Arizona-Cal: Five things to watch, prediction

Khalil Tate looks to pass against USC.Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Game kicks off at 7 p.m. on FS1

Arizona (2-3, 1-1 Pac-12) plays host to Cal (3-1, 0-1) on Saturday night, so let's get to it:

Five things to watch:

1. Everything about Khalil Tate. Yeah, we're starting here again. All about the ankle. If he is missing practice time and unable/unwilling to run, then he's not helping Arizona. If you take out the game against outmatched FCS opponent Southern Utah, Tate is completing 51 percent of his passes.

Coach Kevin Sumlin didn't exactly shut down the notion at his Monday press conference that Tate's left ankle might need a rest. We'll see.

Sophomore Rhett Rodriguez has been the official second-stringer, seeing mop-up time. He's been ahead of redshirt freshman K'Hari Lane. The Cats also have two true freshmen -- Kevin Doyle and Jamarye Joiner -- who haven't played, although each could play up to four games and not lose a season of eligibility.

It might be time to kick the tires.

2. Let's say Tate plays. There has been focus on his lack of rushing yards, but his decision-making also has been lacking. A couple of video breakdowns this week were enlightening.

In one, former Arizona Wildcats and NFL safety Brandon Sanders analyzes last week's play against USC when Tate, scrambling to his left, lofted a short pass into coverage that was intercepted. As Sanders noted, the initial mistake was made at the line of scrimmage, when based on the Trojans' defensive alignment, Tate should have eliminated the screen pass from his options.

Then, as the play rolled, based on the reaction of defensive end Porter Gustin, Tate should have handed off to Gary Brightwell at the mesh point, rather than keep. But if he did keep, he should have already ruled out an attempted pass.

Also, former USC and Pitt quarterback Max Browne, starting at about the 7:50 mark of this YouTube video, took a look at several Tate decisions, comparing those to last season. You can be the judge of what you see.

No quarterback will ever be perfect in the decision-making area, but if the ankle isn't 100 percent, Tate needs to compensate.

3. Cal's QBs/running game. Cal head coach Justin Wilcox told reporters on Monday that he plans on sticking with what he's done in the past three games -- redshirt freshman Chase Garbers will start and sophomore Brandon McIlwain, a transfer from South Carolina, will rotate into the game.

McIlwain is the "runner," but neither passed or played well last week in a loss to Oregon. They combined to go 15 of 30 for 172 yards, each throwing two interceptions. McIlwain also lost a fumble.

McIlwain did rush for 123 yards, which makes him the first Cal quarterback since Joe Kapp in 1958 (!) to run for more than 100 yards. Combine that with running back Patrick Laird (130 yards against Arizona last season), and the Bears might be content to repeatedly test Arizona's run defense.

Why not? It's not like Cal has an explosive passing game (even with wideouts Vic Wharton III and Kanawai Noa), with just two passing plays of longer than 30 yards. Only three teams in the country have less than two such plays. Arizona, by the way, has 13.

4. Kicking game. The assumption is that the competition was on during practice this week between place-kicker Lucas Havrisik and Josh Pollack.

Havrisik, who won the job over Pollack in the offseason, is 4 of 9 on field goal attempts and has missed two extra point tries, including one late against USC. Pollack has hit 20 of 29 field goal attempts in his Arizona career.

Havrisik has the bigger leg -- he's hit 24 of 29 kickoffs for touchbacks -- but keep an eye out for a change elsewhere.

What happens on field goals could be mighty important, considering the history of Arizona-Cal -- 23 of the 33 games have been decided by one possession, including each of the past five.

5. A fast start ... or not. Sumlin said after the USC game that he thought his team came out with enough energy, which was in conflict with what his players told the media. In any case, "energy" is hard to calculate; points aren't.

Arizona has been outscored 35-14 in the first quarter and 44-34 in the second quarter ... which has made its 62-28 edge rather moot. The Cats have faced first-half deficits of 31-0 (Houston) and 17-0 (USC).


Neither team is great but Cal seems to have a bit more going for it in Wilcox's second season as head coach. The uncertainty of everything around Khalil Tate tilts this one, for me, the Bears.

Cal 27, Arizona 24.