The Arizona Wildcats’ offensive line was manhandled in the first two weeks of the season, particularly in the running game, but it showed marked improvement in Week 3 against Southern Utah.
Sure, the Wildcats were playing an FCS team, so that was to be expected, but it was also the first time the unit was at full strength this season, too. Senior Layth Friekh returned from a two-game suspension and reclaimed his starting spot at left tackle.
With his blindside protected, quarterback Khalil Tate threw for a career-high 349 yards and the Wildcats rushed for a season-high 268 yards, nearly double the amount they compiled in their first two games.
That could not have happened without a strong performance from the O-line, Coach Kevin Sumlin noted.
“We’ve got a long ways to go, don’t get me wrong, but that group was more solid tonight than they’ve been,” he said after the game.
Sometimes it can take players some time to round into game shape, but Friekh thought he did “pretty good” in his debut. The Wildcats did not allow a sack.
“I didn’t forget nothing. I’ve played a lot, I’ve done it before, so I know what it is,” said Friekh, who has made 34 career starts. “I know how fast the game is, so I just picked up where I left off last year.”
Not only does Friekh add experience to an O-line that is otherwise devoid of it, but Sumlin values the “attitude” he brings to the unit as well.
“They were effective,” Sumlin said.
Of course, Friekh was not the only moving part. Arizona moved true freshman Donovan Laie from left tackle to right tackle to accomodate Friekh, then slid Cody Creason from right tackle to left guard.
“I thought as a group we played a lot better,” said center Josh McCauley. “It was a little different because both Cody and Layth are very athletic guys. They can do a whole lot. We practiced all week like that and I felt like it was a good little move.”
Arizona plans to keep its lineup that way barring any injuries, so Sumlin hopes the offensive line can continue to jell when the Wildcats open Pac-12 play at Oregon State this Saturday.
“Our line play did improve, but we’ll see this week as we step back into conference play,” he said. “There’s still a lot of work to do.”