So, it comes down to something as simple as Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin saying, “Do your job.”
And Arizona did on Saturday afternoon in its 35-14 win over Oregon State in Corvallis, Ore.
“If you do your job we will be pretty efficient and that’s what happened,” Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate told the Pac-12 Network in a quick post-game interview.
It was that simple for Arizona, which moved to 2-2 overall through a third of the season with Southern California coming to Tucson next week.
It helped that Arizona’s once-feared ground game returned … only this time in the form or sophomore back J.J. Taylor, who rushed for 284 yards, the fourth best in school history.
What was the difference?
“It’s the way practiced this week,” Taylor said. “” (In) the running back room we are very competitive, but we also push each other to do more. We tell each other what we see and what we are not seeing and what we can do better.”
At least for a day and a game Arizona looked like the team many thought it would be this season: a running one behind a player or two in the backfield. On Saturday afternoon, it was Taylor who took control and helped lead Arizona to a respectable win. Tate did his part, too, throwing for 152 yards and a couple of touchdowns.
Tate said in the interview he “had a lot of fun” in the win. Wins always do that and for Arizona, which started out 0-2, the win was welcomed in as much as it was the Pac-12 opener.
“Any win in the conference is a good win,” Sumlin said on his postgame radio show. “I thought our guys played extremely hard … We’ve got so many things to clean up.”
Like the penalties, which probably lead to Arizona failing to get 21 more points. He called them “stupid penalties.”
“We have a lot of work to do,” he said.
What may have been the biggest positive of the day was Arizona’s defense held Oregon State’s offense in check all game. Arizona held OSU to 238 yards, 289 yards below its average.
“It was a great game plan – I thought it should have been less,” Sumlin said of the yards. “We’ve got to be able to be consistent.”
On offense, Arizona had shades of last year and the big play. It finished with 594 yards in total offense. Taylor was the big-play guy, rushing for a Reser Stadium-record 284 yards and two touchdowns. It included a game-securing 62-yard run in the fourth quarter.
“How about that, he got them going,” Sumlin said. “I thought he was electric. We had some different schemes. Anytime a guy averages 10 yards a rush that’s outstanding.”
Sumlin said Taylor was aided by the play of Tate early when his quarterback pulled the ball away on runs a couple of times and ran the ball. It opened up the offense for later. But again, Tate was said to have tweaked his ankle.
It did open some action for Gary Brightwell, who assisted Taylor in the backfield. He had a career-high 113 yards and a touchdown.
Top Rushing Performances in Arizona history.
1. Ka'Deem Carey, 366 yards vs. Colorado
2. Khalil Tate, 327 yards at Colorado
3. Trung Canidate, 288 yards vs. ASU
4. J.J. Taylor, 284 yards TODAY at Oregon State#BearDown | #EraZona pic.twitter.com/ihaveWhX52
— Arizona Football (@ArizonaFBall) September 22, 2018
Sumlin said there’s only been one change in the offense in the last two games in the last two games that have helped open the offense, and that’s the return of offensive lineman Layth Friekh, who has helped open holes. Donovan Laie is now at right tackle and Cody Creason moved to left guard from right tackle.
“There’s only been one change that’s been made,” he said, chuckling. “Layth’s attitude and his experience is hard (to match). You put a guy who has played a lot of football with a guy who has played no football at this level that’s the one common denominator.”