

In 2018, the Red Raiders’ season fell apart due to injuries and lackluster defense, so they fired head coach Kliff Kingsbury and brought in Matt Wells from Utah State.

Wells brought along his defensive coordinator from last season and former Arizona State coach, Keith Patterson, whose unit forced the most turnovers in the FBS in 2018. Under him, the Red Raiders have allowed the third-fewest points in the country, but now have to face the 11th-best scoring offense.

This is a good opportunity to gain experience against a high-paced offense before Texas Tech matches up with Big-12 competition.

On Arizona

Arizona will likely need to continue its offensive onslaught to keep up with Texas Tech.

Its inability to defend the pass last season has carried over so far, and it has not done a good job of reaching the quarterback. These areas will need to improve on Saturday or else Bowman could have a field day.

On offense, Arizona’s rushing attack has proven dominant with 7.8 yards per carry as a team. They have been using an assortment of running backs and two-back sets. Senior halfback J.J. Taylor is having his best start to a season yet, and junior Gary Brightwell exploded for 141 yards in Week 2. Texas Tech was mediocre at defending the run last season, but with its new system, Saturday will put the Red Raiders’ improvements to the test.

To balance the attack, Wildcats’ quarterback Kalil Tate has started his season well with a 64.3% completion percentage and five touchdowns. Despite losing his top three receivers, Tate has managed to spread the ball around and continues to elevate his team.

The Arizona offense will need to be sharp from the get-go in order to make up for defensive deficiencies.

If Texas Tech goes up early, as Hawaii did in Week 1, the Wildcats have the tools to put together a come back like before, but they lost that first game because the defense continued to give up points late. Arizona creating a cushion will be vital to its chances to defeat the Red Raiders at home.