Arizona should be at least 1-1 heading into its Week 3 matchup with Southern Utah and has a great chance to at being 2-0. BYU is going to be a good opener, an easy test to showcase the offensive firepower and fine tune the defense.
Houston will be the first tough assignment for the ‘Cats, however. Should Arizona march away victoriously, this Southern Utah game will be an opportunity to rest up for the beginning of conference play. On the other hand, if Arizona loses, the ‘Cats matchup vs. the Thunderbirds will be a good opportunity to learn from their mistakes, make adjustments and regain confidence.
Southern Utah is FCS, but that doesn’t mean they should be taken lightly. Hey, Carson Wentz has a Super Bowl ring (thanks to Big Dick Nick). The Thunderbirds went 9-3 last season, including a 77-21 loss to Pac-12 foe Oregon.
The Thunderbirds were very efficient last season under head coach Demario Warren. Southern Utah averaged 5.5 yards per play, running the ball 54.3% of the time. The T-Birds averaged 4 yards per rush and 7.2 yards per passing attempt.
Southern Utah is also careful with the ball. The T-birds threw as many interceptions as their opponents, 15, but fumbled the ball far less. They put the ball on the turf 12 times, and only lost possession three times. By comparison, they forced 17 fumbles and recovered 14 of them.
The Thunderbirds return last season’s backup quarterback, junior Aaron Zwahlen. After not recording a stat his freshman year, Zwahlen threw 300 yards his sophomore year at a 56% clip.
The Thunderbirds win games by owning the game clock. Their defense isn’t anything special. They allowed a higher average yardage gain per play than they averaged on offense last season, but also ran seven more plays per game than their opponents. They also baited their opponents into more penalties than they committed themselves.
The Wildcats will win a relatively low scoring game. That’s not to say that the ‘Cats won’t run away with the game and score plenty of points, but compared to their previous matchups, the ‘Cats will put up an uninspired number. That’ll happen for a few reasons. First, Southern Utah will dominate the clock, limiting Arizona’s possessions. The time of possession stat will be ridiculously in favor of the Thunderbirds, because Arizona is going to score quickly after getting the ball on most possessions. Secondly, Arizona won’t put up a ton of points because they’re going to play backups and third stringers for most of the second half.
The defense will have their best game of the season to date, making far fewer errors than against BYU and dominating the opposition unlike against Houston. This game may fool some as a false positive, because of how good the defense will look. However, it’s only Southern Utah.
Kevin Sumlin will restrict Khalil Tate’s ability to run, as Arizona’s new head coach will try to limit the hits his star quarterback takes a week before conference play starts. Backup quarterbacks Kevin Doyle and Jamarye Joiner will get plenty of second half snaps, and they’ll each impress.
Furthermore, this matchup will feature Arizona’s running backs. JJ Taylor will get his, but this game will act as Nathan Tilford’s coming out party as an absolute stud. He’ll break out for a few monster runs to get Sumlin’s attention, and will earn more first team snaps for the Week 4 matchup against Oregon State.
Arizona will win 31-19. Khalil Tate will throw for two touchdowns and hand off another one to JJ Taylor. Nathan Tilford will break several tackles on a 25+ yard run for a score. Josh Pollack will miss a pair of field goals, and Lucas Havrisik will hit an absurdly long one to end the first half.
Immature turnovers by Arizona’s backup quarterbacks, questionable pass interference calls and great catches will put the Thunderbirds in field goal range, but Arizona’s defense will hold strong on their side of the field. They’ll allow a single touchdown on a fly route in which a cornerback gets absolutely burned, but outside of that, they’ll be solid.