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Arizona starts bad, ends worse in season-opening loss at Hawaii

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arizona-hawaii-final-score-recap-week-0-college-football-2019-highlights-wildcats-warriors Photo by Carlos Herrera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats arrived 45 minutes late to Aloha Stadium for their 2019 opener against Hawaii on Saturday, the result of their police escort mysteriously never showing up to the team hotel.

It appears Arizona’s gameplan was equally behind schedule, and the defense may have forgotten to get on the bus.

The Wildcats spotted the Rainbow Warriors a 14-0 lead just over 10 minutes into the game and managed just eight yards on their first three offensive possessions, setting the tone for a disastrous 45-38 loss in Honolulu.

Arizona forced six turnovers—its most since September 2016—but allowed 595 yards of offense, 436 through the air to two different Hawaii quarterbacks. Its offense gained 539 yards but had two critical turnovers, including a fourth-quarter interception thrown by Khalil Tate in the red zone when the Wildcats were trailing by three, as well as five scoreless possessions that lasted only three plays.

But despite all that, Arizona was a yard away from forcing overtime. Tate’s 30-yard scramble as time expired ended with him tackled at the Hawaii 1-yard line.

The Wildcats trailed 28-21 after a first half that saw its defense allow four passing touchdowns but also intercept three passes, with nothing in between. Arizona had the ball for only 8 minutes, 20 seconds in the opening half, running 30 plays to 44 for Hawaii.

An unproductive first drive of the third quarter forced Arizona to punt, the last thing it could afford to do, and Hawaii needed just four plays and 1:42 to extend to a 35-21 lead on a 3-yard run by Dayton Furuta.

Following another three-and-out by Arizona, the Warriors seemed on the cusp of putting the game away but Furuta fumbled after a long run. Christian Young, who made the hit, recovered the loose ball for the Wildcats’ fourth takeaway, but that was followed by one more three-and-out by Arizona’s offense.

Yet somehow Hawaii committed a fifth turnover, another fumble, with Colin Schooler scooping up the loose ball. This time the Wildcats made the Warriors pay, generating an 8-play, 68-yard drive capped by J.J. Taylor’s 24-yard TD run.

Taylor had been held in check to that point, with just 31 yards on nine carries, and finished with 67 yards on 14 carries.

Hawaii inexplicably committed a sixth turnover on its next drive, the fourth via interception, when Jace Whittaker picked off his second pass on fourth down. That enabled Arizona to tie it at 35 with 51 seconds left in the third on a 21-yard TD pass from Tate to Stanley Berryhill III.

Tate finished with a career-best 361 yards on 22-of-39 passing with three TDs and two interceptions, both leading to Hawaii touchdowns. He also ran for 108 yards, his most ground production since gaining 206 yards against Oregon State in November 2017.

Warriors coach Nick Rolovich then decided to make a QB change, swapping out Cole McDonald—who was 29 for 41 for 378 yards with four TDs but also four INTs—for Chevan Corderio. Cordeiro led Hawaii into Arizona’s red zone but the drive stalled, and instead of going for it on 4th-and-1 from the 17 it opted for a 33-yard field goal by Ryan Meskell to retake the lead at 38-35 with 10:39 left.

Arizona found itself in Hawaii’s red zone almost immediately thanks to a 22-yard run by Tate and a 21-yard reception by Tayvian Cunningham, but then the Wildcats’ senior QB made his first real blunder of the game. His throw into the end zone was picked off by Hawaii safety Ikem Okeke at the 3-yard line, with Okeke bringing the pick back 49 yards.

Four plays later, Cordero connected with Cedric Byrd II for a 30-yard score to make it 45-35 with 5:02 left. Byrd torched Arizona’s secondary to the tune of 14 catches and 224 yards with four TDs.

Arizona quickly got back in red zone thanks to a 57-yard pass from Tate to Berryhill, but the offense went backward after that and forced the Wildcats to attempt a 38-yard field goal. Which became a 43-yard try after a delay of game, then a 53-yarder following consecutive false starts.

Yet, Lucas Havrisik wasn’t phased, drilling the 53-yard attempt to get Arizona withn 45-38 with 3:53 to go.

Somehow given a chance to redeem itself after a night full of horrible play, Arizona’s defense let Hawaii gain eight yards on a 3rd-and-1 option pitch from its own 35 with less than three minutes to go. The Warriors couldn’t run out the clock, though, taking a sack and punting it away with 51 seconds left.

Tate found Cunningham for catches of 26 and 13 yards to get to Hawaii’s 31-yard line with 10 seconds to go, but when no receivers were open he took off and was a few feet from the end zone and a potential game-tying extra point as the clock struck zeroes.

Whittaker intercepted McDonald on the first possession of the game, but Arizona could do nothing with its first drive, instead giving Hawaii the ball back at midfield after Tate’s pass to Drew Dixon went off the receiver’s shoulder pad and into a defender’s hands.

The Warriors converted that takeaway into a seven-play, 51-yard drive capped by a 7-yard catch by Byrd, his first of three before halftime.

A quick three-and-out by Arizona and a short punt set things up for Hawaii to go up 14-0 on a 39-yard TD pass from McDonald to JoJo Ward. True freshman cornerback Christian Roland-Wallace was beat badly on the play.

Arizona went three-and-out again but caught a break when Lorenzo Burns intercepted a tipped pass just inside Hawaii territory, and the Wildcats offense finally woke up. Tate orchestrated a 7-play, 49-yard drive with his Tim Tebow-esque jump pass to tight end Bryce Wolma from 14 yards out getting Arizona on the board less than a minute into the second quarter.

But Hawaii went right back and scored, going 75 yards in 10 plays with Byrd catching a 25-yard TD pass for a 21-7 lead with 9:50 left in the first half.

Arizona made it 21-14 on a 1-yard TD run by Nathan Tilford, one play after true freshman running back Michael Wiley caught a wheel route for 33 yards. Then the defense got a gift when McDonald threw his third interception of the first half directly into Tony Fields II’s hands in the red zone.

Tate then showed off the running ability that made him a national sensation in 2017, breaking off runs of 11 and 31 yards to set up a 27-yard TD pass to converted QB Jamarye Joiner to knot the game at 21 with 1:47 left before halftime.

After a 1-for-6 start, Tate completed his next eight passes for 131 yards and two TDs.

Hawaii untied it just 79 seconds later, though, with Byrd’s third TD catch a 35-yarder to put the Warriors up 28-21 with 28 seconds left in the opening half of the season.

Arizona has some time to figure out how to rebound from this loss, as its next game is not until Sept. 7 when it opens the home slate against Northern Arizona.