To no one’s surprise, the Arizona Wildcats’ offensive line has been a glaring weakness through the first two weeks of the season.
Because that’s what happens when you start a walk-on at center and a true freshman at left tackle, Coach Kevin Sumlin said.
“It’s a work in progress,” he acknowledged Monday at his weekly press conference.
The good news is reinforcements are on the way. Senior left tackle Layth Friekh will return Saturday against Southern Utah after serving a two-game suspension. He has started 33 games in his UA career, proving to be a reliable road-grader and pass-protector.
“I think getting Layth back this week will help us,” Sumlin said.
Of course, Friekh’s return means Arizona has make some changes to accommodate him. Sumlin said true freshman Donovan Laie will flip from left tackle to right tackle and Cody Creason will shift from right tackle to left guard, taking the place of Tshiyombu Lukusa.
“Moving (Laie) to right tackle might take a little pressure off of him, and getting Layth back in there and sliding some guys around adds some depth,” Sumlin explained, adding that Creason is best suited as a guard because of his size and experience.
“We had four of our offensive linemen play 100 snaps Saturday, and that’s a lot. We just don’t have any depth there and that takes a toll. Getting Layth back will help us move some people around, maybe create some rotation inside with the guards and be able to do that. But those guys couldn’t come off the field. They didn’t always do the right thing but they battled and you see that in the second half from that whole offensive line.”
The Wildcats had the No. 3 rushing attack in the country last season, but are only averaging 3.3 yards per carry this season, ranking 115th in the nation. The unit has done a decent job in pass protection, though, allowing just one sack in two games.
Plus, they did have some success opening running lanes in the second half against Houston, albeit the game was already out of reach and the Cougars were using their second-string defense for much of the final two quarters.
“You’ve got four new guys, right? And some scholarship, some walk-ons, some freshmen. … yeah, that’s going to happen,” Sumlin said of the O-line’s struggles. “... Really I thought internally there was a game plan that was pretty good to be able to run the ball and to protect it. It’s not what we want, we want to be better, but certainly from the first game to the second game there was some improvement in our offensive line.”
Sumlin’s insistence on keeping Laie in the starting lineup has to mean the freshman is doing something to impress the coaching staff, right?
Here’s what Sumlin said when asked about that Monday:
“It’s more of a circumstance. You play with the cards you’re dealt. I think he’s extremely talented. In pass protection, he’s still learning what to do all the time. … It’s not like when you put up a card or put up a diagram. These (defensive linemen) are moving after the snap, too, so it’s been a real learning experience for him and he’s very athletic, he’s a big man for 18 years old and he’s only going to get better. And I think the experience he’s had in the last two weeks has helped. Athletically and size-wise, he’s exactly what you’re looking for when it comes to an offensive lineman.”