Hawaii Football: First Look At The Arizona Wildcats
The Hawaii Warriors will open 2019 at home against Khalil Tate and the Wildcats. Here’s a first look at Arizona.
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An unpredictable foe heads to the islands.
After a long off-season, the Hawaii Warriors will once again play a prominent role in bringing college football back into our lives, hosting the Arizona Wildcats in Week 0. In a seemingly wide open division, it’s an open question about whether U of A can seize the moment and escape the .500 orbit, but they should be a good test of Hawaii’s staying power in 2019.
Location: Tucson, AZ
Mascot: Wilbur and Wilma Wildcat
2018 Record: 5-7 (4-5 Pac-12)
Head Coach: Kevin Sumlin (second year, 91-50 overall). Sumlin’s first year in the desert didn’t go quite as planned, but the Wildcats may have also been a little unlucky in finishing 2-4 across games decided by eight points or fewer. They also beat pretty much all of the teams you would’ve expected them to beat — Oregon State, Colorado, Southern Utah — but got trounced against the class of their conference, reflecting their status as a middle-of-the-road Power 5 team.
QB Khalil Tate
Tate hasn’t quite blossomed into the Heisman-caliber playmaker we all expected, but he did finish second in the Pac-12 in yards per attempt (8.4) and passer rating (149.77) last fall. There’s also little question that when he was on, he remained one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the country, finishing seventh in the FBS with a 187.18 rating in Arizona’s wins. If he hits the ground running, he’ll be difficult for a lot of teams to contain.
LB Colin Schooler
There’s little doubt that the junior from Dana Point, California is Arizona’s most important defender. He was a Freshman All-American in 2017 and followed that up by finishing in a tie for sixth nationally with 21.5 tackles for loss in 2018. Schooler also contributed 3.5 sacks, four passes defended and two interceptions, as well, so he might be literally everywhere in defending Hawaii’s run-and-shoot attack.
RB J.J. Taylor
Taylor was Arizona’s lone first-team all-conference selection last fall after finishing second in the Pac-12 with 1,434 yards rushing. If there’s one blemish in his overall game, it might be that he needs work on protecting the football since he also lost five of six fumbles in 2018.
OT Donovan Laie
Arizona’s offensive line looks like it might be one of the team’s biggest strengths on either side of the ball, and the sophomore Laie might be the biggest reason why. He started all twelve games at left tackle as a true freshman, protecting Tate’s blindside, and ended the year as one of the highest-graded tackles in the conference per Pro Football Focus.
DT Finton Connolly
The Wildcats lost a pair of solid defenders on their line in Dereck Bole and P.J. Johnson, and the 6-foot-5, 305-pound Connolly looks like a good bet to be the most important next man up. Though he made just four starts last fall, he did appear in all twelve games, finishing with 13 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and a sack.
No surprise, most of what did Arizona well flowed through Tate and Taylor. They both finished a shade above 53% in Opportunity Rate (how many yards are earned after the offensive line “does its job” for the first five) and powered Arizona to finish 25th nationally by that measure and 20th by Bill Connelly’s IsoPPP metric for explosiveness as a team.
The biggest question that’s still being worked out is who Tate will throw to in 2019, as Cedric Peterson is the team’s leading returning receiver with just 18 catches and 268 yards last fall. There could be opportunities for true freshmen like Boobie Curry and Jalen Johnson to carve out roles for themselves with a strong fall camp.
In general, the defense lagged behind the offense in 2018, allowing 5.73 yards per play while finishing 74th in Defensive S&P+. There are plenty of young pieces who got thrown into the fire, though, like Schooler and fellow linebacker Jalen Harris and defensive lineman J.B. Brown, all of whom who were either freshmen or sophomores last season.
Cornerback Jace Whittaker, who missed last season with injury, is back to help in the defensive backfield. Lorenzo Burns defended eleven passes in Whittaker’s absence while Tristan Cooper provides a solid foundation on the far back end at the Spur position.
This should be a “prove it” game for both sides, as Hawaii looks to show that last year’s first-half surge wasn’t a fluke and Arizona wants to prove they can contend in the wide-open Pac-12 South. In a matchup of star quarterbacks, it may comes down to who blinks first and, with more playmakers on their side, it seems most likely the Wildcats can keep the Warriors at bay. Arizona 33, Hawaii 24