Kevin Sumlin, Khalil Tate, J.J. Taylor and the rest of the Arizona football team are off to Hawaii to open up the 2019 season on August 24. Yes, it’s that time of year, at last! The 2018 season closed with one of the most crushing Territorial Cup defeats for Arizona is recent memory, with their arch rival Arizona State overcoming a 40-21 deficit in the fourth quarter. The loss left the Cats with a losing record, excluding them from bowl eligibility. It was a bitter way to enter the off-season.
However, this loss overshadowed some really positive developments in 2018. After a terrible start to the season and handicapped by an injured Tate, Arizona started to improve. Though the numbers don’t show it very well, the defense was stout for big chunks of games, but tended to sputter out as the offense failed to keep them off the field. When the offense picked up the pace in the Oregon, Colorado, and the first three quarters of the ASU game, the Wildcats looked really solid. They were a well rounded team, and if not for the epic meltdown that was the Territorial Cup fourth quarter, Arizona looked solid on both sides of the ball.
Reasons for Optimism
Heading into the 2019 Arizona football season, the defense has only grown. They are stronger, more experienced, and deeper. There is no reason to think they will be worse than last year. Colin Schooler appears to be in the best shape of his career, and the defense should only be better.
Meanwhile, Tate is back to full health. If the offense can produce this year with him at the helm (which he certainly can, and at a high level too), it will take the pressure off of the defense. If the older and improved defense spends less time on the field, and the Tate and Taylor led offense puts up the points they proved they can the past couple seasons, Arizona’s 2019 squad could really take the Pac 12 by surprise.
There is, of course, a lot that can go wrong throughout a long season. Here are five red-and-blueprints the Wildcats will need to follow if they are going to play to their potential.
Five Things That Need To Happen
1. The defense actually does improve and gets some big stops;
No one is saying this unit has to lead the conference or anything like that. Really, if they just are a middle of the “Pac” unit, that will be enough for the explosive offense to make up the difference.
2. The offense actually does explode;
Obviously, this is a big one. The offense has all the pieces it needs to put up a lot of points. Remember, Tate was a serious Heisman Trophy contender going into the 2018 season. Now that he is back to full health and fully incorporated into Noel Mazzone’s offense, Tate could make a run for the Heisman. However, the offensive line is not very deep and the receiving core is talented, but untested. A few injuries on the offensive line and the receiving corps under-performing could cause the offense to stutter like it did last year.
3. The Cat’s build confidence early on;
Momentum is a powerful thing. Arizona starts off the 2019 football season with some of their most winnable games. They cannot afford to slip up and drop multiple of these games. Wins will only get harder to come by. In 2018, early season, non-conference losses sunk their momentum dangerously low. Wins against Hawaii and Texas Tech early on could work wonders for the Cats moving forward.
4. Arizona utilizes dual threat athletes;
Everyone knows what Tate can do with his legs in addition to his arm. However, Arizona has other intriguing athletes that can mix it up a little. For example, two of their receivers, Drew Dixon and Jamarye Joiner are converted QBs. Joyner is currently listed as a starter in the slot position. He’s big, strong, and knows the offense inside and out. Is there some trickery and misdirection in store for opposing defenses as the Cats put Joiner’s passing ability to use? It is entirely possible that Arizona could put three QBs who can all run on the field at the same time. This could present a real opportunity to confuse the defense and make use of the pieces they have.
5. Tate finally gets a win against ASU;
Even if they take care of business this season and lives up to their potential, the 2019 Arizona football season will not be a complete success without a win against the Sun Devils. Tate has lost the two Territorial Cups that he has started in, and if he wants to cement himself as a Wildcat legend, he will need to bring the cup home. This is his last chance.