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Kevin Sumlin discusses Texas Tech, receivers and that really bad 2nd half vs. NAU at his weekly press conference

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kevin-sumlin-arizona-wildcats-texas-tech-receivers-defense-punting-kick-returners-press-conference Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

If you thought the scoreboard at Arizona Stadium got a workout this past Saturday, it may need some fresh batteries installed to handle what’s in store for this weekend.

On the heels of its 65-41 win over NAU, Arizona now faces an opponent with even more firepower in Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have scored 83 points in their two wins, albeit against even worse competition than the Wildcats, but return the bulk of an offense that averaged 37.3 points and 485.2 yards per game in 2018.

That was under the guidance of coach Kliff Kingsbury, now in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals. Tech’s new coach is Matt Wells, who last season at Utah State had an offense that was second in the nation in scoring at 47.5 points per game.

Arizona has scored 103 points so far, but also allowed 86, leading one to believe that whoever has the ball last on Saturday night will come out on top. But coach Kevin Sumlin said Monday that it would be foolish to thing the fourth quarter is going to be when everything is decided.

“This game’s going to be like that from the start,” he said. “Everybody’s going to point to certain plays during the game at the end, but a game like this with explosive teams and offenses, it’s going to start that way. The goal is to get off the field on third down for both teams, and stay on the field. Who’s going to hang onto the ball, not from a time of possession standpoint but from a turnover standpoint.”

Arizona did not turn the ball over against NAU, only the third time that’s happened in 14 games under Sumlin. Avoiding takeaways will be key in a game where scoring on every possession may be necessary to win.

“If there’s pressure on our offense there will be pressure on theirs, too,” Sumlin said. “That’s football. The offense’s job is to score one more point than the opponent to win. And the defense’s job is to stop them every time. Does that work? No, but that’s what your goal is.”

Here’s what else Sumlin said at his pre-Texas Tech press conference:

On Texas Tech:

“They’re playing really well right now. They’ve got great team speed defensively. Offensively the quarterback (Alan Bowman) is completing 71 percent of his passes. (Receiver T.J.) Vasher is a real problem on the outside because of his size. The line has been together, a veteran offensive line. I’d say it’s a good football team.”

On why the second half was so sloppy for the defense:

“There’s a little bit of everything from Saturday night. You’ve got a tale of two halves. It was 51-13 at halftime, and then you’ve got other guys out there. You’ve got a communication problem with some guys that were playing in different positions, new guys that were out there jumping out of gaps in front. (Kyon) Barrs is going to be a great player … but at the same time he jumped out of a couple gaps and that hurt us. That’s part of a young player coming along. (We played) a lot of guys who’ve never played before. I think there was a lack of focus. (They knew) what the expectations were for guys to come into the game and play this game, and those expectations were not met.”

On using so many new players against NAU:

“We had some guys that were kind of dinged up coming back from Hawaii. We were able to play a lot of guys on Saturday night and really rest some guys who needed. (Colin) Schooler was really beat up from Hawaii. He didn’t play the second half the other night.”

On what true freshman QB Grant Gunnell could have done better:

“He could have been (11 for 11). He could have run to the pylon instead of running back into the teeth of the defense when he scrambled. Made people miss or stiff-armed a guy. Everybody can play better, but for a guy to come into the game like that in the second quarter and play like he played, it gives him some confidence, it gives our team some confidence. It’s a great springboard for him.”

On what not having LB Colin Schooler on the field does to the defense:

“You just go by numbers alone. Saturday night, it was a huge impact. But we’ve got to continue to build depth. I thought moving Anthony Pandy around a little bit … he was extremely active Saturday night. Tony Fields was extremely active Saturday night. We’ve got to continue to bring Day Day (Coleman) along, get him more snaps. That whole rotation, you feel better about it than last year.”

On how the wide receivers have come along:

“We didn’t really know what we had coming into this year. We lost four guys. Cedric (Peterson) was probably the only guy that had played significantly, him and Stanley (Berryhill III). I think those two have done a nice job with being consistent and being leaders. Obviously the addition of Tayvian (Cunningham), this guy can run. He’s getting better by the week, getting more confident by the week. That’s been a really good addition. Boobie Curry has not played—he’s been injured, nicked up a little bit—which will add to our depth. I thought Drew Dixon did a nice job Saturday night. We’re still maybe one or two guys short, but when Boobie comes back and gets going and we get Tre Adams going, get some of these other guys going we’ll have the depth and speed to be a good group.”

On whether Tayvian Cunningham will be able to run track during the spring:

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. We’ve done it before. At Houston we had two of the receivers were on the national (relay) team. What I’ve told guys in the past is, whatever the sport, if you can help that other team … then you can help them win, you need to do that, because competition makes guys better. We’ve worked around it with baseball players, we’ve worked around it with track guys, whether it was A&M or Houston, Oklahoma.”

On the play of TE Zach Williams, particularly as a blocker:

“He’s really been working at it. With Bryce (Wolma) hurt right now, he knew what was coming. He had a week or so to really get ready. We’ll see where he is this week because we’re playing a different cat this week, he’s got a couple different people to handle from the linebacker standpoint, defensive end standpoint, that are a lot bigger, a lot faster. He wasn’t great all the time but he was a lot better than we was a year ago.”

On getting all five running backs meaningful touches:

“There’s not enough footballs for those guys. We’re trying to keep them happy. We’re trying to get J.J. (Taylor) over 100 yards and we’re trying to get all five of those guys on the field. What we’re trying to do now is get our best players on the field. I think that’s the reason you saw more two-back sets, some split backs and offset I, get those guys on the field and getting them some touches. They’re home run hitters, all of them. That whole crew is working well together. DeMarco (Murray) is doing a good job with those guys.”

On finding a kick returner:

“We’re trying a bunch of guys back there with Bam (Smith) and Tayvian. Give some guys some chances so we don’t have to put all that pressure on J.J. like we did last year. A year ago I sat here and everybody’s like, why are you putting J.J. back there? It’s the first play of offense. There’s a risk there, sure, but it also paid off sometimes last year as a returner. You’re always looking out for your guys, because at the next level he’s going to have to do that, anyway.

On the punting so far:

“It’s been hit or miss. (Averaging) 38 yards is not good enough. And the way the ball is being punted … we had a line drive, we had a short one. It’s about the same as it was (at Hawaii). We went with the young guy (true freshman Kyle Ostendorp) this week. We’ll have another competition this week.”

On Christian Roland-Wallace’s play in the secondary:

“He started slow. 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.”