ANALYSIS: What Arizona football's loss to Houston means

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Courtesy Daily Cougar | The Daily Wildcat

The Houston Cougars score a touchdown against the Arizona Wildcats. The Wildcats were defeated by the Cougars 45-18 on Sep 8.

Kevin Sumlin’s first game at Arizona Stadium last weekend ended in disappointing fashion. His return to the University of Houston this weekend was disastrous to say the least.

The first-year Arizona head coach has struggled to determine his team’s identity during his first two games at the helm. 

Arizona fought back only to fall short in week one. The game was summed up as a missed opportunity to let Khalil Tate pick up where he left off in 2017. 

This weekend, though, solidified concerns that have been lingering about the program since Rich Rodriguez’s days. Arizona’s defense is not an elite unit, or even an above average one at that, and its offense is mortally dependent on its rushing attack. 

Despite a new regime and a preconceived notion that the Wildcats were entering a “new era”, Arizona hasn’t proven that it has evolved in any facet of play.

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Offensively, Arizona was as ineffective as its been in recent years on Saturday. Starting quarterback Tate did tweak his ankle early in the first quarter, presumably altering offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone’s game plan to utilize his field general in the run game, but Tate’s inability to move on the ground cannot be the Wildcats’ Achilles’ heel. Tate’s special ability as a ball carrier should be one of the team’s defining strengths — not the offense’s only. 

Arizona experienced as sluggish of a start possible on both sides of the ball. 

After choosing to defer the opening coin toss, contradicting last week’s choice to receive, the Wildcats’ defense was thrust into the Houston humidity. Ten plays and 81 yards later, the Cougars scored the game’s first touchdown. Houston’s offense would continue to pile on the points, and yardage, until Arizona booted its first three points onto the board late in the third quarter. By that point, the Wildcats trailed 38-3. 

All wasn’t lost, as Arizona’s offense made a late push in the fourth quarter, similar to last weekend’s comeback. The Wildcats ultimately couldn’t overcome their self-imposed, 35-point deficit though. 

Tate attempted 45 passes — setting a new career high – and threw for 341 yards, but he also tossed two interceptions and contributed next to nothing on the ground (he did find the end zone on a short run in the 4th). Although the junior signal-caller displayed encouragement on the sidelines – something he lacked in the defeat to BYU — and kept coming back for more, it simply wasn’t his day. Houston’s defense was zeroed in on Tate’s antics on the ground and was more than ready for his predictable passes deep down field. 

Tate clearly brings the X-factor to Arizona’s backfield as a runner, but as long as his usage is limited, he’ll need to start to improve as a passer. Otherwise the Wildcats offense will be in store for a long and uneventful season. 

Defensively, the ‘Cats continue to be plagued by a number of issues, and they’re all beginning to yield too big of a toll to overcome.

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Arizona’s secondary on Saturday was littered with back-ups and freshmen. A lack of leadership in the back end proved to be an enormous challenge for the Wildcats. The secondary surrendered four passing touchdowns, but it very easily could have been five or six, if not for dropped balls by Houston’s receivers. 

Versus the run, Arizona’s defense was almost nonexistent. 

Houston carved up the Wildcats’ front seven for all four quarters, sporting a 7.4-yard-per-carry average en route to 297 rushing yards and an additional two scores. 

The most concerning part of Arizona’s defensive performance, however, was the fact that if Houston hadn’t taken its foot off the gas, there’s no telling how many yards or chunk plays the Cougars could have racked up. 

It was an embarrassing day for the Wildcats on all fronts, as they fell for the second consecutive week. Sumlin’s return to his old stomping grounds might have been better off canceled. Arizona has little time left to work out kinks on both sides of the ball before starting Pac-12 competition. 

Next week, at home against Southern Utah, Arizona will look to get their offense up to speed and find some defenders – ones not named Colin Schooler – willing to play with pride and perhaps even a chip on their shoulder. 


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