ANALYSIS: Sumlin and 'New Era' debut ruined by Cougars
Kevin Sumlin coaches on the sideline during the Arizona v. BYU football game. This is Sumlin's first game as head coach.
Sept. 1, 2018 was supposed to be the coronation of Arizona football’s “New Era”.
The opening game versus BYU would introduce the world to the Kevin Sumlin and Khalil Tate duo that could eventually catapult Arizona into the Pac-12 Conference South Division race.
However, neither Sumlin nor his Wildcats could deliver a performance for the 51,002 fans on hand to remember as the Cougars won 28-23 and spoiled one of Arizona’s most hyped-up season openers this decade.
New era, same ol’ Wildcats — at least for now.
The season wasn’t even six minutes old when one of Arizona’s biggest struggles from a year ago reared its ugly head. After Tate started the opening drive 6 of 7 passing and got UA into field goal range, BYU blocked Lucas Havrisik’s 43-yard field goal attempt.
Arizona didn’t score its first touchdown of the year until 0:50 remaining in the first half. The same offense that averaged 41 points and nearly 500 yards per game in 2017 had four 3-and-outs against BYU.
Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone called plays that kept last year’s NCAA leader in yards-per-carry in the pocket. Whether that was the intention or not, Tate struggled to find his rhythm, completing just 17 of 34 passes for 197 yards and rushing for just 14 yards.
“I think we came out kind of flat,” Tate said. “Every team has that factor sometimes.”
For a team that had been waiting all summer to announce its return to the national spotlight, there should be no reason why they came out flat. Yet, it happened anyway, and BYU took advantage of it, particularly in the third quarter when the Cougars outscored the Wildcats 21-0.
Arizona made it interesting in the fourth with a pair of touchdowns, but BYU picked up timely first downs and sealed the ‘Cats’ fate.
“Even if we had a comeback there and won the game, we still got issues. We have to address those issues honestly as a coaching staff and honestly as a team,” Sumlin said.
The inevitable criticism will be directed at the offense, and deservedly so, but the defense also remains a work in progress. Marcel Yates’ unit allowed nearly 400 yards of offense to a team that averaged 325 per game in 2017, not optimal for a group that prided itself on how much it improved in the offseason.
The major renovations to Arizona Stadium, the new “Fan Experience” additions and an increase in season-ticket holders by 6,000 were all meant to compliment the arrival of Sumlin.
Instead, they were side pieces, not yet fully enjoyed as the main event soured as the game went on.
A week-one loss doesn’t mean Sumlin’s first year is headed for the sewers.
There’s time to assess the most important changes that need to be made. It just means that Sumlin’s team might need some more time before it can be taken seriously as a Pac-12 contender.
Follow Alec White on Twitter