If you’re anything like me, you spend the doldrums of summer watching replays of last year’s football games on the Pac 12 network (if you’re lucky enough to get it) or you find clips of awesome UCLA moments on YouTube and watch them on loop. For instance, I can’t watch “The Hit” Anthony Barr laid on Matt Barkley enough.
Another video I’ve added to my playlist is the replay of last year’s game against Texas A&M. My group never leaves a game early, no matter how bad it is, because at some point your dedication will be rewarded. And last year, we were rewarded with this:
Thank you, Fox Sports.
If I was Kevin Sumlin, I’d be having major flashbacks of last year’s implosion. They had us for two and a half quarters, but in a comeback of the ages, we beat the Aggies by one point. Of course, the season was all downhill from there, but we were excited at the time!
Now, Kevin Sumlin finds himself as the head coach of the Arizona Wildcats, so he’ll be visiting the Rose Bowl once again this Saturday. He’ll be facing a different head coach, a different playbook, and for the most part, a different team, but he’s also bringing back some familiar faces. Let’s take a look at the staff Sumlin and Co. are bringing to the table.
Kevin Sumlin has ten years of coaching experience under his belt, four at Houston and six at Texas A&M. There were years where the cupboard was full, and Sumlin was one of the better coaches in college football. His first two years at A&M were amazing—they had records of 11-2 and 9-4, and then three years where they went 8-5. In year four with four losses, the Texas football machine wanted Sumlin out, so he was fired before their Belk Bowl appearance (which they lost under interim head coach Jeff Banks). By mid-January, Sumlin found himself with the Wildcats and had his new staff put together by the end of the month. Eight wins might check the boxes for the esteemed UCLA athletic director, but in Texas, that just ain’t good enough.
But, like I said, there were years where his teams looked unstoppable. You can’t talk about A&M and Sumlin without mentioning Johnny Manziel and the 2012 Heisman Trophy win, which was Sumlin’s top year at A&M and when they were ranked the highest. Manziel had over 4,500 total yards and 24 touchdowns that year.
Sumlin’s offenses are his bread and butter, even though as a collegiate player at Purdue he was a linebacker. According to his bio, “Sumlin’s offenses have averaged more than 400 yards of total offense every season, including more than 500 yards five times. His teams have scored more than 500 points five times, including an incredible 690 points in 2011”.
This year the Wildcats are off to a rougher start, with a record of 3-4 so far, including wins over Southern Utah, Oregon State, and UC Berkeley. They have no quality wins to speak of and they aren’t running up the stats like Sumlin offenses of the past. You could say the same thing about UCLA, so there are definitely some growing pains going around the Pac 12.
Remember when we basically had our own playbook memorized? Sweep to the left, sweep to the right, up the middle, up the middle...yuck. Well, that’s coming back to the Rose Bowl as well, but thankfully, it’s on the other sideline. Noel Mazzone was in Westwood for most of the Mora years, but was fired when, well, the offense just wasn’t working. He landed on his feet at A&M in 2016, and then lasted two years until Sumlin was fired. He (and his son, Taylor) made the move to Arizona in January and are once again in the Pac 12.
Like I said, Arizona is not off to a hot start, and the shaky records left behind by Rich Rodriguez didn’t set them up for a great season. But Khalil Tate was actually in the Heisman talk at the beginning of the season, so now it’s time to make the pieces around him come together.
(Editors note from Dimitri: This is the 7th year I’ve gotten the privilege of watching a Noel Mazzone offense in person. Pray for me.)
Marcel Yates is actually a hold over from the Rodriguez years, so he is in his third year with the Wildcats. He was actually Sumlin’s co-defensive coordinator form 2012-2013 at A&M, so the two have been reunited again. He has also specialized in both corners and linebackers during his time with Arizona.
Yates had a pretty young defense to work with last year, so he’s bringing back a team with both skill and experience. Prior to Arizona, he served Boise State as their defensive coordinator, and was also there from 2003-2011 in various capacities on the defensive side of the ball.
Another familiar face on the defensive side of the ball is longtime UCLA top recruiter Demetrice Martin. He is serving the Wildcats as the cornerbacks coach after several successful seasons on UCLA’s defensive staff. He was one coach many hoped would be held over by Chip Kelly for his recruiting abilities, but it’s nice to see a good guy like Martin land on his feet.
Arizona has a bright spot on their special teams in sophomore running back J.J. Taylor. He is ranked 17th in the country in kick returns with 365 yards in 14 attempts, and one of those resulted in a touchdown. His average is 26.1 yards per return, so it will be important to contain this guy and not gift them yards in the field position battle. On punt returns, the Wildcats find themselves tied for 86th nationally, only averaging about six and a half yards per return.
Sophomore kicker Lucas Havrisik is having a rough year, missing five of nine field goal attempts so far this year (only one was 50+ yards), but he is decent with extra points going 18 of 20. Josh Pollack has handled kicking duties here and there, and is actually perfect on extra points going four of four. But he’s having a rough time with field goals as well, sitting at .500 missing two of four attempts.
Senior punter Dylan Klumph can boot it for an average of 42 yards, but that’s only good enough for 54th in the country.
As usual, we really have them beat in the kicking game. What worries me is Taylor’s ability to give Arizona favorable field position and our ability to contain him. But I feel the same way about this game as I did about the Berkeley game—we’re going to win, and it’s going to be good.