Cats, Ducks to Collide in Emerald Empire
Nov. 10, 2008
Teams: Arizona @ Oregon
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. PST (4:30 p.m. in Tucson)
Site: Eugene, Ore.
Stadium: Autzen Stadium (54,000)
Television (Arizona): FS Arizona
Commentators: Dave Sitton, Lincoln Kennedy
Television (Oregon); Comcast SportsNet Northwest
English Radio: 1290 AM. and 107.5 FM (Brian Jeffries, Lamont Lovett, Pedro Limon)
Spanish Radio: 990 AM ESPN Deportes (Francisco Romero, Marco Rincon, Pedro Limon)
Please see Page 3 of the notes for Arizona’s radio affiliates.
Arizona and Oregon Fast Facts
First Meeting: 1937 (Arizona 20-6 in Tucson)
Last Meeting: 2007 (Arizona 34-24 in Tucson)
Current Streak: UA has won two consecutive
All-Time Series Record: Oregon leads 19-14
Arizona vs. Oregon All-Time: The 34th all-time meeting dating back to the first game in 1937 ... UO holds a 19-14 edge, but the Wildcats snapped a seven-game losing streak to Eugene two years ago and defeated the then No. 2- Ducks in Tucson a year ago ... Despite the two-game win streak and dominating the series in the 80’s and early 90’s (UA 7-3 from 1981-1993), the Cats have struggled against the Ducks (UO 11-3 from 1994-2007).
Some Game Themes: Two teams in the jumbled fight for apparent leftovers behind USC... The Wildcats and Mike Stoops battle for bowl positioning after four years of working in November to mostly continue progressing toward this day and others... Arizona tries to figure a way to stop the nation's fifth-best rushing attack, while the Ducks try to solve UA's mixed attack, one that has produced the top scoring unit in the conference... The Cats put their No. 13 total defense behind the effort... Two of the league's top backs, UA's Nic Grigsby and UO's Jeremiah Johnson, show their mettle, with capable backups in support on both sides... For the first time in years in this series, the guy with the smoothest pass efficiency rating will be wearing an Arizona uniform... Punt returners Mike Thomas and Jairus Byrd put their national ratings on show, catching balls from another pair of guys -- UA's Keenyn Crier and UO's Josh Syria -- who also bring Top 25 goods... Arizona's pass protection checks its worth against Nick Reed, the league's leader in sacks... Arizona completes its road season before finishing up with two at home...
The Coaches: Arizona - Mike Stoops (Iowa '86), fifth year at Arizona (23-32) and fifth year overall as a head coach. He carries a record of 16-24 in Pac-10 games, but is 7-3 in the last 10 league games. He is 2-2 against Oregon, with a victory at both Autzen ('06) and in Tucson ('07). The Wildcats have improved from twin 3-8 seasons his first two yers to a current stretch of 9-5 spanning last year and this season. The Wildcats have beaten a ranked team each year under Stoops, including No. 2 Oregon last year. and the Cats are 5-14 against ranked squads in his tenure. Stoops was a UPI All-American defensive back at Iowa in 1984 and All-Big Ten his last two years in 1983-84. Oregon - Mike Bellotti (UC-Davis '73), 14th year at Oregon (113-55) and 19th year overall as a head coach (134-80-2). Bellotti is the dean of Pac-10 coaches and the winningest active coach in conference victories.
Last Time Out: Arizona took to the road and took care of business, running over Washington State, 59-28, in the Palouse. The Cats ran 57 times for 317 yards, their largest total in 106 games, with six different players rushing for seven scores. UA made it a cool 531 yards in total offense with Willie Tuitama connecting 11 times on 15 throws for another 214 markers and an eighth TD. Arizona trailed, 7-0 early, but scored in double figures in each quarter, notably a 21-point outburst in Q2 to take a 35-14 halftime lead. Nic Grigsby slashed for a career-high 189 yards and a score on 28 totes to lead the ground attack, with others combining for many positive gains including a pair of TD runs by Xavier Smith. Tight end Rob Gronkowski caught four passes for 83 yards, none more expressive than his 43-yard catch and run for a score. It was his seventh TD grab of the year. UA played several deep, using 57 players in the game. To its credit, WSU showed some game, putting up the 28 points to avert a third consecutive shutout, but Arizona could not be stopped. The Cats had 28 first downs, held the ball for a full quarter's edge in possession, 37:23 to 22:27. The running game proved deadly in the red zone, with seven trips resulting in seven touchdowns. The Wildcats had three quick-strike scoring drives of two minutes or less, and two long marches that took five and seven minutes off the clock. The victory, in combination with other league results and future matchups, guaranteed the Wildcats a bowl berth following the 2008 season.
