Finally! The time has come to start talking more prospects, but this time, it’s during actual football games. This entire summer has been spent evaluating prospects for the 2020 NFL Draft from players’ previous seasons. Times are changing, though, and we have an interesting matchup in Arizona vs. Hawaii to look forward to!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, give me those breezy autumn nights with football on my television. On Saturday, the 24th of August, we’ll get football on our televisions. My colleague and podcast co-host, Christian Page, gave us a preview to the Miami (FL) vs. Florida game, and now I’m going to give you a preview of the late game scheduled for Saturday night.
It’s the Pac-12 against the Mountain West Conference, and I’d like to dub this matchup the Pac Mountain After Dark. I’m not sure how that sounds, but let’s talk some prospects, and more importantly, football!
Starting with the road team, the Wildcats of Arizona have to travel west and battle the Rainbow Warriors of Hawaii. Arizona brings back seven starters on their offense and eight starters on defense. Those are good numbers for Kevin Sumlin; he’ll need that experience as he enters his second season with the team. Here are some players to keep an eye on for this game:
J.J. Taylor, RB, Junior, 5’6″ and 184 pounds
It’s been no secret that I’ve been a fan of J.J. Taylor since last summer. He was a player that I viewed as a special talent in the Pac-12, and he stood out last season. It was important for him to be healthy but also to be productive as a three-down back, and I think he showed that for the Wildcats. Last season, he had over 1400 yards rushing and added six rushing touchdowns to the statistical column. Meanwhile, Taylor caught 16 passes out of the backfield, too. He’s diminutive and might not transition to a three-down back role at the next level, but he can bounce off of contact, and he shows good change of direction ability. Taylor will be crucial to the success of Arizona in their first game. If they want any chance of winning, they’ll need him to play at his best for this inevitably high scoring matchup.
Khalil Tate, QB, Senior, 6’2″ and 215 pounds
I have a hard time believing that Tate is actually 215 pounds, but maybe he’ll make a believer out of me. There are two real concerns with Tate, starting with his health. Last season, he was hampered by an ankle injury that really limited what he could do. There are no real questions about his arm strength because he slings the ball downfield with ease and has a nice throwing motion. At times, he’ll take risks downfield for no reason, but the mistakes he commits through the air, he makes up for on the ground. In 2017, he became the first Pac-12 quarterback ever to top 1,000 yards rushing, and there’s a chance he repeats that impressive feat in 2019. There will be plenty of people that question Tate and his transition to the NFL, but he does make NFL caliber throws and has the athletic ability to win football games. He’ll have to get better with his progressions and stay healthy, but he can prove doubters wrong with a win against Hawaii.
Colin Schooler did it ALL for Arizona last season. pic.twitter.com/TtHIymfGvd— PFF College (@PFF_College) June 29, 2019
Colin Schooler, LB, Junior, 6’0″ and 236 pounds
Just a few years ago, the Wildcats had a talented linebacker in Scooby Wright. In fact, he jumped in a pool after he was drafted by the Cleveland Browns, but he hasn’t been the same pro player that he was in college. For Colin Schooler, he’s got an opportunity to prove that he can be an even better Pac-12 linebacker. There’s a chance that he falls under the radar with linebackers like Joe Bachie, Isaiah Simmons, and Dylan Moses grabbing all the headlines, but Schooler has a knack for getting to the football. He quietly had 119 tackles and 18 tackles for loss last season. He wins with explosiveness and the vision to find the football. Schooler might be able to school some linebackers on how to improve, but more importantly, he can school the Rainbow Warriors and help his team win for the first time during the 2019 campaign.
Hawaii Rainbow Warriors
I’m not sure where Hawaii fits in the Mountain West Conference with Fresno State, Boise State and Utah State in the mix. However, Hawaii has a chance to keep themselves in the thick of it with nine starters returning on offense and another nine returning on defense. Most importantly, their starting quarterback, Cole McDonald, will be returning for another year. Speaking of him, let’s start with him on the Rainbow Warriors prospect preview!
Cole McDonald was a STUD for Hawaii last year. pic.twitter.com/rgJMLz4jhw— PFF College (@PFF_College) August 2, 2019
Cole McDonald, QB, Junior, 6’4″ and 205 pounds
I’m not going to say that Cole McDonald is Jordan Love good, but much like how Love fell under the radar last year, McDonald could do the same. Of course, that’s if everything falls into order for him and the Rainbow Warriors. However, much of their success will fall into the hands of McDonald. The pass-first offense will depend on him, and last year it was good. He had over 3,800 passing yards and helped Hawaii to their first winning record since 2010. Last year, they averaged 310 passing yards per game, and there’s no reason to believe that will change. McDonald can sling the ball and, despite getting stuck on some of his initial reads, he has the upside to make plenty of NFL throws with arm strength, especially when he’s left clean in the pocket. However, don’t be surprised by his athletic ability. He’s not afraid to run with the football, but he needs to be smarter and learn how to slide and get out of bounds.
Cedric Byrd, WR, Senior, 5’9″ and 170 pounds
If you’re looking for a fun player on the short and intermediate areas of the field, Byrd fits the bill. He was a JUCO transfer (Long Beach City College) last season and stepped up in a big way for Hawaii. Granted, they pass the ball more than they run the ball (39 pass attempts per game to 30 rushing attempts per game in 2018), but Byrd should be heavily involved in week one. John Ursua departed the Rainbow Warriors this past year but led the nation in receiving yards per game with 130.6. Byrd is undersized but can create plenty of yards after the catch and still had 79 receptions for 970 yards last season. There’s no reason to believe that he can’t improve those totals this year. It will all start for him against Arizona, so don’t be surprised to see him surpass 100 yards and have a double-digit receptions.
This unit brings back nine starters from last season, and I think they could be pretty good. They’ll be led by Soloman Matautie at linebacker, and he’s likely to lead the team in tackles for the second year running. Last season, he had 92 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. He’s instinctive and has a nice blend of power and speed, but I’d certainly consider him more powerful at the point of attack than anything else. Their secondary will be led by Rojestermann Farris at cornerback and Ikem Okeke at safety. Farris has some decent length for the position at 6’1″ and 180 pounds, and he consistently makes plays around or on the football. Last year, he had 11 pass breakups and has totaled 21 pass breakups during his three seasons at Hawaii. Meanwhile, Okeke is a downhill tackling machine at the safety position. He had 87 tackles last season and could very well match that this season. With how much the Wildcats run with Taylor and Tate, Okeke could have a big day on Saturday.