The Arizona Wildcats were without one of their best defensive players in Saturday’s loss to BYU as cornerback Jace Whittaker sat out with an undisclosed injury, but head coach Kevin Sumlin expects the senior to return for Week 2’s matchup against the Houston Cougars.
“I would look for him to probably be back this week,” Sumlin said Monday at his weekly press conference.
UNLV graduate transfer Tim Hough started in Whittaker’s place and had six tackles and a pass breakup. No. 2 cornerback Lorenzo Burns had three tackles and three pass breakups on the opposite side.
Arizona surrendered 208 passing yards, but it was a pretty solid showing by the cornerbacks all things considered. Still, getting Whittaker back is important — not just because he is a senior leader and the team’s best cornerback, but because of the depth he will provide.
BYU scored 21 of its 28 points in the third quarter, and Sumlin believes fatigue had a lot to do with that. That makes sense when you consider only 13 Wildcats recorded stats on defense, meaning there weren’t a lot of substitutions being made.
“There’s a lot of things we can do. We can have a better rotation, number one,” Sumlin said. “We had guys playing 77 snaps the other night. We have to have confidence in some guys in the rotation. The hydration is critical, and we have to be able to manage that as coaches, but we have to have some confidence in the guys behind them and get them in the game.”
Arizona will be deeper at safety this week, too. Scottie Young Jr. was suspended against BYU but will return against Houston. Sumlin hinted that Young will see major playing time, and perhaps at Spur where Tristan Cooper started and recorded two tackles Saturday before leaving with an injury.
Young is only a sophomore but he proved he can play at a high level last season, making nine starts at free safety and finishing sixth on the team in tackles (53). Both Sumlin and defensive coordinator Marcel Yates have described Young as a “playmaker.”
Houston quarterback D’Eriq King threw for 320 yards and three touchdowns against Rice last weekend, so the Wildcats will need all the help they can get to slow him down.
“If we get those two guys (Young and Whittaker) back this week, that will certainly help defensively,” Sumlin said. “Because not just their leadership, their experience and their talent level, but the depth.”