Arizona-Oregon 2007 Flashback: In front of a national TV audience on ESPN, CB/PR Antoine Cason's 100-yard night proved one key in Arizona's rousing 34-24 victory over No. 2 Oregon on Thursday, Nov. 15. Cason's 42-yard interception return for a score gave Arizona the lead for good five seconds into the second quarter, 17-11, and his 56-yard punt return for a score 10 minutes later capped a Wildcat 24-0 splurge in just over 15 minutes. UA took a 31-14 lead into the locker room, a bit of additional daze for an Oregon squad that suffered through the loss of quarterback Dennis Dixon to a knee injury 10 minutes into the game. He opened the scoring with a 39-yard run and through 20 plays under his direction the Ducks had 183 yards in total offense. Afterward: a whopping 77 more plays for a respectable 240 more yards but only sporadic success on the scoreboard. Cason's interception, two others by safety Nate Ness and a fumble play by Cason and safety Corey Hall helped UA get four takeaways to thwart any UO continuity. Linebacker Spencer Larsen had 16 tackles to help make the point in the middle of things, three of those for losses, plus forced a fumble. LB Ronnie Palmer had 11 tackles to give that pair its first double-digit double of the year. Cason broke up five passes (of UA's nine PBUs) to help make Dixon's sub, Brady Leaf, ineffective with a 22-for-46 evening. On the other side of things, the Ducks' feared sack attack reached UA's Willie Tuitama just once, and he enjoyed a modest but more effective 21-for-39 for 266 yards and two scores – big catches of 34 yards by Mike Thomas for the Cats' first score and 46 yards by Money Mike for the second. UA sacked Leaf three times and was credited for a sack on Dixon's injury play. UO running back Jonathan Stewart was as advertised, pounding for 131 yards, but the Duck offense was that: predictable, without Dixon at the reins. Not to be measured by one player alone, Oregon did recover enough to draw within a score a 31-24 with just under eight minutes remaining, but the Cats had enough verve to put together the longest drive of the night -- 4:26 -- on 11 plays for 38 tough yards that put them in position for a 46-yard field by Jason Bondzio to cap the scoring and provide some cushion. It was JB's second goal of the night, his ninth consecutive double-dip. In the end the Cats had enough offense (322) to score some points, had the special teams' plays to boost that effort with more points, and had the defensive spine to notch another six and stop the Ducks when it counted. No one in the green helmets likely felt warmed by the 238 yards rushing or 463 yards in total offense.
Arizona-Oregon 2006 Flashback: The Wildcats snapped and a 20-year drought in Eugene with a 37-10 win over Departed running back Chris Henry rushed for a career- 29 carries and also caught a 21-yard TD pass from 212 UA QB Willie Tuitama was 8-for-9 for 120 yards passing as a precautionary measure in the second quarter ... After Wildcats attempted just five more passes the rest of the contest with 45 rushing attempts for 230 net yards ... total offense, the most against a Pac-10 opponent all season Arizona had not won in Autzen Stadium since 1986.
Remember November: A common saying in college football is “you always remember the games you play in November”. That has certainly been the case for the Wildcats under Mike Stoops. Now in his fifth season, Stoops’ has led his UA squads to an 9-4 mark in games played in the 11th month of the year. Now the Wildcats hope they can remember their November games this season for another reason besides late-season momentum – because this year there is a lot at stake. The Wildcats entered November with five wins for the first time since 2000 and started of November ’08 with a 59-14 win at Washington State.
