Arizona opens first season with Kevin Sumlin against BYU
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — The hype began when Kevin Sumlin was hired in January. The former Texas A&M coach known for bringing in high-level recruits and developing quarterbacks was being heralded as the man who would turn Arizona into a Pac-12 and maybe someday national-title contender.
For Sumlin’s first season in the desert, he has one of the nation’s most dynamic quarterbacks in Khalil Tate, an explosive offense, a bigger, deeper defense.
Nearly eight months since he arrived, it’s finally time to see what Sumlin and the Wildcats can do on the field.
“It’s game week now,” Sumlin said.
The Sumlin Era will kick off with what could be a stiff challenge.
The Wildcats open at home Saturday against BYU, a team that went 4-9 last season but presents plenty of challenges to Arizona.
The Cougars have a massive defensive line, anchored by 340-pound tackle Khyiris Tonga, and Arizona is replacing three offensive linemen from a year ago. BYU has a new offensive scheme under former LSU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes and its defense was solid last season with key players returning.
The Cougars also have experience on their side, with more than 60 players who have served two-year LDS missions
“We addressed it early, there will be some older guys,” Sumlin said. “Heck, I remember when Tanner (Mangum) the quarterback, the first year he started. It seems like a long time ago. It was.”
A few more things to look for when Arizona faces BYU:
CONTAINING TATE: Not surprisingly, containing Tate will be BYU’s top priority Saturday.
Tate began last season as a backup, but thrust himself into the Heisman Trophy race with a string of stellar games. He’s expected to be a Heisman Trophy contender again this season after accounting for 3,002 yards and 26 TDs in eight starts a year ago.
“He’s a different quarterback. We’ve got to keep him in front of us,” BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki told reporters in Utah. “He’s a phenomenal athlete. He’s a better runner than he is a passer, but he’s really good.”
MANGUM RETURNS: BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum had a rough 2017 season. He was inconsistent early in the season, throwing nine interceptions with eight TDs while battling injuries, and he missed the final three games after rupturing his Achilles tendon.
Mangum worked hard at his rehab and learning Grimes’ system after former offensive coordinator Ty Detmer was fired, earning the starting nod coming out of training camp.
“There was a huge sense of urgency,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “The fact that he knew he had to compete for the spot, you saw him change his body, but that’s not the only thing he changed. He prepared himself in a lot of different areas to be the quarterback.”
SHORTER HALFTIME: The Pac-12 this season is cutting halftime to 15 minutes to shorten games. It’s only a five-minute difference from last season, but will take some adjusting by the coaches.
“It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it’s a significant change in terms of communication,” Sumlin said. “Between coaches, primarily coaches get together first, talk about what’s going on, create a plan, and then you have to get that information to the players. You have to be extremely organized. You have about 10 minutes to get things together.”
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