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Khalil Tate struggles, Arizona falls to BYU in Kevin Sumlin’s debut

BYU v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Throngs of Wildcat fans filed out of Arizona Stadium as BYU running back Squally Canada went untouched into the end zone for his third rushing touchdown of the night.

It turns out the so-called “new era” of Arizona football is not all it was cracked up to be — at least not yet. Canada’s trio of touchdowns led the BYU Cougars to a 28-23 victory over the Arizona Wildcats to open the 2018 season.

The ballyhooed partnership between new Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin and quarterback Khalil Tate proved to be a work in progress.

Tate rushed for just 14 yards on eight carries, easily his lowest output as a starter. He also attempted 34 passes — one shy of his career high — but only completed half of them for 197 yards and a touchdown

Tate struggled to connect on anything down the field. His longest completion was a 33-yard catch-and-run by Shawn Poindexter.

In turn, Arizona’s offense, which was one of the most prolific in the country last year, was held to 326 yards. BYU finished with 392, complementing its power running attack with a nice balance of play-action and screen passes.

“We took some shots offensively early. A couple three-and-outs we had, we took shots on first down and we couldn’t stay on the field to keep our defense off, so it’s a team effort,” UA head coach Kevin Sumlin said.

Of course, Arizona’s struggles offensively weren’t all on Tate. The inexperience of Arizona’s revamped offensive line showed. The Wildcats failed to get consistent push and their running backs could only scamper for 4.3 yards per carry. Tate was often under duress when he dropped back to pass, too.

“When you look at it statistically, we could be better,” Sumlin said. “There’s a lot of young guys out there too. Starting a freshman at left tackle (Donovan Laie) against an experienced defense, we were concerned about that coming into the game obviously, but those are our guys. At times we were able to move the football the way we wanted to move it. Sometimes protection was good, but it was kind of hit or miss depending on what the scheme was.”

Arizona found success early with short, quick-hitting passes but strangely insisted on taking shots down the field. None of them were completed. Some were poorly thrown by Tate, others were dropped by UA receivers.

“We tried to use our big receivers like Shawn just to get that factor worked on,” Tate said.

Sumlin said he could not evaluate Tate’s performance until he saw the tape.

“I never ever talk about a quarterback’s performance right after the game,” he said. “Until I get back and look at the video, there are a lot of things that go into that. Was he flushed? Was he able to set his feet and make the right reads? Were guys at the right depth? There’s 10 other guys out there that are responsible for his success. Sometimes he’s cleaning up some other mistakes, too. I’ll be able to answer that better on Monday.”

Arizona’s defense held up its end of the bargain — well, for the first half anyway.

The game was scoreless until Canada plunged for a one-yard TD with 9:58 left in the second quarter. Arizona countered with a 12-play, 68-yard drive that resulted in a 24-yard field goal by Lucas Havrisik. Havrisik had a 43-yard attempt blocked on UA’s opening drive.

Tate then led Arizona on a nine-play, 77-yard drive that gave the Wildcats a 10-7 lead heading into the locker room. The UA quarterback ran for a key fourth-down conversion at the BYU 46-yard line before connecting with Tony Ellison for an easy 15-yard score a few plays later.

BYU took control of the game from there, scoring on its first three drives of the third quarter to grab a 28-10 lead with 1:07 left in the period. The Cougars had 253 yards in the second half and were 4-of-7 on third downs in the final two quarters.

“We started catching cramps,” said UA defensive end Justin Belknap. “I’m not trying to make excuses or anything, but a lot of us started catching cramps and that’s hard on us.”

Star linebacker Colin Schooler, who had 16 tackles, was one of them.

“We talk a lot about hydration, but we don’t talk about it enough right now,” Sumlin said. “The team is in really good condition, but I think there’s another component we have to pay special attention to.”

Canada rushed for 98 yards on 24 carries to go along with his three touchdowns. BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum got off to a shaky start but finished 18-for-28 for 209 yards.

The 24-year-old senior lofted a beautiful pass to Tucson native Matt Bushman for a 24-yard touchdown that put BYU up 14-10 midway through the third quarter.

“We got into a game where they were able to take control of the line of scrimmage, particularly offensively,” Sumlin said. “We couldn’t get off the field. And then when did force them into third-down situations, they made the plays to get the first down, plays we were able to defend in the first half.”

Arizona did make things interesting at the end. Tate rushed for a two-yard TD with 13:29 left, then J.J. Taylor bulldozed for a one-yard TD to cut BYU’s lead to 28-23 with 3:20 left.

Arizona had two timeouts left so it opted against an onside kick. BYU put the ball in Canada’s hands and he bruised for a pair of first downs to run out the clock.

“Squally! Squally!” chants rang throughout Arizona Stadium as the Cougars walked off the field.

“Every loss sucks obviously, but we’re going to go back to the film room, we’re going to learn from it, we’re going to bounce back next week,” Poindexter said. “We can’t hang our heads too long.”

Arizona is at Houston next week, meaning the possibility of starting 0-2 is real. UH routed Rice 45-27 in its opener and beat Arizona in Tucson last season.

“Well it’s the first game so there’s going to be a lot of errors … but it’s nothing we can’t fix,” said UA cornerback Lorenzo Burns, who shined with three pass breakups. “We’re going to get better throughout the year.”

Scoring plays

  • Squally Canada 1-yard TD run — 9:58, 2Q — 7-0 BYU
  • Lucas Havrisik 24-yard FG — 5:39, 2Q — 7-3 BYU
  • Khalil Tate 15-yard TD pass to Tony Ellison — 0:50, 2Q — 10-7 ARIZ
  • Tanner Mangum 24-yard TD pass to Matt Bushman — 8:25, 3Q — 14-10 BYU
  • Squally Canada 1-yard TD run — 4:29, 3Q — 21-10 BYU
  • Squally Canada 2-yard TD run — 1:07, 3Q — 28-10 BYU
  • Khalil Tate 2-yard TD run — 13:29, 4Q — 28-17 BYU
  • J.J. Taylor 1-yard TD run — 3:20, 4Q — 28-23 BYU (2-pt conversion failed)

Notable Arizona statlines

  • LB Colin Schooler: 16 tackles, 1 tackle for loss
  • S Isaiah Hayes: 13 tackles
  • LB Tony Fields II: 11 tackles
  • CB Lorenzo Burns: 3 pass breakups
  • WR Shawn Poindexter: 4 catches, 68 yards
  • WR Tony Ellison: 4 catches, 45 yards, 1 TD
  • RB J.J. Taylor: 18 carries, 85 yards, 1 TD
  • P Dylan Klumph: 5 punts, 45.6 average