It’s Not 1998 Anymore: For the past decade most benchmark look-backs have pointed at the Wildcats' 1998 season when it finished 12-1, beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl and ended up No. 4 in the final AP poll. Plenty of statistical measurements point to that year as well. ('...best since 1998, most since 1998, last time in 1998,' etc.) Arizona was ranked in the two years following that outstanding campaign, but ran into a wall behind which it's had difficulty emerging. Finally, the Cats won't have to say 'last bowl appearance since 1998...' Whether Arizona can put up a seventh victory -- its most since 1998 -- remains to be seen, but the Wildcats are in good position to do so and have a talented club that's capable.
Northwest Success: The longest road trips in the Pac-10 for the Wildcats are to the four Northwest schools – Washington, Washington, Oregon and Oregon State. But that hasn’t been a bad thing for Arizona under Mike Stoops. In fact, his teams are 6-2 on the road against the Northwest schools, including a pair of wins over Washington and victories over Oregon (one loss), Oregon State (one loss) and twice at Washington State, including last week.
Staring at the Stats: Here are a few goodies gleaned from staring at Arizona's season cumulative statistics... UA is threatening its school record of 38.5 points per game, set in 1954 with Art 'The Cactus Comet' Luppino racing about. UA has a mark of 39.1... That '54 team also had 54 touchdowns (5.4 per game) to set a mark, while the 1998 club had 58 TD in 13 games for the highest overall total... The Wildcats's scoring margin of 20 points is good, really good. The Trojans, however, top the league with a stingy defense that has given up less than a TD per contest and therefore have a margin of +31. Oregon, next behind UA in scoring at 38.3, has a margin of +13... Arizona has 193 first downs. The school record is 246 for 22.4 per game, set in 1975. If the Cats hit their average, 21.they'll eclipse that total (also matched by the 1999 team), but they won't top the per-game mark... A year ago Arizona had seven rushing touchdowns. This year -- 25. That's the most since the 1999 team rushed for 23 scores, and the most previous higher figure was 34 by the 1998 team... Seven different Wildcat defenders have interceptions, including a team-high four by backup corner Trevin Wade -- who said after his latest, 'I'm just trying to do my little thing to help.' The Antoine Cason/Jim Thorpe Award-led defense (he had 5) last year had 15 picks on the year and it's a decent guess this year's defense will set a Mike Stoops era high in eclipsing that one. His UA teams in order have had 11, 12, 13 and 15 interceptions entering this season. The interceptions this year are one reason the Wildcats are No. 3 nationally in pass efficiency defense and passing yards allowed... UA had a couple of stupid dead-ball penalties last week but remains among the nation's least penalized teams, No. 4 in flags per game (3.6) and No. 4 in yards penalized per game (30.8)... The Cats are second in the league in red zone efficiency, scoring 40 times in 43 trips. Better still, 33 of those are touchdowns. It's nice to have Jason Bondzio kick field goals (83% effectiveness overall, 7-for-7 inside 40 yards), but socking it in for six takes the wind out of more sails. Nationally, Arizona is No. 10 in get-it-done action once in the RZ... Arizona is not without long distance weapons. QB Willie Tuitama has hit scoring throws from outside the red zone four times to tight end Rob Gronkowski, twice to Mike Thomas and once to Juron Criner, while Nic Grigsby has a pair of runs to daylight from outside the zone...
Say, What? It's been awhile since Arizona was in a bowl game. Everyone knows that. It's been so long that Arizona never has had the benefit of bowl-game statistics counting in season stats. In 1998 -- UA's last bowl year -- the NCAA produced final statistics after the regular season ended. Bowl games did not count. Since, of course, the NCAA's final stats come out in January, which may help UA seniors Mike Thomas, Willie Tuitama and Jason Bondzio improve their standing on the school record charts.
30 Is (Usually) The Magic Number: Football is a pretty simple game in that the team that scores the most points wins. For Arizona, 30 points is usually enough to do just that. Since joining the Pac-10 in 1978, the Wildcats have played 101 games in which they have scored 30 or more points. Their record in those games? An astounding 93-8-1. That record includes a streak of 18 consecutive victories when scoring at least 30 points, including a 14-0 mark under Mike Stoops. For the record, Arizona is 6-0 in such games this season.
