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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona football prepares for first test of the season

Simon Asher
Washington State Quarterback Tyler Hilinski (3) is stopped short of the end zone by two Arizona defenders during the UA-Washington State game on Saturday, October 28.

Arizona football kicks off its 2018 season hosting the Brigham Young University Cougars on Saturday night at 7:45 p.m.

It’s bound to be a night of firsts for the Wildcats as head coach Kevin Sumlin makes his debut, junior quarterback Khalil Tate starts his first week-one game and Arizona’s defense tries to not get abused in the trenches. 

BYU finished the 2017 season with a measly 4-9 record, but the Cougars return a wealth of experience on both sides of the ball and won’t be phased by Arizona’s added strength and size at the point of attack. 

BYU’s Key Players: QB Tanner Mangum, WR Micah Simon, TE Matt Bushman, DL Bracken El-Bakri, DE Corbin Kaufusi, LB Sione Takitaki

BYU’s defense has several players capable of exposing Arizona’s inexperienced offensive line. Smart situational football and intelligent play-design should help the ‘Cats’ offense utilize its speed and quickness and dissolve the Cougars’ size advantage. 

         RELATED: Teammates rave about Tate’s leadership skills

Arizona is reloaded at its offensive skill positions but will feature an entirely new starting offensive line. Veteran left tackle Layth Friekh won’t rejoin the lineup until week three, and 2018 Rimington Award watch-list center Nathan Eldridge apparently isn’t healthy enough to suit up. 

The Wildcats will face one of its biggest – literally – and most intimidating opponents right out of the gate. BYU boasts elite size across its offensive line and lists only three starters under 6 feet. 

Unlike the Wildcats, the Cougars also have plenty of game experience. From senior quarterback Tanner Mangum and redshirt senior running back Squally Canada to a trio of final-year players rounding out BYU’s linebacker corps, the Cougars are mature at each position. 

Arizona, on the other hand, is still relatively young, but that doesn’t mean they’re at a disadvantage. 

What to watch for from Arizona:

Khalil Tate enters his first season as Arizona’s full-time starter with a more in-depth understanding of the quarterback position and everything it entails. Tate will be counted on to keep the offense in rhythm and in good spirits. 

Defensively, Arizona is fortunate enough to field two signal callers, inside linebackers Tony Fields II and Colin Schooler. Both players were just true freshman when they began shooting gaps and making plays from all over the field. Now, a year older, they’ll be counted on to keep the Wildcats defensive unit under control. 

        RELATED: Coaches Corner: Meet the 2018 football coaching staff

Saturday night will be a litmus test of sorts for Sumlin and his coaching staff. 

It will be interesting to see how Arizona handles a more physically imposing team like the Cougars. 

If the Wildcats are able to execute early and often on offense and avoid getting stuck on the field for long drives defensively, then their chances at victory will be high. 

Expect a heavy dose of Tate and J.J. Taylor out of Arizona’s backfield to help swing the early-game momentum. If Marcel Yates’ unit flies to the football and limits the Cougars’ athletes from gaining chunks of yardage, the Wildcats will find themselves with the upper hand.  

Saturday night will likely be a dogfight between two teams eager to rewrite last year’s failures and start the new season on the right foot.   

Follow Rob Kleifield on Twitter

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