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6 Arizona Wildcats to watch vs. Houston

The attention shifts to Arizona’s bigger playmakers this week

NCAA Football: Foster Farms Bowl-Arizona vs Purdue Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats need to be ready to go early in the morning on Saturday.

Coming off a BYU loss, this game serves as a must-win, and it’s up to the big playmakers of this team to step up.

Last week the five players I said to watch seemed to be a mixed bag. Wide receiver Shawn Poindexter certainly made a handful of plays while running back Gary Brightwell was poorly used between the tackles and did not receive any targets.

Cornerback Tim Hough suddenly had to start in place of Jace Whittaker and seemed to hold his own, and while the hype surrounding defensive lineman PJ Johnson this offseason was plentiful he failed to record a tackle or generate much over the middle.

And punter Dylan Klumph has some good distance, but some line drivers allowed for a good return and he tried to show a little too much leg on his first punt resulting in an easy touchback.

Now let’s take a look at this weeks players to watch. (I have added an extra player, since this is an important week.

Scottie Young Jr.

I won’t be surprised to see Young on the field in the first defensive series.

Benefiting from Rich Rodriguez desperation, Young remained on the team after his domestic violence arrest. Sumlin took some corrective action by suspending him all offseason. Young was then suspended for Week 1 as well. Now that he served his time it seems as if he is 100% available, and Arizona needs him.

During Saturday’s game, Isaiah Hayes was one of the lone bright spots on the defense.

Tristan Cooper was banged up at spur and the staff tried to roll out one of the top performers in camp, Dayven Coleman, but later subbed him out for Xavier Bell.

Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles is another story. Pass coverage still seems to be a huge area of concern, letting guys get behind him and make a play.

Some conversations I had with you all on Twitter this week seemed to have one thing in common: you need to have Scottie Young and Isaiah Hayes on the field together.

Young can play either position, spur or bandit. Based on his skill set and performance at the position now, bandit would be a match made in heaven. But understandably so, I see why spur has the optics of a better safety group.

Isaiah Hayes

Prior to the season, I was all for Jarrius Wallace to start at free safety. I never really considered much of Hayes.

He started as a true freshman in 2016, but had some injuries here and there, and missed all of last season because of shoulder surgery. I wasn’t sure where or what he would be like after that.

He came away with 11 tackles and seemed to be everywhere on Saturday.

This is a really big win for Arizona’s defense. Right now you’re getting really great play out of Hayes, which gives Arizona’s most crowded position group a good problem to have.

I’m looking forward to seeing what Hayes can do to follow up in Week 2, as I feel he has already done enough in camp and Week 1 to keep his starting role.

Similar to Dane Cruikshank last year, you need your best players on the field.

Going back to my logic with Scottie Young, the floor of the defense raises tremendously when you keep Hayes at free and move Young somewhere else.

You just can’t be without Hayes on the field at this point.

Kylan Wilborn

Wilborn didn’t get a lot of action on Saturday and I feel like the defense was missing his pass rush. Arizona failed to generate much pressure to get to BYU QB Tanner Mangum, recording zero sacks and forcing no turnovers.

I was waiting for Wilborn to get back into the game, beat the left tackle and come away with a strip sack.

It never happened because he wasn’t really on the field. Whether that was due to injury, I’m unsure, but the stud position has a steep drop off after Wilborn.

Lee Anderson played quite a bit and then Jalen Harris finished the game out.

Regardless of his backup, Arizona really needed Wilborn on Saturday to help turn the tide. He recorded one tackle, as did Anderson, so there was little to no production at the position.

Shun Brown

Aside from Khalil Tate, Brown is Arizona’s best playmaker on offense.

He only touched the ball once against BYU. And it’s not like the defense was smothering him either — he was open underneath all game long.

Maybe they were trying to use him as a decoy to take all those shots downfield.

Tate can be greedy at times and try to create something out of nothing, but Kevin Sumlin said in his post-game press conference the game plan was to go deep since he felt they have the athletes to do so.

Cater your offense to your strengths. There are a load of shifty receivers available that make plays after the catch, none better than Shun Brown.

Let Khalil and Shun get in rhythm, get involved early, make the defense focus on Brown and then take the occasional shot. You’re not Texas Tech or Washington State. There’s no reason to have a third of the passing plays go for 20+ yards when you have playmakers who can work after the catch.

J.J. Taylor

I’m going Taylor here for two reasons: He managed to rush for a quiet 85 yards and haul in four catches for 27 yards, but in order for Taylor to really get things going, he needs Khalil Tate as his running mate.

Arizona needs to run more with Tate, and when you get Tate ripping off 15-yard runs, well, it not only opens up the offense but Taylor is one of the biggest beneficiaries.

Protecting Tate from injury seems pretty silly at the cost of his best trait, which leads me to my next reason why I’ll be watching Taylor.

He seems to be the solicited kic-off return guy. And in those situations Taylor is way more prone to a serious collision.

But he’s dangerous.

While I typically don’t like overuse and I prefer to see guys like Devaughn Cooper or Stanley Berryhill III back there — guys with speed and something to prove — I do like Taylor returning.

The only problem: he was taking returns that looked questionable to return, especially with this new fair catch rule that allows you to place the ball at the 25-yard line on either hash.

He’s still learning in that role, and while he has big-play potential, the free 25 yards seems way better than fighting for 21 and taking a hit.

But overall he can improve Arizona’s mediocre return game that we’ve seen the past six years.

Khalil Tate

This team goes as far as Khalil Tate does.

Rushing only eight times is inexcusable, and the coaching staff needs to do a better job of utilizing Tate’s skill set.

With Ed Oliver you’re going to need a lot of speed to get to the outside and keep him on his heels. What better way to do that than to get Tate rolling? When Tate gets things going, the whole offense opens up, and the defense feeds off that. It keeps a strong offensive balance and sustains drives, two things that were severely lacking last week.

Taylor can start to get bigger lanes to run through and kick it outside, the defensive backs start biting on play action and have a moment of pause to let the wide receivers go by, big plays are made when you allow Tate to keep the ball.

After a poor debut, we’re waiting to see how the coaching staff will change their game plan— if they do at all. It’s concerning when something isn’t working for four quarters and not one thing is changed, so hopefully there is some change over the course of a week.

Put your players in position to make plays. Let Khalil Tate cook.