If Not 30, Try 40: If Arizona’s .910 winning percentage since 1978 when scoring 30 or more points isn’t enough, then try out a 40+ point stat. In its entire history of football, Arizona is 108-3 when scoring 40 or more points in a game, something it has done in all four home games this season. As you might expect, Arizona is 4-0 in those games. What you might not know is that the last time UA reached the mark four times in one season was in 1954, when it did so six times.
Doubles and Quarters: Arizona scored in double digits in each quarter to help it build 59 points and take over the Pac-10 scoring offense lead at Washington State. Ironically, the last time the Cats put up 10 or more in every stanza was against WSU last year when it won 48-20. This year UA has boosted its scoring by 11 points over last year's club. That, of course, helpes translate into a 6-3 record instead of 3-6 after the same amount of games.
A Thousand Yards: UA sophomore running back Nic Grigsby needs 115 yards in three games to give him his first 1,000-yard season. In this week's NCAA statistics the teams remaining on the schedule are rated pretty tough against the run -- Oregon is 28th, Oregon State is 27th and ASU is 69th. You have to figure he can scratch out 38 yards per game. It's an individual mark, but one the offense and program can tout. UA's last 1000-yard rusher was Clarence Farmer in 2001, with 1,229 yards on 209 attempts. Trung Canidate set the school record with 1,602 yards on 253 carries in 1999, and also eclipsed the barrier with 1,220 in 1998. Mike Bell had decent shots at the level with 920 yards in 2003, 950 yards in 2004 and 952 in 2005, thwarted the last by injury that knocked him out of action in the second half of the season finale -- and, say it again, no bowl games to help. Grigsby's had four 100-yard games this year, topped by the career-best 189 yards on 28 carries at Washington State. His 704 rushing yards as a true freshman in 2007 give him a career total of 1,589 yards, just 284 yards shy of the 12th-best career total in UA history, 1,873 by Vance Johnson from 1981-84. He needs 33 yards to hit the chart at No. 15, displacing David Eldridge (1,621 from 1985-88).
Cashing in on Bondzio: UA senior kicker Jason Bondzio has 71 points this year, best on the squad. It gives him a career total of 171, thanks to his school-record 100 (by a kicker) total a year ago. The 171 put him at No. 8 on the Arizona career chart. He passed former kicker Nick Folk (169) at WSU and had passed receiver/returner Dennis Northcutt (162) the week before that. Next in sight is former kicker Sean Keel (182) at No. 8.
Seven Up: Arizona plays to win a seventh game for the second time in the last three seasons. The 2006 squad fell short at ASU, finishing 6-6. The UA last won seven games in 1998 when it went 12-1. In the past 25 years Arizona has won seven or more games 10 times. The two heralded years in there are the '98 Holiday and 1993 (10-2) Fiesta bowls winners. Make no mistake, Arizona isn't striving to win only seven games this year; that just happens to be the next opportunity.
YPA: No, it's not a disco song. Willie Tuitama's outstanding 14.3 yards-per-attempt passing at Washington State helped give him a 201.84 pass efficiency rating for the game, the second time this year he's passed the 200 level. He hit 205.30 against Washington with that one fueld by three touchdown throws and an 81 percent completion rate. His next best was a 199.70 mark in the season opener against Idaho. All three games have the same thing in common -- high percentage passing, not high volume passing. Willie's current PER of 144.31 would be the fourth-best in school history if it held up. It's clear that his personal physical arsenal includes all the routes and throws, but his mental game and choices have been quite good this year. You don't have to know much about football to realize that if you can run the ball, everything else becomes much easier. Tuitama's three best pass efficiency games were supported by the Wildcats doing this: rushing a combined 157 times for 838 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Just Run It: Arizona ran the ball 57 times at Washington State, the most this year and the most in Mike Stoops' tenure in Tucson. Most previously before that, UA ran the ball 60 times at Washington State in 1999. The school record is 80 rushes against Oregon in 1993. In that game UA passed the ball once, incomplete. Ontiwaun Carter (28-127) and running back Chuck Levy (27-126), starting at QB in place of injured Dan White, led the way on 55 plays.The Cats ran for 389 yards in the game and won. 31-10. Of course, the Cats also had the full might of a young Desert Swarm, at the time tops in the nation in rushing and total defense.
