The latest in our countdown to kickoff features many fans looking forward to Arizona having better coaching in 2019 as opposed to Kevin Sumlin’s first season last year.
Tailgating and better coaching. I thought one thing about last season was how many times the team looked unprepared for the game. Just like any fan, I want the team to win, but in reality I want the team to play hard, ultimately that is all we can ask a team to do and it just didn’t seem like they were interested in being there. — Chaz Elsten
Sumlin went 5-7 in his first season at Arizona with a majority of Rich Rodriguez’s players. His roster this season is comprised of approximately half of his recruits. He will have more of a stamp of the program. Next year — a coach’s third year is really the telling point — he will have a majority of his players.
The losing record was the worst start of Sumlin’s head coaching career at his three stops — Houston, Texas A&M and Arizona. He was 8-5 at Houston in 2008 and 11-2 with Texas A&M in 2012.
His records generally declined with the Aggies (9-4 in 2013 and then three straight 8-5 seasons followed by a 7-5 record in his last year of 2017). At Houston, similar in scope as a program as Arizona, he was 10-4 in his second season before going 5-7 in 2010. In his last season with the Cougars, his team finished 12-1.
Reactions out of fall camp indicate the offensive and defensive lines have improved from a season ago, especially on the defensive front. That’s where success begins — the strength, effectiveness and health of a team’s lines.
On the offensive line, Sumlin has a good core with left guard Cody Creason, center Josh McCauley, right guard Bryson Cain and right tackle Donovan Laie. A look ahead: Only Creason departs after this season, so the best is yet to come.
On the defensive front, defensive coordinator Marcel Yates said he has “at least eight or nine guys that can rotate” among the defensive tackle and end positions. Multiple players are able to line up at different spots whether Arizona is in a three- or four-man front.
JB Brown, a junior who is a former linebacker, is now inside at defensive tackle after lining up at defensive end last season. He joins three of Arizona’s 2019 signees at the tackle position — junior college transfers Trevon Mason and Myles Tapusoa and freshman Kyon Barrs. Also available inside are senior Finton Connolly and redshirt freshman Nahe Sulunga.
On the edge, the Wildcats have a dynamic talent in sophomore Jalen Harris along with proven junior Kylan Wilborn. Senior Justin Belknap and junior Jalen Cochran provide much-needed depth at those spots.
The “better coaching” desire is aided considerably with the players able to execute that coaching. Arizona is better equipped with both lines this season.
“It’s very important, when I recruit specialists … I want the best in state to stay in state, because they’re going to represent your state … I just feel like it has extra special meaning when guys stay here, or when we recruit guys from Phoenix or even Tucson or any area in Arizona, hey you’re representing your state, you’re representing the University and it’s your home and home is always where the heart is.” — Arizona special teams coordinator Jeremy Springer on trying to keep local talent home.
By the numbers
Arizona needs to re-acquire its road warriors image started really when Larry Smith coached the Wildcats to big-time upsets on the road in the 1980’s (Notre Dame, ASU, USC, etc.). Arizona is 3–15 in conference road games the last four years, losing by a cumulative 344 points. Arizona plays a difficult conference road schedule this season — Colorado, USC, Stanford, Oregon and ASU. Can the Wildcats finally stand up to the challenge?
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.