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Kevin Sumlin discusses Stanford, QBs, blitzes and punting in weekly press conference

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kevin-sumlin-arizona-wildcats-marcel-yates-chuck-cecil-defensive-coordinator-analyst-2019 Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Where do the Arizona Wildcats go from here? Besides another road game, that is.

On the heels of two consecutive losses by a combined 51 points, Arizona (4-3, 2-2 Pac-12) is at a crossroads for the 2019 season. With a brutal finish the schedule—the last three opponents are all ranked in the latest Associated Press Top 25—how the Wildcats fare Saturday against the Stanford Cardinal in Palo Alto, Calif. may ultimately determine if a bowl bid happens.

After the 41-14 loss at USC, most of the questions coach Kevin Sumlin faced were about the quarterback situation after Khalil Tate was replaced by true freshman Grant Gunnell early in the second half. Sumlin said Tate is still the starter, something he reaffirmed Monday, and when asked what kind of response he was hoping to get from the senior this week Sumlin noted he was looking more big-picture.

“The first thing I’m hoping to get a response is out of our team,” Sumlin said. “We just lost a game on the road, 41-14, so the first thing I have to do is get a response out of our football team. That’s where we are. Then individual players, we go from there. It’s more than the quarterback. We had protection issues, we had some route issues, some blown assignments. It’s more than just the quarterbacks that need to be addressed.”

Here’s what else Sumlin said at his weekly press conference:

On how to get Khalil Tate back on track:

“It’s called practice and study and then ultimately it’s performance. What you do during the week, you try to simulate certain situations and different things but ultimately life plays off on results, right? The moment of truth, just like DBs, you can be in coverage, but when the ball is there you either play it or don’t. In those situations (for a quarterback) you either get rid of the ball or you don’t. Practice and game simulation is one thing but performance is another.”

On the communication with Tate and Grant Gunnell about their roles:

“We’ve been communicating the whole year. I said pretty simply what happened Saturday. It wasn’t all on the quarterbacks. We had pressure, we had different things happen. We communicate daily. It’s different today … because we don’t practice on Sunday. Sunday is the player’s day off, it’s mandatory to have one day off a week, with NCAA rules. Our communication really starts with class this morning and this afternoon. You have a better feel about everything Monday afternoon because our meetings basically start around 3:30 in the afternoon. We’re communicating all the time.”

On what he said to Tate after pulling him against USC:

“I just told him to stay ready. Stay warm. He’d been in the huddles on the sideline. We just didn’t pull him out of the game and not say anything to him. He knew there was a possibility, based on where we were in that game, that he was going to come back and play. Yeah, that conversation was had, but as I said Saturday night as things started to unfold and get out of hand, with Grant we just decided to leave him in there and get some great experience.”

On handling blitzes, and why it hasn’t been successful:

“As we add blockers it’s become obvious is people are adding on what is called add-on blitzes. They’re going to add one more. I think you saw later in the game they just didn’t cover (a blocker) and released him hot, and everybody’s got to be on the same page to throw the ball hot to a running back or a shallow crossing route that’s running away from the blitz. We weren’t consistent there. And there were two or three times where we just flat turned a guy loose, which was just a coverage bust. To be consistent in what we’re doing, to just add another blocker is not the answer.”

On if the offensive scheme is still working:

“Anytime that you’re not able to move it the way we’ve been moving it all year, you’re frustrated. But things don’t change from a top 5, (top) 10 offensive team in the country in a week or two. We’ve got to continue to run the ball, we’ve got to be able to make plays down the field and we’ve got to stay on schedule. As much as I harp on third down percentage, which is a big deal, to me the big difference the last couple weeks has been really first down. To get on schedule, instead of it being second and long. We’ve cut down on our penalties. The negative yardage plays were basically on plays, not mistakes. Instead of it being we’ve got eight, nine penalties. Our negative plays were from a lack of execution.”

On the matchup with Stanford:

“You’ve got two teams that are coming off two frustrating losses. It was a Thursday night game (for Stanford) so I was able to watch a bunch of it. They’re on their third quarterback, and to my understanding they had six healthy offensive linemen coming into the game. They had some struggles. It’s going to be the team that gets off the mat quickest this week.”

On Stanford’s offense:

“They haven’t changed very much over the years. We’re going to get a heavy dose of tight ends all over the place, we’re going to get a heavy dose of downhill runs. Whether it’s power, some play-action, deep balls, things like that. Stanford has done this a long time, they’re going to do what they do and they do it very well. We’re going to have to be efficient with the ball because they’re a possession football team on offense. They cut down the number of possessions that you have by keeping the ball. Turnovers will be a big deal, and again, field position. All of the things that we haven’t done the last two weeks, in the last two games, for us to be successful we have to get those things cleaned up.”

On the mounting injuries to the offensive line and backfield:

“Injuries are not an excuse, we’re not going to use that an excuse in our program, anywhere on this team. Because that’s football. Everybody’s like that.”

On the run game, which has averaged 3.6 YPC the last four games:

“I think we’ve had all five (running backs) for, what, two games? Bam (Smith) didn’t play the first game. J.J. was done really after the second or third game for maybe a month. You saw J.J. was limping around Saturday night, he had to come out a couple of times. We wanted to get him up in the 20s, with touches, whether that’s passes or handoffs, kickoff returns. He’s not 100 percent but he’s playing his tail off.”

On RB Nathan Tilford, who is averaging 7.4 YPC:

“He’s been successful. He’s a different back from what we’ve had. You’ve seen us utilizing him in different short-yardage situations. He’s been a real spark at different points of the game. He’s continued to improve from where he was last year. Last year there were some issues in protection, some issues in him picking up some things schematically. He’s really worked on it in the offseason and I think DeMarco (Murray) has done a nice job with him this season. We’ve got plenty of confidence in Nate.”

On converted QB Jamarye Joiner’s play at receiver:

“Not only does he look like a freshman, he looks like a guy who has played receiver for five months. Here’s a guy who moved to the position in the summer, came through camp and has played seven games there. Didn’t play the position in high school. He’s had flashes of where he’s done some really good things, he’s dropped some balls. He’s run some really great routes, he’s run some bad ones. He’s getting better. He’s made big plays for us. He’s just now getting going. He’s only going to continue to improve.”

On if Joiner’s pass downfield on a trick play should have worked:

“You need to watch the end of it and see what happened to the receiver. That’s all I can say. Just watch it and see what happened to the receiver. That was a big play, early in the game, a momentum play, because we’d just gone three-and-out on defense, we made two plays, got a first down, came up with the trick play which put us a second and 10 instead of across midfield either with the catch or the infraction. That’s all I can say about it, but it’s blatantly obvious, as it was when there was a player turned around 180 degrees in the middle of the hole, with people looking right at him.”

On if the defense is getting frustrated about the offensive and special teams struggles:

“Everybody’s frustrated. All you can do is keep playing. You have to put things together early in the game. You look at the scores, and people who don’t watch the game will say, oh, 51 (points), 41, what’s going on there? Our defense the last two weeks in the first half has played good enough for us to win. We want to score every time but if we also need to get the ball out to midfield if we’re going to punt it. And when we punt it, we need to be effective in our punting game instead of us not moving the ball, us punting the ball and then giving the ball at midfield. Our defense, I don’t know what else they could have done.”

On the punting struggles:

“Both guys are first-year guys. Both guys are struggling. At least I think we know what we’re getting with Matt (Aragon), it’s just not where we want it to be right now.”