What a Difference a Year Makes: In 2007, the Wildcats rushed for an average of 2.9 yards per carry. One year later – with four of five starters back (Eben Britton, Colin Baxter, Joe Longacre and Blake Kerley), UA’s offensive line has helped pave the way for a 1.5 ypc improvement to this year’s current average of 4.4 yards per carry. The Wildcats lost Kerley to a knee injury earlier in the year, and first-year starter Adam Grant missed a few starts due to a thumb injury. Depth has helped keep the Cats rolling, as James Tretheway has filled in for Grant, while Mike Diaz has stepped in at guard for Baxter who has replaced Kerley under center.
The Gronks Factor: Sophomore tight end Rob Gronkowski gives Arizona a physical player with great hands and astounding post-catch ability. He can run over people, such as on his 43-yard TD grab at WSU, a short sideline route with a couple of dudes left twitching on the boundary. He and his brother, junior H-back Chris,lead the team in yards per catch. Rob has 22 catches for 16.2 yards per grab, Chris 3-23.7. The latter has done a fine job as the motion-back and can catch the ball out of the backfield.
Watch Closely: Don't turn your back this week (or next, either). Oregon (25), Oregon State (19) and Arizona (18) are in the national top 10 for 'most touchdown drives of five plays or less,' an unofficial stat kept by the Naval Academy. Arizona had five last week alone and stands tied for eighth on the chart. These schools and others (Tulsa atop the list at 30) will go over the top if it's there. Arizona also is in the top 10 on the chart with 19 touchdown drives under two minutes, coming in at 9th. Tulsa again is atop, at 32. Oregon has 27 for fourth.
Special Teams Stars: Trevor “Tito” Foster and Orlando Vargas received some high praise from coaches earlier in the season for their efforts on special teams, but the Wildcats have received excellent efforts from other players as well. Last week at WSU, it was Joe Perkins who stepped up. Perkins recorded six tackles in the game – a career high for the sophomore defensive back – but five of those tackles came on the kickoff coverage team. His tackles helped limit WSU to only 19 yards per return on nine attempts.
Four Bills: Arizona's improved running game and more precision- rather than bombs-away passing attack has helped the team complete nine games with an average of 400 yards in total offense. The Wildcats of 1999 (QB Keith Smith, RB Trung Canidate, WR Dennis Northcutt, QB Ortege Jenkins, TE Brandon Manumaleuna and a young WR Bobby Wade) set the school record of 471.9 per game. This year the Cats have been balanced, with more rushes (343) than passes (272). UA has good quick-strike capability in the passing game but the guts to saddle up for some punch-it-out drives on the ground. The offense plays well enough to keep the defense off the field, and the defense plays well enough to get the ball back for the offense. It's a pretty good deal.
Rush For the Century Mark: Looking for another key stat that separates wins from losses for the Wildcats? Usually it’s a 100-yard rushing game, but that wasn’t the case against USC. The typically pass-happy Wildcats (again, USC game being the exception), who broke nearly every school passing record a year ago, often are victorious in games in which they rush for 100 yards or more. Under Head Coach Mike Stoops, Arizona is 16-9 when it rushes for 100 yards or more. But looking closer, the Wildcats have won 13 of their last 15 games when they reach the century mark, a streak that includes an 9-2 record in offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes’ spread offense installed at the beginning of the 2007 season. On the other hand, Arizona is 6-23 under Stoops when it fails to reach 100 yards on the ground, but two of those victories did come last season when UA used its passing attack to post some points. Bottom line numbers: UA has rushed for an average of 167yards per game in its 23 wins since 2004 and has rushed for an average of 52.4 yards per game in its 32 losses during the time period.
Thomas and the Charts: With his six receptions against USC, Mike Thomas became UA’s all-time receptions leader, moving past Bobby Wade. Thomas (22), who stands at No. 4 on UA”s all-time touchdown receptions list, trails Wade by one touchdown grab. On the career all-purpose yards chart, Thomas has moved into No. 5 all-time with 4,463 yards. He trails – you guessed it – Wade by 322 yards at No. 4. UA’s leader in the category is Dennis Northcutt at 5,392 yards.
