It’s been nearly nine months since the Arizona Wildcats last played a college football game, though some might argue they stopped playing at the beginning of the fourth quarter in that one.
There’s no way to undo how the 2018 season ended, but now that the 2019 campaign is just a few days away the slate has more or less been wiped clean for coach Kevin Sumlin and his team as he enters his second year in charge. That second season begins Saturday night at Hawaii.
Year two tends to be a pivotal one for coaches and programs, and this is the third time Sumlin is experiencing that. His second Houston squad won 10 games in 2009 (after going 8-5 the year before), while his second Texas A&M team went 9-4 in 2013 following a breakout 11-2 campaign in his debut season with the Aggies.
“There’s been different second years at all three places, and this one is just getting going,” Sumlin said Monday at his first weekly press conference of the season. “Every job has been different.”
Sumlin said he’s happy with where the team is heading into the Week Zero trip to the islands, which begins Wednesday when the team flies to Honolulu.
“There’s new blood out there, some junior college guys, some high school guys,” he said. “A different energy. It’s just a different team (from last year). That’s kind of been the case in all three of these situations. I like where we are right now.”
Sumlin credited the team’s spring GPA, which was the highest in program history, as a sign that everyone is bought into being the best they can be in all areas.
“Will that translate to Saturday evenings? We hope so.”
Here’s what else Sumlin discussed on Monday:
On the enhanced defensive line: “We’ve got more able bodies, guys that can really play without the talent level dropping off that much. Some guys on the two-deep now, on the second team, they started games for us last year. The talent bar has been raised. There’s been great competition.
On JUCO defensive tackles Myles Tapusoa and Trevon Mason, both of whom are listed as starters: “They’re in better shape right now then they were. I don’t think Myles could make it through warmups last spring. We just kept looking for him, ‘where is he?’ He was tired. He’s down to ... 315, something like that. He might have been closer to 340ish in the spring. Trevon, it’s been a little bit different because he just got here right before camp. We took it really, really easy with him. Just kind of brought him along slowly. He has gotten in shape. He’s in better shape than he was a month ago. With as much as Hawaii throws the ball, we’ll see how what kind of shape he is in Saturday night.”
On junior Rhett Rodriguez being second on the QB depth chart (ahead of true freshman Grant Gunnell): “One guy’s got more experience than the other guy. One guy’s been here since January. The other guy’s has been here (since) before I got here. He’s started a game and he’s played in games.”
On overcoming slow starts that led to blowouts at Houston, Utah and Washington State: “There’s a lot of different factors. Every game is mutually exclusive. What we’re looking for is consistent performance, because effort is there. When we are inconsistent like that, that’s what happens.”
On running backs coach DeMarco Murray’s impact on the team: “There’s very few guys that have been (NFL) player of the year. Let’s start there. He has done a nice job, he’s always been a sharp guy. When he says something to players, whoever they are, they listen. They want to know his opinion. He’s played at the highest level and he’s been consistent.”
On Anthony Pandy, who is listed as co-starter at Will LB with Tony Fields II: “Where he is right now and where he was last year are two different guys. I think it really started for him in the spring because there was unbelievable competition between he and Tony Fields, which has been healthy for our football team. Those guys, they’ve really worked at it, they both want to start. One guy has started a lot of games here and the other guy has not. It gives us an opportunity to get Colin (Schooler) off the field. It wasn’t a coincidence that he was sick at the end of the year. We need to be able to get a rotation in there.”
On Hawaii coach Nick Rolovich: “Coach Rolovich is a good friend. He’s a cutting-edge guy, a very intense guy. I don’t know how many times they’re going to throw it, but they’re not going to back off of that. He’s a tough guy. The quarterback is a real reflection of him.”
On Hawaii QB Cole McDonald: “Here’s a guy who threw for 3,800 yards last year, had a 500-yard (total offense) debut. 6-4, 220, runs well all over the place and he can spin it. He’s a big, tough guy, you see him get hit sometimes, it doesn’t faze him. The scary part of this guy, McDonald, is he had a great year last year, (36) touchdowns and 10 interceptions, something like that, and he’s coming back this year bigger and stronger.”
On the progress of Jamarye Joiner moving from QB to WR: “The guy’s a really good athlete. One thing that you forget about, conceptually, when you make that move from quarterback to receiver is he’s already there because he’s gotta know the route tree, he’s gotta know the route combinations. The technique. that becomes the issue. But him walking through the door, changing positions and going out and playing receiver has probably been easier for him than some of these freshmen. All we had to do with him is coach technique. because he knows where everybody’s supposed to be. He’s a really good athlete, got great hand-eye (coordination). I lost a bet because he was catching punts the other day and he was doing that effortlessly. That just tells you what kind of athlete he is.”