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Arizona’s spring game heavy on snaps, light on excitement

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arizona-wildcats-spring-football-practice-report-quarterbacks-khalil-tate-grant-gunnell-kevin-sumlin Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If the season began today, the Arizona Wildcats would be far from ready to compete in the Pac-12. Good thing there’s another four-plus months before the 2019 opener at Hawaii.

Arizona finished up spring practice on Saturday with a whopping 147-play, two-hour scrimmage inside Arizona Stadium. The offense versus defense format resulted in an 87-30 ‘win’ for the Wildcats’ defenders, who notched three takeaways and had at least six sacks despite rotating far fewer players than the offensive unit.

“We ran 99 plays in the first half, which is a lot in the spring,” coach Kevin Sumlin said. “Those guys didn’t complain.”

Senior quarterback Khalil Tate and junior running back J.J. Taylor saw very limited action, each only playing two series with Tate getting in just five snaps. One of those resulted in an 87-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Devaughn Cooper on a play that just as easily could have been a sack or an interception.

“I knew I was going to Coop from the get go,” said Tate, who acknowledged he would have liked to play more. “He came down with it and scored, that’s what matters.”

Minimal snaps for Tate and junior Rhett Rodriguez enabled Arizona’s four freshmen quarterbacks—Kevin Doyle, Grant Gunnell, Jamarye Joiner and walk-on Luke Ashworth—to get the bulk of the playing time. Doyle threw a 49-yard TD pass to redshirt freshman Tre Adams on the final play of the first half, while Gunnell and Joiner each had a few completions but also a fair share of miscues.

“I thought all those … freshmen had their moments,” Sumlin said. “They had moments good and bad. But there’s good stuff to coach off of. There’s a lot on that tape, for those younger players, that are going to help us.”

Adams and Cooper had the scores but freshmen Boobie Curry and Drew Dixon were the most impressive of Arizona’s receivers. Curry had a pair of nice sideline grabs while Dixon showed good open-field moves, though he did lose a fumble on a 27-yard reception from Gunnell.

Arizona’s offensive and defensive lines weren’t nearly as fortunate to split reps, though. Sumlin said the Wildcats had nine available O-linemen, a number that dropped to eight when redshirt sophomore Edgar Burrola—who was working with the first team at right tackle—had to leave with an apparent left knee injury.

“The goal was to really develop these new JC guys,” Sumlin said of Josh Donovan and Paiton Fears. “Just to get them rolling. Because we need them to play. The two O-linemen probably had as many reps as they thought they’d have. They’re big and athletic and they’re going to help us.”

The defensive line, which was in a four-man front the entire time, was even thinner, though junior college transfer Myles Tapusoa did play significant snaps despite being limited in spring ball.

Despite being out there for the vast majority of snaps, Jalen Harris was phenomenal and seemed not to tire at all. The redshirt sophomore unofficially had four sacks and also showed great pursuit on run plays.

“He made plays chasing the ball up and down the field,” Sumlin said of Harris. “If he continues to get stronger and stay above the 245-250 (pound) range, he’s got a really, really bright future ahead. He brings an edge pressure, and with length. He also showed today he played the run.

“If he just keeps working and keeps improving, he can be a really, really good player.”

Another defensive standout was sophomore cornerback McKenzie Barnes, who had two interceptions.

“He knows how to find the ball,” senior cornerback Jace Whittaker said of Barnes. “You guys saw that tonight.”

Arizona scored three touchdowns on the night, the other on a 1-yard run by redshirt freshman walk-on Nazar Bombata, while redshirt sophomore Nathan Tilford had a 15-yard scoring run that was called back by a holding penalty.

And junior kicker Lucas Havrisik, who lost the starting job midway through last season, was 3 for 4 on field goals including a make from 55 yards.