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Arizona needs to inspire confidence vs. NAU, not just win

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 08 Arizona at Houston Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In 2002, the Arizona Wildcats beat Northern Arizona University by a score of 37-3.

That Arizona team went 4-8.

In 2004, the Mike Stoops regime opened with a 21-3 victory over the Lumberjacks.

It was one of three wins the Wildcats would collect all season.

The 2005 season saw Arizona again host NAU, handling them 31-12 in Tucson.

There would be two more victories for the Wildcats the rest of the way.

Seasons where the Wildcats have not only beaten the Lumberjacks, but crushed them, come around whenever the two teams play.

Arizona is 14-1 all-time over their rivals from the pines, winners of 13 straight in the series and a perfect 13-of-13 in Tucson. In those 15 matchups, the Wildcats have scored 566 points to the Lumberjacks’ 131.

For those who aren’t into math, that averages out to Arizona winning by about 38-9.

Whatever the actual score each time, sometimes the win has been part of a good season; often it has been part of a year that was mediocre, at best.

The one thing a comfortable win over NAU has never been is relevant, at least in terms of knowing how good the Wildcats might be.

Even the worst the Wildcats have had to offer has had little trouble with the Big Sky opponent, which means Saturday will not be an opportunity to see how far Kevin Sumlin’s team has come the last couple of weeks.

This is the type of game where the Wildcats really have nothing to win but now, especially following that Week 0 loss to Hawaii, much to lose.

They’re supposed to beat NAU — actually, they are supposed to crush them. Any win that doesn’t look dominant will be questioned and picked apart. As for a loss?

Let’s not even think about that because it won’t happen. It can’t happen.

No matter what you think of Arizona after its first game, the talent disparity that will be on display at Arizona Stadium is not to be ignored. NAU brings in an experienced QB in Case Cookus and an exciting new coach in Chris Ball, as well as a few other talented players.

But the Wildcats will field significantly more talent, and at some point Saturday it will begin to show up and enforce its will.

If nothing else, given the last three times we’ve seen Arizona play, it will be nice to see. Even when you know the team should win, it’s never upsetting to watch them do it. Big plays are always enjoyable to see, even if they are more a product of facing an overmatched opponent than the Wildcats’ own skill level.

That said, there are certainly some things to keep an eye on, because if they do not happen Saturday at Arizona Stadium then they could be signs of some real trouble going forward.

What do we not want to see late Saturday night?

How about a repeat performance of the offensive line’s struggles? Arizona has led the Pac-12 in rushing each of the last three seasons, yet you wouldn’t think a fourth straight is possible after watching them struggle against Hawaii’s supposedly leaky defense. The new-look front couldn’t consistently open up holes in the running game and far too often when Khalil Tate dropped back to pass.

This needs to be one of those games where the Cats run for more than 200 yards while Tate enjoys a clean pocket for as long as he’s in the game.

What else would be, if seen, a bad omen?

How about another offense carve up Arizona’s defense? Odds are pretty good that NAU won’t rack up nearly 600 yards of offense, but if Marcel Yates’ defense once again fails to pressure the QB while allowing receivers to get open down the field, yuck. Given that talent most definitely would not be the issue, if the Wildcats are once again a sieve then you would have no choice but to point to the scheme, which comes from coaching.

Yates is already feeling the heat from Arizona fans, and his seat will reach molten magma-like levels of heat should his players not put up a fight against a lightweight opponent.

There are countless other things that would be nice to see, including improved decision making from Tate, better punting from Matt Aragon (the few times he is asked to punt), continued accuracy from Lucas Havrisik and playcalling that seems to put players in the best position to succeed.

Really, what Saturday comes down to is the Wildcats needing to do things that inspire some confidence or, perhaps even more important, not cause whatever is left to fade away.

Coming out of the game with a win is of the utmost importance, as it would put Arizona at 1-1 and give them a chance to finish the non-conference slate a respectable 2-1.

But while any kind of win over Texas Tech next weekend would be met with positivity, struggling in any facet of the game against NAU would lead to there being as much belief in the 2019 Wildcats as there is in a Larry Scott promise to improve the Pac-12’s officiating.