The Arizona Wildcats have a chance to get back to .500 and hit the halfway point for bowl eligibility. Although they couldn’t extend their winning streak to three games last week against USC, there was some encouraging play in the second half.
Back at home this week against the Cal Golden Bears, here are five important guys to watch.
The status of Layth Friekh is unknown for this week, after he entered the week dealing with a lower body injury and left the USC game with another lower body injury. That means that former four-star Michael Eletise will likely take over at tackle, after getting some experience against USC while Friekh was out.
Perhaps they go with Thiyo Lukusa, but I believe they’ll stick with Eletise if Friekh can’t go. A new left tackle with a shaky Khalil Tate could spell problems for Arizona’s offense, which has been the victim of slow starts.
Eletise has a big opportunity ahead of him if Friekh is ruled out for Saturday. The Cal defense will likely try to take advantage of the fresh meat at left tackle and attack him often.
PJ Johnson has strung together two really great games and continues to provide the disruption on the defensive line.
Likely to match up with the size of the USC offensive line, he was lined up as the defensive end.
JB Brown is a fine defensive end, who had been replacing the injured Justin Belknap, but Johnson as the end seemed to have worked well. It may be unconventional sticking a 6-foot-4, 330 pounder as your end, but he was still able to handle those duties efficiently.
Similar to my philosophy of the safety group, always having the best players on the field at once, this might be Arizona’s best set with Johnson at end, Boles at nose guard and Finton Connolly at defensive tackle.
Throw JB Brown and Jalen Cochran in the mix at end, you’ll need them to give big Johnson a breather, but going forward I think this is the best like available.
Lucas Havrisik is in a sophomore slump. 4-for-9 on the season with some really bad misses so far.
We only have a small sample size from last season, going 3-for-4, but he made you feel comfortable going for a deep 40-plus yard kick.
Now we’re at a point where the offense might as well go for it in most situations.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the staff went with Josh Pollack to start the Cal game, but Havrisik likely has a short leash at this point before the staff goes back to Pollack.
Havrisik has one of the strongest legs in the country, but just hasn’t been connecting this season.
Arizona hasn’t been as aggressive in the passing game as they were week one against BYU, but Noel Mazzone and Khalil Tate are still taking their shots downfield.
While the success hasn’t quite been there, it seems to be Devaughn Cooper on the end of those 50-yard passes and he’s only a step away from making the catch.
He has four catches through five games for a total of 86 yards. One catch accounts for 53 of those yards.
It’s the clear to staff likes his speed and really only utilizes him to stretch the field, something he excelled at during his time at Narbonne High School.
He’s the ultimate fantasy football boom-or-bust where one catch can net you a dozen points. This is the week I think he finally connects on a deep throw
There’s been a lot of debate surrounding Tate since Saturday.
From Khalil’s side, we need to know how badly he is hurt and what his motives are.
From Kevin Sumlin and Noel Mazzone’s side, we need to know how much the game plan is being altered, whether that’s due to injury or philosophy. It would also be nice to know if the two are playing Tate because of the seniority or optics of benching a “star player”
It’s been a complete 180 when it comes to Tate’s performance from a year ago and something just doesn’t seem right.
If he’s hurt, and you can’t properly game plan, no one wins. Not Tate, the offense, the staff or fans.
To go along with this puzzling play, he’s also had some really bad decisions.
He threw two interceptions against USC, although one was called back for pass interference, but the ball was totally throw across his body and had no shot at getting to the receiver. His other was a really poor decision to try to lob the ball out a few yards ahead that also had no chance.
It’s a really tough situation for the offense. Do you stick it out with Khalil Tate or let Rhett Rodriguez try to manage the running game and get in a rhythm or just go with a true freshman?
For me, at this point, I think you make a change, and perhaps we see a change in the middle of this Cal game.