Preview: Can Arizona bounce back versus Houston?

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If the Wildcats have hopes of challenging conference foes for a chance to play in the Pac-12 Championship game, then the game this weekend can be looked at as a must-win scenario.

Kevin Sumlin’s squad will head to the Midwest to square off against one of his former teams, the University of Houston Cougars.

“A lot of great people in the city, a lot of friends still there … so, it’ll be great to be back,” Sumlin said. 

Arizona enters the contest on the heels of a frustrating loss to another school nicknamed the Cougars – Brigham Young University. BYU toppled the Wildcats at home last weekend, 28-23.

          RELATED: Sumlin worried about winning, not Houston homecoming 

Arizona managed to close the visitor’s 18-point lead entering the fourth quarter, but ultimately fell short for two primary reasons: the Wildcats defense couldn’t get off the field, and Arizona’s coaches were unable to put Khalil Tate and company in position to make plays on offense. 

This week, things are expected to be slightly different. 

Sumlin acknowledged that it falls on the coaches to ensure they are putting players in the best position to succeed, but he didn’t necessarily say how the offensive or defensive execution would change in order to create such success. 

“There’s a lot of things we can do better as coaches,” Sumlin said in his weekly press conference. 

Sumlin said finding ways to get dynamic slot receiver Shun Brown, who corralled just one catch in the season opening loss, more involved in the offense’s game plan and communicating more efficiently with Tate about what he’s seeing out on the field were important.

Despite all of the talk about Arizona’s lackluster debut on the offensive side of the ball and the coaches' inability to position Tate for success, the Wildcats' downfall last Saturday night was largely the exact same issue that derailed the team’s winning streak last season – the defense was beat at the point of attack at the line of scrimmage.

Arizona will look to bounce back this weekend and rewrite the trajectory of this season – but it won’t be easy. 

If the Wildcats thought they had it rough last weekend, at home, under the lights and incoming monsoon, then this weekend will truly be a reality-check. Kick-off is scheduled for 9 a.m. Arizona time, and the humidity in Houston will make Tucson’s weather seem like a breeze. 

          RELATED: BYU (and Arizona) contain Tate in season opener

Similar to last week, Arizona’s offense has an advantage from a skill-position standpoint. Only this time, the Wildcats will look to utilize their strengths more efficiently.

Although Tate should be much more active on the ground this Saturday – he carried the football just eight times last weekend – it doesn’t mean there will be more running room. 

Houston’s All-American defensive tackle Ed Oliver is more than ready to flaunt his short-area quickness and absurd athleticism versus the Wildcats backfield. His 11 tackles were a big reason why the Cougars won last year’s matchup in Tucson.

If Arizona can avoid a sluggish first half, get things rolling offensively and make timely stops defensively, Sumlin’s squad should fare better on his old turf than they did in the desert. 


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