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Kevin Sumlin discusses Grant Gunnell, Colorado and defensive line rotation during weekly presser

arizona-wildcats-kevin-sumline-media-freshmen-gunnell-colorado-tate-taylor-injury-2019-update Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats spent the entire month of September at home, getting three victories while also taking a week off. But three of the next four games are on the road, starting with Saturday’s visit to Boulder to play the Colorado Buffaloes in a battle of 1-0 Pac-12 teams.

The Wildcats have won three straight at Folsom Field in Boulder, including the 2017 contest in which Khalil Tate exploded onto the national college football scene by rushing for 327 yards off the bench. There have been only two non-home victories for Arizona since then, however, and just one in six tries under coach Kevin Sumlin.

Junior linebacker Colin Schooler said, after the 20-17 win over UCLA, that Arizona hadn’t played to its full potential on the road during his career. But Sumlin isn’t concerned about past seasons.

“I think this team’s different,” he said Monday during his weekly press conference. “Last year how we played on the road, I’m not concerned about. This team’s got some juice right now, it’s got some confidence. We’ve got more depth. And we’re an older team. Youth and experience from a year ago maybe had a little bit to do with that, but we’re a year older.”

Here’s what else Sumlin discussed in the lead up to the Colorado game:

On Grant Gunnell’s performance:

“I thought he got better as the game went on. We didn’t give (UCLA) the ball, didn’t turn it over, I think that’s a big deal. If you go into a game like that and you have those type of statistics with a true freshman in a conference opener, and with no turnovers, you’re going to take that every time.”

On Gunnell’s mobility:

“I’m around him a bunch. You guys are the ones that have cast him as a pocket passer. He made some first downs, he got some yards.”

On the status of Khalil Tate and J.J. Taylor:

“I won’t know until we see what happens this week. We don’t practice on Sunday. The first time that we’ll see the players, as coaches … (is) at a 3:30 team meeting, and then we’ll be on the field tonight. Right now there’s no change in the status for either one.”

On if there’s an advantage to having an opponent uncertain about which QB will start:

“The guys that are playing are so different on paper, as far as the style of quarterbacks. You’re preparing for a couple different guys. One of them is going to run out there on Saturday. Now there’s video on both of them, so I don’t know if there’s much of an advantage either way.”

On how much the offensive game plan has to change depending on which QB plays:

“I would rather not tell (Colorado coach) Mel Tucker what that is. He’s a pretty good coach, he can recognize that there’s a difference between both guys. We saw some different things Saturday night, particularly early, against Grant. Everybody who plays Madden … you run a true freshman out there you start blitzing, all sorts of exotic blitzes that we hadn’t seen.”

On how to evaluate Tate’s injury and health:

“We talk all the time. We talked last week. Our medical staff, our training staff are with him daily. In some ways, because he’s been through this before, he kind of has a good feel for where he is. He wanted to play in the worst way, that’s two years in a row he’s missed UCLA, which is right down the street from where he grew up. He tried like crazy and he wasn’t right, and like I said before we’re not going to put him or J.J. or any player in harm’s way. Particularly when you have lower leg issues … things like that. Let’s be honest, those two guys, that’s how they thrive. Luckily we had a bye week to get other guys ready.”

On why Jalen Harris wasn’t on the field during UCLA’s final possessions:

“UCLA went into a situation where they were not substituting. If you watched the whole game we’d been able to roll the D-line quite consistently. If they substitute we have the right to match. We were rolling three D-linemen at a time, sometimes four. They went into a two-minute mode at the end of the game and did not substitute coming down the field. We need him out there in that situation.”

On how the defensive line is performing:

“I think it’s a lot different than last year when we had guys playing 75, 80 plays and getting worn down. We’ve got to get these guys in the game and keep these guys fresh; 295-pound guys can’t be playing 80, 90 plays a game. That rotation, for the last couple of weeks, has really helped us down the stretch and in the fourth quarter.”

On why the fourth quarter has gone so well the last two games, outscoring opponents 22-0:

“Our guys believe in each other. (Strength) coach (Brian) Johnson’s done a nice job in conditioning. The last couple weeks we’ve seen other guys kinda flopping around on the field in the fourth quarter. Our guys have not been, for whatever reason, and you’ve got to attribute that to a couple things. We’re in pretty good physical condition, that showed the last couple of weeks, and it showed early (in the second half) against Hawaii but it wasn’t enough. I also think the coaching staff has made some nice adjustments. You don’t get those numbers in the fourth quarter without conditioning, and mental toughness out of our team, and then some adjustments have been made on the sideline or from upstairs with what we’re doing. We know our team a little bit better now, there’s different personnel out there. And then the communication on the sideline has really, really improved. It’s a combination of all those things. That’s how you win close games.”

On Colorado:

“They’re playing with a lot of energy. Mel Tucker is an excellent football coach, whether it’s been in the NFL or his time at a lot of places. Alabama, Georgia, you can see the toughness in his team, it’s a reflection of its head coach. They’ve been in close games and they’ve battled. They’ve got playmakers all over the place. You start talking about (wide receiver Laviska) Shenault, whether he plays or not, he didn’t play against us last year, he’s one of—if not the best players—in this league. (Steven) Montez is an experienced quarterback, who’s mobile, he’s got a bunch of weapons. The last couple of weeks (receiver) Tony Brown has been exceptional. They’re doing a nice job offensively. Defensively, their Mike linebacker (junior Nate Landman)… you watch him, it’s a lot like watching (Colin) Schooler. It will be a real test for us. This is another great return team, kickoff return team. They’ve got explosive players back there. They haven’t missed a field goal, their punter is averaging 45 (yards) and they have explosive return yards. Again, we’re going to have be on top of our game, special teams-wise, like we were last Saturday night.”

On why he doesn’t let true freshmen speak to the media:

“Every place I’ve been, we do some professional media training for these young guys so that when they present themselves publicly it presents the right message for themselves and the university. How they articulate what’s on their mind and how they do things becomes important because it’s there forever. Once it’s out there it’s out there, I’ve been doing this 30-something years and I still screw this up.”

On having 10 or more penalties in three of four games:

“We are working on that. There are some things that we can do. We’re not a good enough football team to just give away yardage like that. You saw some guys that were in those situations that had left the game, not because officials have taken them out but we’ve taken them out. Obviously I haven’t done a good enough job with that.”

On WR/PR Brian Casteel, who had a TD catch called back against UCLA:

“He’s shown us that since I’ve been here. He’s a thick guy, got a running back kind of body, but he’s got some explosive power and he can run. He’s doing a nice job. We like to get it to him as many times as we can.”

On California’s Fair Pay to Play law, which was signed on Monday:

“I don’t really have any thoughts on that right now. There’s so much going on with that, so many blatant statements right now, I really don’t have a comment. When’s that go into effect, (2023)? I think there’s going to be a lot of different changes before 2023 with this whole thing, they’ve been talking about it for a while. I’ll answer that in 2023.”