Here are some UA players to watch Saturday at Arizona Stadium.
Khalil Tate, QB
If this game is a track meet like both head coaches believe it will be, then it could simply come down to which quarterback makes the bigger plays and/or which one avoids costly mistakes. Not all that different from the Hawaii game.
And as good as Tate was that night, he made a critical error by getting intercepted near the end zone when Arizona had a chance to tie the game or take the lead late in the game.
Tate did not play much vs. NAU last week, so he should be as fresh as he’ll ever be, looking to build off the 108 yards rushing he had against Hawaii when he looked more like his 2017 self.
Christian Roland-Wallace, CB
The true freshman has had an up-and-down start to his Arizona career, with two tackles, a pass breakup, and an interception through two games.
Roland-Wallace noticeably struggled against Northern Arizona, and the Wildcats need him to be ready from the jump against a Texas Tech team that is averaging 350 passing yards per game and likes to spread the ball among several receivers.
“He started slow,” Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin said of CRW. “We had a couple of guys, some of these young guys … that started slow. I thought Bobby Wolfe started slow. And then they picked it up. But when you’ve got young guys, that’s part of the problem. Hopefully that was a learning process for Christian because later on he made a heck of a play. Early in the game he grabs a guy and then stops running. And then he comes back at the end and leaves his guy, flies in and makes a great interception.”
J.J. Taylor, RB
After being a workhorse last season, Taylor has had a light load in 2019, averaging just 12 carries per game.
To be fair, Taylor did not need to play much against NAU because the Wildcats led by 38 at halftime, but his usage against Hawaii was questionable. Taylor only had 14 carries in that game, and Arizona’s pass-heavy tendencies caused them to get off to a slow start as the passing game lacked rhythm early.
Sumlin has cautioned that Taylor won’t be a 30-touch-per-game guy anymore, but he should at least be in the 20s if Arizona’s offense is going to be running at full gear against the Red Raiders. Yes, the Wildcats have other talent options at running back, but Taylor is still the best one and Arizona needs to lean him as much as it possibly can.
JB Brown, DL
Needless to say generating any semblance of a pass rush is a must for the Wildcats if they want to avoid falling to 1-2. The only guy who has looked capable of doing that so far is Jalen Harris, who has 1.5 of UA’s 2 sacks.
Somebody needs to help him, and Brown is a guy who receive a good amount of hype during training camp because of his ability to play inside and outside, but so far he has yet to live up to it, registering just one quarterback hit.
The good news is there is still plenty of time to turn it around, and there’s no better time than now.
Tayvian Cunningham, WR
The junior college product has been a bright spot for Arizona’s offense, providing some serious speed to the receiving corps. So far he has seven catches for a team-high 123 yards and two touchdowns.
But Cunningham has never faced a defense with Big 12 athletes before. Three of Tech’s top four cornerbacks are listed at 6-feet or taller, and it should be a good test for the 5-foot-7 Cunningham.
Cunningham could serve as Arizona’s primary kick returner as well if the coaching staff would prefer to save Taylor’s legs for the running game instead.
Matt Aragon and Kyle Ostendorp, P
If stops truly are at a premium in this game, then field position could matter a lot. If so, Arizona needs to get more from its punting game this week. As Sumlin said Monday, 38 yards per kick is not acceptable.
Neither senior Matt Aragon nor freshman Kyle Ostendorp have been able to runaway with the job, averaging 35 and 38 yards per punt, respectively.
That is a sizable downtick from the 42.2 yards per punt Dylan Klumph averaged last season.