Point of Fact: Arizona has scored 352 points in its 37 points-per-game effort this year, more than the season total five of the last six years and on pace to challenge the school record of 38.5 in 1954 when Warren Woodson's UA club put up 385 in 10 games during a 7-3 season. That club had Art 'The Cactus Comet' Luppino, UA's halfback of national all-purpose renown and a guy who personally posted 166 points on 24 touchdowns and some 2-pointers. The Cats are on pace, as well, to challenge the school record of 439 points in a season -- scored by the 1998 team en route to its school-best 12-1 season. The 2007 Wildcats posted 28 points per game and 336 total to kick-start a serious scoring focus.
Keen on Kicking: Arizona opened the season with a freak two-yard punt against Idaho by Keenyn Crier in his first boot in live action after missing much of fall camp after off-season back problems. Since, Crier's been climbing back kick after kick and the squad now boasts an average of 44.9 yards per punt. The school record for a team season total is 44.9 behind the leg of All-American Danny Baugher (1st team Pro Football Weekly, 3rd team AP) in 2005. Baugher's individual mark of 47.5 that year was a school record. Crier hit the UA chart at No. 5 last year with an individual mark of 43.7 and UA had a team mark of 43.6. This year he's shown a broader arsenal -- sky, rugby, boomers, pooches -- and has kept improving each week. The team's net punting figure of 36.9 is rated 26th in the FBS, while Cirer checks in at No. 13 with an average of 44.2 on the season. Arizona's special teams were revamped some in the offseason with the hiring of former Wildcat player and coach Jeff Hammerschmidt as special teams coordinator. Nearly all of UA's kicking units are doing well, continuing the effort led by coordinator Joe Robinson for the preceding four years before him.
Conversion Surge: Arizona has a third-down conversion rate of 43 percent, a decent figure that rates 40th nationally and 3rd in Pac-10. It's considerably better than last year's 35 percent rate. Look at it this way: over the course of the season if the 2007 team had been making 43 percent of its third down tries, it would have meant another 15 conversions -- equating to another 45 plays and more opportunities to keep moving the ball. The better conversion rate this year has done one thing --reduced punts. The Cats had 62 punts last year. After nine games this year UA has 35 punts. UA also has about two more minutes of possession per game this year than last. Arizona also has reached the red zone one more time per game than last year's club. And down there, the Cats are vastly improved.
The Second Brigade: The Wildcats have scored 136 points in the second quarter this year. Arizona had 102 in the frame a year ago. Those two are the most in that or any period since the 1998 squad put up 137 second-quarter points. The UA's minimum scoring period thjis year is the opening stanza, with 54 -- still a touchdown per game. On the flip side, Arizona has allowed only 34 fourth-quarter points this year, including a stubborn whitewash against USC this year when both teams were scratching for something in a scoreless fourth of a seven-point game.
Special K: Backup running back Keola Antolin's 149-yard rushing effort (21 totes) against California was the fifth-best effort by a true freshman in UA history. His three scores matched three by true frosh Ontiwaun Carter in 1991. It came a year after Nic Grigsby tied the UA mark with 186 yards against Washington State. Former Philadelphia Eagle power back Hubert 'Hubie' Oliver carried 29 times for 186 yards against UTEP in 1977 a week after he broke on the scene with a 141-yard day against New Mexico. Here are a half-dozen outings by true freshmen Wildcats, plus one more from the last time Arizona beat USC:
True Freshman Wildcats' Top Rushing Games
1. Hubie Oliver UTEP, 1977 29-186, TD
2. Nic Grigsby WSU, 2007 30-186 (receving TD)
3. Vance Johnson Fresno State, 1981 24-183
4. Ontiwaun Carter Oregon State, 1991 15-160, 3 TD
5. Keola Antolin California, 2008 21-149, 3 TD
6. Hubie Oliver New Mexico, 1977 21-141
7. Clarence Farmer USC, 2000 22-134, TD
Vs. Ranked: Arizona's loss to No. 6 USC on Oct. 25 gave it an all-time record of 35-88-1 against ranked teams. Sixteen percent of those games have come in Mike Stoops' tenure and he carries a 5-14 mark against ranked squads, 11 of those (3-8) against teams in the Associated Press Top 10.
