First Look: Hawaii vs. Arizona
Warriors open up against the Wildcats in Week 0.
Hawaii is back at it in Week 0
Hopefully, the 2020 game can be as exciting as last year’s game that came down to the final play in a Hawaii win. This time the game is on the road and the Warriors have a new head coach with Nick Rolovich heading to Washington State and Todd Graham taking over on the islands.
Location: Tucson, Arizona
Mascot: Arizona Stadium
2019 Record: 4-8
Arizona head coach Kevin Sumlin is squarely on the hot seat with a 9-15 record in two years in Tucson and a third losing season very likely could have him looking for a new job. He did good things at Texas A&M and there have been some signs of his offense doing well at Arizona but not enough to take advantage of the talent he has.
Offensive players to watch:
This offense did move the ball well overall last year and ended up finishing third in the Pac-12 in total offense, passing, and rushing, but they were not able to convert that offense into touchdowns. In league play, they had four times where they failed to score more than 14 points.
Quarterback Khalil Tate was either good or bad, so not having him around could lead to some more consistency in the Wildcats offense. Sumlin tried to play two quarterbacks in the second half of 2019 but that failed miserably with the scoring seemingly decreasing every week.
The quarterback should be Grant Gunnell‘s job and all to himself. He played in eight games and was part of two wins. His most impressive game was against UCLA in which he completed 29 of 44 passes for 352 yards and a touchdown. For the season, he completed 65.2 percent of his passes and had just one interception in 155 attempts, so clearly, he is an accurate thrower.
The receiving group is loaded with nine of their top 10 pass-catcher back and that includes Jamarye Joiner who caught 34 passes for 552 yards and five scores as a freshman. The passing game should take a step forward.
In the ground game, they do lose J.J. Taylor who led the team running the ball for 721 yards. Plus, there is Tate’s loss in rushing game production with his 413 yards. Stepping in to be the top back is Gary Brightwell who was third in rushing last year with 390 yards and tied for the team in rushing touchdowns at five. Having four of the five starting offensive linemen back from last year should be a plus.
Defensive players to watch:
The defense has been a real struggle as they allowed 35.8 points per game last year and that was dead last in the Pac-12 and 118th in all of FBS. To fix this defense is new defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads.
He is familiar with the Pac-12 South and Arizona as he was leading the UCLA secondary over the past two years. The Bruins overall defense was not that much better than the Wildcats and in the passing game, UCLA was dead last in the Pac-12 in interceptions, yards per game allowed, quarterback rating, and allowed the most passing touchdowns.
That makes this hire seem questionable for Arizona. Rhoads was a head coach at Iowa State for six years from 2009-15, so maybe that leadership is why Sumling brought him in.
Expect the leader and best player on this defense to be Colin Schooler. He had 98 tackles and is expected to be in contention for an all-conference slot. They do bring back a lot of the front seven that includes Tony Field, Anthony Pandy, and Jalen Harris.
Harris has some potential as he had four sacks last year but overall there was little to no pass rush for this defense. That is an area to watch because Hawaii is likely to throw a lot and if there is time to throw look for the Warriors offense to shred the Arizona secondary.
With that pass rush being so bad, it made the secondary look worse than they really were. Arizona does return Lorenzo Burns who led the team with four interceptions, and Scottie Young is back to take over one of the safety spots.
This Arizona team will struggle in the Pac-12 and likely finish near the bottom of the South division in the Pac-12. They are replacing a lot of talent on offense and they have a really bad defense as well. There are some areas where this team could improve and it begins with playing just one quarterback and having a new face in charge of the defense.