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Kevin Sumlin discusses USC, Khalil Tate, J.J. Taylor, the offensive line and more at weekly press conference

kevin-sumlin-arizona-wildcats-practice-coronavirus-asymptomatic-isolation-2020-college-football Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Arizona Wildcats coach Kevin Sumlin wasn’t in the best of moods on Monday when he had his weekly press conference, and understandably so.

His team was still not that far removed from a demoralizing 51-27 home loss to Washington, one in which it was outscored 38-10 in the second half to end a three-game win streak. Now at 4-2 overall and 2-1 in the Pac-12, the Wildcats are in a four-way tie for first along with ASU, Utah and their next opponent, USC, whom they face Saturday night in Los Angeles.

That game will serve as a homecoming of sorts for many UA players who hail from the LA area. Sumlin isn’t concerned about that being a distraction, however.

“We have people everywhere,” he said. “We waited a long time after the Colorado game because most of their family was there. The players know, they get the schedule, they know what’s going on. I don’t see it as an issue. I do think it could be good because for some guys they’re going home.”

Here’s what else Sumlin said on Monday:

On QB Khalil Tate’s play against USC:

“As good as he played the week before, he didn’t really play well this week. It was obvious. He didn’t feel really good about that.”

On the decision-making of Tate and other players:

“The conversation has been there. We brought it up a couple weeks ago, about not running out of bounds but throwing the ball away. About taking off and just doing things. If something bad is happening, just don’t make it disastrous. That decision-making time is important for running backs, it’s important for returners.”

On saying Saturday night he didn’t know if Tate was 100 percent healthy:

“It was probably a bad answer. We’re in contact with our medical staff, our trainers all the time. Internally, as a person, individually, you’ve got to know yourself if you’re healthy or not. There’s really no one in the locker room who’s playing at the level they need to be playing that is 100 percent.”

On why true freshman QB Grant Gunnell played late against Washington:

“It was time for him to play. I’m not worried about Grant’s redshirt. There’s never been a plan for Grant to be a redshirt. He’s the backup quarterback, so if something happens he needs to be able to play.”

On dealing (or not dealing) with blitzing:

“We handled it one way at Colorado, we didn’t handle it very well last Saturday night. I sat here three weeks ago and told you it was going to happen. And we didn’t handle it very well. So we’re going to have to go back and keep working on it and make those adjustments. That being said, I don’t if anybody scored 27 points against Washington.”

On the turnovers committed against Washington:

“You cannot play an opponent that caliber and turn it over as many times as we did. It just can’t happen. The turnover situation in that game really dictated a lot of things because our defense played their hearts out in the first half. How long can you tread water? You have to be able to hold onto the ball. Those are things we can control, they’re things we have controlled this year.”

On J.J. Taylor’s return from injury:

J.J. Taylor coming back really helped. I’m glad that he’s back. You know he plays as well as anybody and you can see it. He’s a dynamic guy, he’s got bursts of toughness. To really sit out for basically a month and come back and hang on to the ball the way he did … that’s positive for this team moving forward.”

On sticking to the process:

“We want to win now, our fans want to win now. So it’s our obligation to put the best product on the field that you can now. The two ways to get better, in my opinion … is recruiting and player development. Raise our talent level and increase our depth. We’ve increased our depth, which I think has reaped some dividends early. We’ve got to continue to increase the profile of our football team. We’re continuing to recruit, continuing to try and change the profile of our team.”

On fan complaints about late kickoffs:

“The three places I’ve been a head coach, no fanbase is happy about any start time. You can’t make anybody happy. At Houston we were playing on Tuesday and Thursday night for exposure, the fans weren’t happy about that. In the SEC, the primetime game is at 2:30 in the afternoon. I don’t know if you’ve been in Texas at 2:30 in the afternoon or in the Swamp or in Georgia, but it’s brutal. TV dictates start times. As a program, as a coach, you understand that. People say it’s easier to stay home and watch it on television, we know that. Our fans, by the way, Saturday night, were great. What we have to do is put a product on the field that our people appreciate. We’re working hard at that. But as far as we’re concerned, as a program, you can’t control when those games are being played.”

On the decision to not go for two, down 18, yet attempt an onside kick afterward:

“By the number, maybe we should have gone for two. Felt better about the onside kick. There are some things that we have done, play-wise, where Grant (Gunnell) was not prepared for … to go for two, because he was in the game. Looking back at it, maybe we should have gone for it.”

On what he’s seen from USC:

“They’re USC, right. They’re averaging 430 (yards) a game and they’ve gone through three quarterbacks. They’ve got an athletic offensive line, as usual. Three receivers that are extremely talented, which makes it easy on the quarterback. Big guys that can run. Last year I thought the strength of their team was their young defensive line, and they’re still the strength because now they’re sophomores. They’re big and athletic up front, they’ve got good players, got a good scheme. They’ve played, what, three or four Top 25 teams? So you know they’ve been in big games, they’ve been tested. Won some and lost some, played hard.”

On having to shuffle the offensive line with LG Robert Congel out because of injury:

“We tried to get our best five, because Paiton (Fears), he’s been splitting time with Edgar (Burrola). And with Congel being out, do you keep that rotation at (right) tackle or do you take this guy that’s played a lot and move him in there instead of a guy that hasn’t played a lot. Do you play your seventh-best lineman to keep that rotation? Is it your five best available or is it a rotation of those two with your seventh-best player up there? Matchups matter, let’s put it that way.”

On LB Colin Schooler’s lack of statistical production:

“I think that’s a good thing, I mean, in a crazy way. We’re getting production from other people, instead of him making 17 tackles a game, what has happened is that our front has made more plays, particularly the guys inside. I think it also speaks to Anthony Pandy’s progress, and Tony Fields’ progress. And he’s still making plays, he’s still in the top 10 in the league in tackles.”