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Ball security among correctable measures for Arizona heading to USC

arizona-wildcats-fumbles-washington-usc-ball-security-sumlin-wolma-peterson-2019-pac-12 Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats went the first five games of the 2019 season with only one lost fumble, that by quarterback Khalil Tate against Texas Tech.

The Red Raiders converted that giveaway into a touchdown, yet it ultimately didn’t hurt Arizona as it came out ahead 28-14.

That wasn’t the case last Saturday against Washington, as three lost fumbles were among four turnovers committed by the Wildcats. The Huskies scored after each of those takeaways, which produced 20 of their 51 points including 10 of 13 during a first half in which Arizona’s defense had to guard a short field numerous times.

“You cannot play an opponent that caliber and turn it over as many times as we did,” UA coach Kevin Sumlin said. “It just can’t happen. You have to be able to hold onto the ball. Those are things we can control, they’re things we have controlled this year.”

Arizona still has a positive turnover margin, at plus-2, but it has lost the turnover battle in three of the last four games. And the Wildcats’ opponents have taken advantage, scoring 48 points off turnovers, or 24.2 percent of their 198 total points scored.

“Protecting the ball has always been one of the key factors that we need to focus on every week,” senior receiver Cedric Peterson said. “It’s just (about) emphasizing that a bit more. It won’t happen again.

Each of Arizona’s lost fumbles against Washington was unique. The first came on a muffed punt, when gunner Thomas Reid III got in the way of returner Stanley Berryhill III. The second was the result of an ill-advised move by Tate to try and throw the ball away with his left hand to avoid a sack, only to have the ball go backwards (and enable UW to scoop it up and score).

Only the last one, by receiver Jamarye Joiner in the third quarter, was caused by the defense. Joiner caught a short pass and as he was going to the ground UW defensive back Myles Bryant poked it out and recovered.

“We went back and watched Jamarye’s fumble, things like that are tough because he’s falling down and he doesn’t see the guy that came from the other side of the field and put his arm in there,” junior tight end Bryce Wolma said. “It awareness of who’s around and also just ball security in general. Especially when you’re going to the ground … you’ve got to try and put two hands on the ball.”

USC, Arizona’s next opponent, has recovered four fumbles in six games but has also lost four. The Trojans are last in the Pac-12 in turnover margin, at minus-7.