Just over 36 hours removed from his first victory with the Arizona Wildcats, coach Kevin Sumlin still had a glint in his eye as he met with reporters at his weekly press conference.
Getting that initial win under his belt relieved at least some of the stress that came from Arizona’s first 0-2 start in 37 years. But with the Pac-12 opener at Oregon State on the horizon, the time to bask in past accomplishments is long over.
“We’ve got to get better every week,” Sumlin said. “For us, our approach has been … we are working on us. Trying to develop depth, trying to develop continuity.”
Arizona has lost its last three conference openers, all at home, with the last two by one score. The Wildcats fell 30-24 to Utah to begin Pac-12 play last season.
Here’s what Sumlin had to say about the Wildcats’ opponent and a variety of other topics:
On Oregon State, which is splitting snaps between two quarterbacks:
“I think the preparation piece for the two quarterbacks is not as drastic. Both of them threw it quite a bit. They (also) have two really good running backs, one who leads the league in rushing, a big tight end and a receiver who had 200 receiving yards last week.”
On being able to get more chunk plays on offense:
“We wanted to create more explosive plays and we did that. More explosive runs, too, not just through the air. In a game like that, the big plays overshadow the consistency of the intermediate passing game and the RPO stuff. There are so many explosive plays it looks like that’s all we’re doing.”
On how much Layth Friekh helped with the offensive line:
“To get Layth back is a combination of attitude and experience. Now we can get some continuity if we can stay healthy. Our line play did improve, but we’ll see this week as we step back into conference play. There’s still a lot of work to do.”
On the defense’s struggles on third and fourth down:
“We talk as a team about goals. Third down, offensively, and wanting to be 40 percent or better. We’ve been able to reach that. Conversely we have not met our goal on defense. That needs to be around 35 percent or lower and we haven’t done that. Even in the first game there were some critical third downs that BYU converted. They kept drives alive. We haven’t hit our goals on third down conversion rate on defense. That’s kept them on the field and allowed them to score points. Third and short, third and long, third and medium, it’s been all three.”
On WR Tony Ellison, who who had four catches for 111 yards against Southern Utah:
“Tony is one of those guys that you keep looking at in practice, then you go back and watch tape, and all he does it get open. All the time. Every Saturday he just makes plays. There are guys like that. What’s your job as a receiver? No. 1 to get open and No. 2 to catch the ball. He does both. He’s been as consistent a player on this team. And he’s been effective.”
On Khalil Tate’s passing:
“He was pretty accurate in the passing game. There were a lot less risky throws. He moved the team, he got out of the pocket. I thought he did a pretty good job of taking shots when he needed to, moving around the pocket when he needed to.”
On whether running Tate will be part of the game plan:
“I think there was a reason for (only four carries), from what happened to him last Saturday. We’re going to play to his strengths, play to our strengths. Obviously he wasn’t 100 percent healthy but he still was effective running the offense. That ankle didn’t feel very well.”
On the play of Gary Brightwell as the No. 2 RB:
“I thought he ran hard. Moving from, really, a slot receiver to running back he’s done a nice job. He gives us a little bit of a bigger guy than JJ (Taylor). We like to play three guys to keep them healthy, keep them fresh. He’s been a great addition.
On why sophomore RB Nathan Tilford has yet to play:
“He’s just not where those guys are right now. We play guys based on performance in practice, and consistency. You’re going to make mistakes. If that happens, let’s make sure we’re going where we need to go so we can get you on the field. It’s a performance-based business. We play the guys who perform in practice the best.”