The Arizona Wildcats are about to face their second consecutive top-10 opponent. It isn’t the ideal time to suffer a rash of injuries on the offensive line.
Yet here we are. Arizona conceivably could be down four linemen when it hosts No. 7 Utah on Saturday night.
“When you play … top-10 football teams with guys that haven’t played a bunch, that becomes a difficult task,” UA coach Kevin Sumlin said Monday. “We’ve got some work to do this week.”
The Wildcats played without three veteran linemen, including two full-time starters, at No. 6 Oregon last week. Cody Creason, Josh McCauley and Bryson Cain were out. Jordan Morgan, Steven Bailey and Jon Jacobs — none of whom had started a game — were in.
Sumlin said Creason, McCauley and Cain were all “doubtful” to play against the Utes. Cain did dress for the Oregon game.
Morgan, the promising freshman from Marana High School, missed the second half because of injury. “We’ll see where he is this week too,” Sumlin said.
Before the trip to Eugene, Morgan had appeared in four games in a reserve role. Bailey and Jacobs played about three quarters apiece in Arizona’s previous game, against Oregon State, after McCauley and Cain got hurt on the same play.
With so many injuries and changes up front, Arizona had a difficult time moving the ball. The Ducks limited the Wildcats to season lows in points (six) and yards (240).
“The evaluation of that is difficult because a lot of those guys have never played,” Sumlin said. “You want them to play better. You want them to play great. At no time did they back down.
“There’s a reason why guys have to play. If they were the best we had, they would have played from the beginning.
“That’s who we have. We’re doing the best we can with what we have.”
Only one team has a better defense in the Pac-12 than Oregon. That would be Utah, which ranks first in the league in points allowed, total defense, rushing defense, passing defense and opponent third-down percentage. The Utes are allowing 11.3 points per game and have held half their opponents to fewer than 10 points.
Utah (9-1, 6-1 Pac-12) has won six games in a row since losing at USC on Sept. 20, allowing more than 13 points only once. Arizona (4-6, 2-5) has dropped five straight.
The state of the offensive line affected Arizona’s quarterback rotation against Oregon. After freshman Grant Gunnell started and played the first three series, Sumlin switched to the more mobile Khalil Tate and stuck with him into the fourth quarter.
Tate is about to appear in his final game at Arizona Stadium. As of noon Monday, Sumlin hadn’t decided how senior night would impact the QB plan.
“That’s something I’ll kick around,” Sumlin said.
He said Gunnell got the start against Oregon because of “consistency” in practice and games. The offense failed to score with Gunnell behind center. Its only points came on a pair of Tate-led field-goal drives late in the first half. That earned him the “start” in the second half.
“Khalil gave us a spark when he came into the game, being able to run the ball,” Sumlin said. “He ran it, put his head down, made yards, moved the football.”
Tate played the first four series of the second half. They gained a combined 18 net yards. All four ended in punts.
Arizona debuted a new goal-line defense in the first quarter against Oregon. One problem: The Wildcats had one too many players on the field.
The officials spotted it and flagged Arizona for a substitution infraction. An irate Sumlin yelled for the player to come off the field. Then a new problem arose: Two came off, leaving the Wildcats with only 10 for the Ducks’ first-and-goal play from the 1-yard line.
“It’s easy to practice that in a controlled environment,” Sumlin said. “The communication piece was poor on our part.”
Fortunately for Arizona, defensive tackle Trevon Mason knifed into the backfield to tackle Cyrus Habibi-Likio for a 2-yard loss.
“I was running down the field trying to call time out, and we get a tackle for loss,” Sumlin said. “It was one of those kinds of nights.”
Another strange situation arose at the end of the first half.
A replay review determined that J.J. Taylor’s knee had touched the turf at the Oregon 24-yard line, costing Arizona 6 yards. Sumlin, among others, thought the officials would put time back on the clock. In that case, the UA would have had 12 seconds and could have thrown a pass into the end zone.
Instead, they left the clock at seven seconds. Having used their last timeout – which wasn’t given back, despite the play being changed via replay – the Wildcats’ only choice was to kick a field goal.
Lucas Havrisik made it from 42 yards out. Although the ball hit the netting with two seconds remaining, the clocked ticked down to triple zeroes.
“That’s a great question,” Sumlin said when asked about the sequence. “You saw me at the end of the half talking to the officials. You saw me coming out of the tunnel with the officials. And on top of that, I’ve never seen a seven-second field goal.”
ASU start time set
If you’re planning to tailgate before the season-ending Territorial Cup, you’ll have plenty of time.
The Nov. 30 regular-season finale between Arizona and Arizona State will begin under the lights at Sun Devil Stadium. The game will kick off at 8 p.m. It will be televised by ESPN.
The last time the Territorial Cup kicked off at night was 2016. That was also the last time the Wildcats defeated the Sun Devils.
• Sumlin on Utah’s RB-QB combo of Zack Moss and Tyler Huntley: “You’ve got one of the best running backs in the country. … I think the quarterback is unbelievable, just the way he does things. He’s extremely gifted, to be able to throw it and run as fast as he does.” Moss leads the Pac-12 in rushing yards per game (106.1). Huntley leads the league in efficiency rating (190.1).
• Utah coach Kyle Whittingham on the matchup with Arizona: “We have to be ready to play. It is a Pac-12 game. Every week, if you are not on your game, then bad things are going to happen.” The Utes are favored by 23 points. They have won the past three games in the series after losing the previous four.
• Utah’s Julian Blackmon was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week. The senior safety had a game-high 12 tackles, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and an interception in the Utes’ 49-3 win over UCLA.
• Utah’s Mike Tafua was named Defensive Lineman of the Week. The sophomore end returned a fumble 68 yards for a touchdown vs. the Bruins. It was Utah’s fifth defensive TD of the season. Arizona is still seeking its first.