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Q&A with Arizona Desert Swarm

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Our Wildcat friends give us the skinny on their team.

NCAA Football: Southern Utah at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve had some offensive previews and we’ve had some defensive previews, but what better way to get to know the Arizona Wildcats than straight from the horse’s mouth?

Tomorrow, the California Golden Bears will try to return to their winning ways. Today, we talk with Arizona Desert Swarm’s Scott Moran to learn all about Khalil Tate’s regression, Kevin Sumlin’s introduction, and key face punch-ification.

1. Which player on offense should Cal fans know about?

Scott Moran (SM): Obviously, everyone who pays attention to this sport knows who Khalil Tate is. Since he’s apparently a passing quarterback now, I think everyone should get to meet his favorite target: Shawn Poindexter. Poindexter has the explosiveness of our other receivers like Shun Brown and Tony Ellison, but with the key bonus that he’s 6’ 5”. On the very rare occassion Arizona reaches the red zone, you can bet the house that Poindexter will get at least one chance at a 50/50 ball. If Tate is still being forced into passing, Poindexter will make or break the game for Arizona.

2. Which player on defense should Cal fans know about?

SM: Cal got introduced to our best defender in our match-up last year: Colin Schooler. I’m not gonna gloat about that game though, since the real player to watch in this game is fellow linebacker Tony Fields. Like almost all of Arizona’s best players Fields is young (a sophomore) and electric to watch. Playing the weak side means he’ll probably be facing some throws to the flat and some option plays, both of which have burned the ‘Cats badly this year. It’s partially up to Fields to stop that

3. Who’s one under-the-radar or X-factor player who could swing this game for Arizona?

NCAA Football: Arizona at Oregon State
Gary Brightwell says “shhhh I wanna stay under the radar”
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

SM: I’m sure most of the Pac-12 knows who JJ Taylor is by now, but in terms of under-the-radar players, his back-up Gary Brightwell has to top the list. Arizona’s running game was smothered by USC and Taylor—who’s just 5’6”—particularly struggled with just 2.8 yards per carry. Brightwell couldn’t do much better, but still managed 3.5 yards a carry, which goes up to a passable 4.3 if you remove a 1-yard touchdown. He showed how dangerous he could be against Oregon State with 8.7 yards per carry and if Taylor has another rough day, Brightwell could keep Arizona’s offense churning.

4. What does Arizona need to do to win the game?

SM: The two main things Arizona absolutely has to do are to establish the run and get to the quarterback. Even if Kevin Sumlin is making this a passing team now, one of Arizona’s go-to plays previously was a play-action bomb that usually fooled the defense because of both Tate and Taylor’s big play potential. That doesn’t work when Tate either can’t or won’t run and Taylor and Brightwell are struggling. With a decent run game, the whole offense really does open up. Arizona’s had serious defensive troubles all year, but the pressure on opposing quarterbacks has been non-existent. Two recorded sacks against a team with the talent level of USC is promising, but that has to continue to improve against Cal.

5. What does Cal need to do to win the game?

SM: If Cal is able to take what Arizona gives them on offense, their chances of winning will go up big time. Arizona has a few legitimately talented defensive players, but most of them are still underclassmen and they’re not quite able to limit the opponent’s options effectively yet. Chances are someone for Cal will be open and RPOs will be very effective against this team. If the Golden Bears can get their offense really humming and either Chase Garbers or Brandon McIlwain makes the right decision with the ball, Arizona will have a very hard time keeping up.

6. How do you see the game going?

I really have no clue what to think of Arizona anymore except that we’re closer to bad than good and that our games are pretty boring to watch. I’ve had trouble getting a read on Cal as well. Thanks to our common opponent and the transitive property, I guess Cal should win by 8? Throw in Arizona’s home-field advantage and the desperate hope that Tate is OK and I’ll push it up to basically a tie. Either way, I haven’t seen many signs of life from either offense, so I’m expecting another slog. I’ll pick Arizona to win 21–20, but that’s definitely a bit of a homer pick and Cal has plenty of chance to leave Tucson 4–1.

7. Khalil Tate’s lack of production as a runner: What percentage of that is because of the coaching staff and what percentage of that is because of his injuries? And how big of a problem is it for Arizona’s offense?

NCAA Football: Arizona at Houston
Khalil Tate showing that he still remembers how to run with the football.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

It is a DEFCON 1, this is not a drill, nuclear sirens blaring, get to your shelter quickly type of problem for Arizona’s offense. Now, in terms of why, I was in the camp that it’s mostly Tate’s ankle until last week against USC. After that game, even though Tate was clearly fairly hurt, I switched to the side that mostly blames Sumlin and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. The offense just can’t get anything going with Tate barely able to run and his passing skills still lacking. I wouldn’t be averse to putting backup Rhett Rodriguez—who’s a solid passer while still being able to run—in the game if Tate still looks hobbled. I doubt that happens though and I think Sumlin still spends the whole game trying to push a square peg in a round hole. For 2018 at least, it’s a very serious problem

8. Kevin Sumlin has gotten off to a rockier start than most expected. What’s been the biggest reason and do you think the staff is on the path to addressing it?

Like I said above, I knew the offensive scheme was a problem from pretty early in the BYU game, but I didn’t see how big a problem it was until this week. There are some other factors there—namely defensive coordinator Marcel Yates and how little a talented defensive unit has progressed—but the offense being so anemic is absolutely the biggest issue here. I don’t think Sumlin is on the path to addressing it either. I think, despite his gameplan shifting pretty far from RichRod’s, he’s just gonna stick with it for a few years until his guys are in place. Maybe it’ll work then, but recruiting has been average and that would be a criminal waste of Khalil Tate’s talents. He’ll have burned up all his goodwill by 2019 if he sticks with that plan. I hope he turns it around, but I honestly doubt it.

9. Whom do you most want to punch in the face?

Oh man, there are so many punchable faces in this sport. Even at Arizona State and with the Devils surpassing us in what many Arizona fans saw as our year, I couldn’t punch Herm or any of their players. I guess I’d have to say Bobby Petrino. Hard to top him in terms of punchability.


Our thanks to ADS and Scott “Get a brain!” Moran for chatting with us. May his fist find Petrino’s face and may the Wildcats fall on Saturday.

Poll

What do you predict for Cal–Arizona?

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    Big Cal win
    (61 votes)
  • 64%
    Close Cal win
    (152 votes)
  • 7%
    Close Arizona win
    (18 votes)
  • 2%
    Big Arizona win
    (5 votes)
236 votes total Vote Now