Arizona-Houston: 10 storylines, prediction

Kevin Sumlin is headed back to his old stomping grounds looking for his first win at Arizona.Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Will coaches, Khalil Tate find run-pass balance?

The Arizona Wildcats had a buzzkill of an opener in front of an announced crowd of 51,002, losing to BYU and sending those 6,000 new season-ticket holders (among others) home unhappy.

Now comes the non-conference game everyone was worried about.

Kevin Sumlin's Wildcats play at Kevin Sumlin's former team, the Houston Cougars, in a game in which the visitors are about a four-point underdog.

Let's check out the major themes:

1) Arizona's coaches have to make Game 2 adjustments. This is what everyone has been talking about all week. Khalil Tate rushed only eight times for 14 yards against BYU, and WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?

A few things, all working together, I think.

Opponents, starting in last November, started having success with a Tate antidote. Play contain with the defensive ends -- don't let him outside in the run game, don't get up-field in the pass rush and give him running lanes.

The new Arizona coaching staff wants to make him more of and a better pocket passer. Not unreasonable and a worthy goal. But the coaches went way too far in that direction and need to find the right run-pass balance in Game 2.

"We have to prepare for Khalil Tate to be Khalil Tate," Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver told ESPN this week. "No one man can stop him."

Tate could have scrambled for yardage -- perhaps significant yardage -- on multiple occasions last week but opted to keep his eyes downfield and try to find a deep target. Problem is, he was 0-for-11 on throws 20 yards past the line of scrimmage. If he had tucked the ball and used his legs in those cases, his rushing totals wouldn't have been so alarming.

Again, have to adjust and find the right balance.

"There is a lot of things we can do better as coaches," Sumlin said this week. "We're not going to make excuses about anything. We're going to continue to get better and put our players in better position to be successful."

2) No need to overreact. BYU was only one game. One game.

I once saw the 1992 Arizona team start 1-1-1, with the ugliest tie ever at a putrid Oregon State team, convinced that Dick Tomey wouldn't survive the season ... and then the Wildcats nearly won at No. 1 Miami as Desert Swarm was born. Arizona ran off five consecutive wins, including 16-3 over top-ranked Washington.

I also remember Arizona being 7-1 in 2010, ranked No. 13 in the nation ... and then the Cats lost 10 consecutive games against FBS opponents and Mike Stoops was fired halfway into the 2011 season.

You never know what's around the corner in college football, and we don't have to pretend that we do.

3) Will Tate be a willing runner? Back to one of my earlier points. Tate has a big arm but has always had critics about his passing ability. He wants people -- including those folks at the next level of football -- to know he's a passing quarterback.

"I don't think he ever didn't believe that," said publisher Matt Moreno, who covered Tate's recruitment.

"I used to bring that up to him all the time as a recruit. There was one passing tournament in particular where he just was on the money with every throw, and I said, 'I've never seen you throw like that. Do you feel like you're getting better?'

"He said, 'What do you mean, I've always done that.' That's just kind of his mentality. ... He knows it's always been there. He wants it to be at forefront of his game."

4) Ed Oliver, of course. I'll just leave this story here:

5) Houston has more than Oliver. One of the other intriguing players in the Cougars' defensive front is sophomore end Isaiah Chambers. He's a former four-star recruit who signed with TCU, then sat out last season after transferring.

Chambers had three sacks in the season-opening victory over Rice, undoubtedly benefiting from all the attention given to Oliver inside.

"You know there's a lot of attention on Ed," Chambers told the Houston Chronicle. "He's the best player in the nation, and we all know that. We know that frees us up to be one-on-one. When you are one-on-one, you need to win those matchups."

6) Reinforcements arrive in the Arizona secondary. Scottie Young Jr. returns from a one-game suspension, and if the coaches stick with Isaiah Hayes at free safety then Young can go to "Spur" safety, where Tristan Cooper started last week, although he was banged up.

Young made 53 tackles, including 3.5 for loss, last season as a true freshman and is clearly one of UA's best safeties. Hayes, a sophomore coming off a redshirt season because a shoulder injury, followed up a strong camp with 13 tackles in the opener.

Also, senior cornerback Jace Whittaker will "probably" return, Sumlin said, after sitting out the opener due to injury, pairing with Lorenzo Burns, who broke up three passes last week. Whittaker's replacement, UNLV grad transfer Tim Hough, could fit in somewhere at safety, adding to the depth and the options.

Bandit safety Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, a senior, is the veteran in the room, but he wasn't sharp against the BYU passing game last week as Arizona allowed 320 yards through the air.

7) Houston is not BYU on offense. BYU was a power team, using a huddle and the quarterback actually under center at times. Houston is a fast-paced spread team, with the offense guided by coordinator Kendal Briles, the former Baylor OC.

Said analyst Curtis Conway on the Pac-12 Networks:

"When you look at BYU, they are big and physical up front. Marcel Yates' defense is built for speed when you look at the linebacker position. They're a little smaller than normal but fast. Built for the Pac-12 and not so much for big-boy football. This will be a great matchup for them on the defensive side of the ball."

8) Hit some deep shots. BYU, picking its poison by deciding (wisely) to focus on corralling Tate, dared Arizona to win the one-on-one battles on the outside. As mentioned, Tate and the receivers couldn't connect deep, although Shawn Poindexter and Cedric Peterson, among others, certainly had reasonable opportunities.

This receiving corps still has a ton to prove.

"You have to control Khalil, and that opens up for us," said receiver Tony Ellison. "Like BYU did, it's a lot of one-on-ones. We have to adapt to that."

Oh, and throwing more than once to Shun Brown might be a good idea.

9) Three storylines that bore me. Worth mentioning, though:

-- It's an early start: 11 a.m. in Houston, 9 a.m. in Tucson.

-- It will be hot: Projected high of 91 degrees, 70 percent humidity, 30 percent chance of thunderstorms.

-- Kevin Sumlin returning to Houston. He was the Cougars head coach from 2008 to 2011, going 35-17 in four seasons, including 12-1 when Case Keenum threw for 5,631 yards with 48 touchdowns and just five interceptions.

10) So who wins. Arizona is coming off an unexpected loss, while Houston struggled in its opener against Rice, needing to rally in the second half to win 45-27.

Distilling this mostly toss-up game to one thing: I think the Arizona coaches will figure some things out and we'll therefore see more of the Khalil Tate of last season.

Arizona 31, Houston 28.


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