TUSCON — Khalil Tate passed for a career-best 349 yards and five touchdowns, then sat out most of the fourth quarter and Arizona gave Kevin Sumlin his first victory as Wildcats coach with a 62-31 rout of Southern Utah on Saturday night.
Tate needed just 13 completions, in 20 attempts, to amass his big numbers. His five touchdowns, which matched a career best, covered 17, 11, 2, 65 and 75 yards.
Arizona (1-2) scored 31 consecutive points after Southern Utah (0-3), an FCS school coming off a 45-28 loss at Oregon State, tied it at 17-17 late in the second quarter.
J.J. Taylor returned a kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown for the Wildcats, his first kickoff return for a score in his college career.
Arizona, coming off a home loss to BYU and a dispiriting 45-18 rout at Houston, had 626 total yards to Southern Utah's 463 despite running 60 plays to the Thunderbirds' 98.
Tate tweaked an ankle early in the Houston game and hasn't shown his dynamic running ability since. He didn't need to against Southern Utah. His passing was plenty.
In the third quarter alone, Tate was 6-of-8 for 215 yards and three touchdowns. That included a 65-yard TD pass to Shun Brown and a pretty over-the-shoulder pass to Shawn Poindexter for a 75-yard score.
After Southern Utah rallied to tie it at 17-17 with 2:39 left in the first half, Tate quickly got the Wildcats back in the lead for good.
His 30-yard pass to Tony Ellison was the highlight of the eight-play, 67-yard drive. From the Thunderbirds' 11, Tate bought time running to his right and threw in the end zone to Brown for the TD.
The Wildcats took the second-half kickoff and put together another quick scoring drive. With the help of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, Arizona went 67 yards in five plays in just 1:55. Tate threw two yards to Cedric Peterson for the score and it was 31-17.
Arizona scored the first time it had the ball, Tate throwing 17 yards to Ellison for the score.
Manny Berz kicked a 32-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter to cut Arizona's lead to 7-3 but Taylor took the subsequent kickoff, dashed to an opening on his left and raced down the sideline 84 yards for the TD and it was 14-3.
Southern Utah went 75 yards in 13 plays, Chris Helbig keeping on a two-yard scoring run to tie it at 17-17 with 2:39 left in the half.
In the first half, the Thunderbirds ran 51 plays to Arizona's 25 but trailed by seven.
Southern Utah: After an 0-3 start, the Thunderbirds will be glad to be back in Big Sky Conference play, where their offense should be entertaining and keep them in games as they defend their Big Sky title.
Arizona: Even though the opponent was from the FCS ranks, Arizona at least got a first win for coach Kevin Sumlin. Tate showed off his passing talent but didn't run much at all. It wasn't needed in this one but it will be in Pac-12 play down the line.
Southern Utah begins Big Sky Conference play at Northern Arizona next Saturday night.
Arizona opens Pac-12 play at Oregon State.