Nothing can make up for that first one, but this helped.
The Arizona Wildcats took out any lingering frustrations they may have had from the season-opening loss at Hawaii on an overmatched NAU squad, blowing out the FCS Lumberjacks 65-41 on Saturday night before an announced crowd of 40,741 at Arizona Stadium.
“I feel like that was something that we definitely needed as a team,” quarterback Khalil Tate said.
Arizona (1-1) set a school record for points in the first half, leading 51-13 at the break while gaining 517 of its 720 yards before halftime. It was the third time in school history the Wildcats eclipsed the 700-yard mark on offense.
Tate threw two touchdown passes and ran for a third, J.J. Taylor and Gary Brightwell paced a run game that churned out 431 yards and true freshman passer Grant Gunnell dazzled in his college debut.
Arizona scored on all seven first-half possessions, the first three lasting a total of 10 plays and three minutes of clock time to lead 21-0 midway through the first quarter. Receiver Tayvian Cunningham got things going with a 47-yard TD catch, the first of two for the junior college transfer, followed by scoring runs of 25 and 94 by Taylor and Brightwell, respectively.
“We started fast as a football team after being off for two weeks,” Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin said.
Brightwell’s run was tied for second-longest in school history as the junior showed off his self-proclaimed 4.3 speed by getting outside and outracing the NAU defense up the opponent sideline. He finished with 141 yards on just five carries, while Taylor went for 102 on 10 carries and Bam Smith added 84 yards with a TD on eight rushes.
“We run the ball well, so it just was important to get into the swing of things,” Brightwell said of the run game, which had 178 yards against Hawaii.
After NAU got on the board to make it 21-7 with 4:45 left in the first half, Tate piloted Arizona on a 16-play drive that ended with his 1-yard scoring run on fourth and goal early in the second half. Tate threw a second TD pass to Cunningham for a 35-7 lead with 9:42 left before halftime, then took the rest of the second quarter off to allow his heir apparent to make an appearance.
One of the prize recruits of the 2019 class, Gunnell entered with 7:56 left in the first half and led Arizona on a pair of scoring drives. He found Drew Dixon for a 9-yard TD pass, the first career score for each, then dropped one into the bucket to Thomas Reid for a 75-yard scoring throw.
Gunnell finished with 151 yards and three TDs on 9-of-11 passing, his 287.1 passer rating a school record for a quarterback with fewer than 25 attempts.
“That’s not bad, I don’t care who you are,” Sumlin said.
While all the offensive superlatives were great to see, Arizona’s defense didn’t do much to allay the concerns from the Hawaii game. NAU gained 442 yards, 373 through the air, with five pass plays of 30 or more yards.
“I’m happy about the win,” Sumlin said. “But there’s a lot of things that I’m not very happy about. I addressed that in the locker room, and we’re going to continue to address that.”
The defensive effort doesn’t bode well for Arizona’s next matchup, against a Texas Tech team that has thrown for 700 yards in two games.
“We’ve gotta get better, and we’re going to,” said cornerback Jace Whittaker, who had his third interception in two games in the first quarter. “We’ll get better as a team in every area.”