USC vs. Arizona 2017: Q and A with Zona Zealots

TUCSON, AZ - SEPTEMBER 02: Quarterback Khalil Tate
TUCSON, AZ - SEPTEMBER 02: Quarterback Khalil Tate /

USC vs. Arizona is a much bigger affair than originally expected to start the season. Here’s a Wildcat perspective on huge the Pac-12 South game.

The division title could be on the line when USC vs. Arizona kicks off at the Coliseum.

How have the Wildcats turned their fortunes around under star quarterback Khalil Tate? Wh

Here’s our Q&A with Shereen Ryan of

Q: Khalil Tate is on a Heisman-level tear this season. Does he have a weakness?

A: It is hard to find a weakness because when he makes a mistake, he makes the correction.

Head coach Rich Rodriguez wasn’t aware he was as fast as he has been. Tate can pass accurately and on the run to boot. Then if he finds a seam or a window, he can pause, dart horizontally, then turn on the afterburners.

The one thing I think could be his weakness if he gets in trouble, he likes to run backwards to avoid a sack, and although he mostly gets out of those situations, it is scary for his coach when he does that.

Q: The Wildcats are giving up 30.3 points per game this season. Are they struggling to keep teams out of the endzone that much? Or are there other factors at play?

A: The defense is very young, and it is only the second year running Marcel Yates defensive scheme. Yates is coaching from the field because of it and not the booth.

It seems to me, they play more of a zone defense against the pass, playing to avoid the touchdown and not to stop the play where the ball is caught. They have been awesome getting turnovers, mostly interceptions, so even if they allow a score, they come back and force a turnover.

On top of all of that, against Washington State, the Arizona defense was on the field for 101 plays versus 50 or so for the Cougars. They were tired and still came up with a huge interception late in the game.

Q: Besides Tate, who are the danger men on offense for the Wildcats?

There are now three tight ends, if healthy, who can catch Tate’s passes: Jamie Nunley, Bryce Wolma and Trevor Wood, who have all caught touchdown passes.

Shun Brown can catch the long ball, he is explosive, and J.J. Taylor at running back seems to have those afterburner legs that Tate has, he can really get through and explode for long runs.

Arizona is in the Top 5 teams in the country with 25+ yards a play.

Q: Who are Arizona’s key figures on defense? Who needs to have a big game to keep USC in check?

Colin Schooler, a true freshman, is a linebacker, but he has seemed to pick up the cornerback position as of late. He broke up the two-point double-overtime conversion play to beat Cal. He also caught an interception against Washington State for a 66-yard pick six.

Demetrius Flanagan-Fowles has been listed on the leaderboard of tackles each week along with Tony Fields II, another true freshman. Jarrius Wallas was added last week and showed up big time.

I have to mention also Jace Whittaker and Kylan Wilborn, who have stepped up in prior games on defense.

Q: With Arizona on a four-game winning streak, how much of that do you attribute to Tate’s excellence? What else is going right for the Wildcats?

A: This is a young team with 61 freshmen or redshirt freshman with chips on their shoulders. Most were rated as a three-star athletes and the team was projected to repeat their 3-9 record by most in the media,  except Zona Zealots as we thought they would get to a bowl this season because of the talent and their attitude.

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Tate has maintained a “Team” mentality and the players can relate to him and his win-no-matter-what attitude, his taste in music and his ice in his veins style of play.

He can stir them up to help them with confidence.

He was key in helping the defense beat Cal, he went up to Schooler and challenged him to make a play to win the game. Tate got what he wanted.

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He wants to win, and nothing really phases him. It has rubbed off on the team. The coaches couldn’t be happier with the team and Tate.