Entering 2018, the excitement surrounding Arizona’s offensive unit was palpable. All eyes were on quarterback Khalil Tate and incoming coach, Kevin Sumlin as they prepared to compete against what appeared to be an insanely talented and deep PAC-12 South. That excitement quickly faded after a week one loss to BYU, which was followed up by a clobbering at the hands of Houston. Now with a 3-3 record and the toughest stretch of their schedule ahead of them, the Wildcats are desperate for a mid-season turn-around to gain bowl eligibility.
Tate caught the nation by storm last season after displaying his impressive dual-threat skillset, gashing Colorado’s defense for 327 yards on 14 carries in his debut at starting quarterback and continued racking up insane numbers (primarily on the ground) as the season progressed. However, from the start of the 2018 season, Tate has been a shell of his former self, rushing for a total of 109 yards thus far, a shocking contrast to the 1,207 he had managed through his first six starts last season. Rather than utilizing his feet, Tate has more or less been converted to a pocket passer, and a ho-hum one at that. The junior quarterback is averaging a pedestrian 54% completion rating on 174 attempts with eleven touchdowns and four interceptions.
While Tate’s ground game has unexpectedly flatlined, the Wildcats have relied on sophomore running back J.J. Taylor to control the run. With 600 yards on 104 attempts, Taylor certainly looks productive on paper, however 284 of his total yards came against a struggling Oregon State. Excluding his dominating performance over the Beavers, Taylor averages 4.1 yards per carry but has yet to rush more than 18 times in a game, again with the Oregon State win as the lone exception. Considering Utah’s defense has been phenomenal against the run, allowing 2.42 yards on average, Taylor looks to be a relative non-factor heading into Friday’s match-up.
If Arizona’s offense has anything to hang their hat on offensively, its senior receiver, Shawn Poindexter. The 6’5” deep threat has been a rare silver lining for Arizona this season, grabbing a team high 21 catches with two touchdowns. Despite Poindexter leading the team in receiving yards, he has been underutilized, averaging 3.5 catches per game, basically nullifying his presence on the field. In fact, Poindexter has only reeled in more than five catches in only one game this season…a 45-18 loss to Houston.
Somehow, Arizona still ranks 43rd in the nation for total offense, but Utah’s top 10 defensive unit is without question the toughest the Wildcats have faced this season. With a PAC-12 South title still up for grabs, Friday night’s showdown at Rice-Eccles won’t be one to miss.