Danger Zone: Arizona has proved adept at making the punt return a dangerous play from anywhere on the field. The Cats are ranked No. 5 in the nation with a clip of 17.63 yards per return, thanks to Mike Thomas' steady work (12.2 avg., just outside the national top 20) as the primary guy and a couple of big plays by Marquis Hundley and Derick Barkum. Those two added another 129 yards -- Hundley picking up a drop by Mike and taking it back 87 yards for a score against Idaho and Barkum taking a pitch from Thomas against USC and returning it 42 yards on the last play of the game. Videotape shows one more block down field might have freed Barkum for a 76-yard return and a TD. Thomas took one back 48 yards for a score against Washington, another big play in that segment of the kicking game.
Hit Parade: The intrasquad race for team-high tackler has shaped up as a four-man race heading into the final three games of the year. Linebacker Sterling Lewis (58), safety Nate Ness (56), linebacker Ronnie Palmer (52) and safety Cam Nelson (45) have a shot at leading the club in tackles for 2008. Lewis' three double-digit games (Toledo, Stanford, USC) are a team high. Palmer had 10 at Stanford. Ness had a team season-high 14 at Stanford; Nelson had 12 at Stanford and 12 against USC to round out the seven 10-or-more games posted by UA defenders this year. Lewis has been splitting time of late with Xavier Kelley, the starter to open the year before an injury against Toledo caused him to miss a full game and more action in two others. He came back with four hits apiece in the last three games.
Continuity on the Line: Arizona has played the season with basically two offensive line substitutions, Mike Diaz at guard and James Tretheway at tackle. LT Eben Britton and RG Joe Longacre have started and played each game. Center Blake Kerley injured a knee in the UCLA game and was replaced by LG Colin Baxter, who has three center starts to go with his four guard starts. Diaz took over at guard. RT Tretheway has started the last three games in favor of Adam Grant, whose hand injury against the Huskies has limited him in those three contests. The relative steadiness in this unit has been one reason for Arizona's success on offense. Contrast that with Washington State, where coach Paul Wulff had started the same OL group (two different groups) in back-to-back games only twice this year entering the Stanford game.
Plenty of PBUs: Each player on Arizona's starting defensive lineup has broken up a pass, which couldn't be said last year. Throw in nickel back Corey Hall (4), six-game DE starter Ricky Elmore and three-game LB Xavier Kelley and the group has combined for all but five of the teams' 44 passes defended. The NCAA individual defensive rankings combine interceptions with PBUs for a total. Team-wise UA has broken up 55 passes, therefore, of 251 attempted. That's a knock-down or pick-off rate of 22 percent. It helps. Cornerback Devin Ross leads with 12 total passes defended, a figure thank ranks him No. 9 in the nation. Cornerback Marquis Hundley is next with eight (79th).
Err-Zona? Some pundit has called it the 'Air Zona' offense since UA adopted a form of the spread attack. This year UA has rushed for 1,525 yards and thrown for 2,077, to make that moniker a bit off the mark -- an err(or). On the season, the Wildcats have rushed the ball 343 times compared to only 272 pass attempts.
A New Leader: Willie Tuitama became the UA career leader for passing yards (7,814), total offense (7,365) and attempts (1,092) against California. With his 27 completions against New Mexico, Tuitama (596) surpassed Tom Tunnicliffe as UA’s all-time leader in completions (574).
Wading In: Backup cornerback Trevin Wade, a redshirt freshman, leads the club with four interceptions. Two came in the season opener against Idaho, the third came on a tipped ball against California and the fourth at Washington State in which he showed impressive closing speed. That's some nice work for a reserve and for his efforts he leads the Pac-10 in the category and ranks tied for No. 13 in the country. Former UA wide receiver Dennis Northcutt broke into the trade as a freshman (true) cornerback in 1996 and had two INTs against Illinois in the third game of the year before switching to offense. 2007 Jim Thorpe Award winner Antoine Cason had two interceptions (4 for the year) against Cal in his freshman year in 2004. This isn't to compare Wade to those guys, but he's doing a nice job when needed, such as his first career start at Stanford for a banged up Devin Ross. Also, in place of Ross for only one play against USC, Wade broke-up a pass in the endzone.
Tossing at Ross: Sophomore cornerback Devin Ross is getting tested more and more as Pac-10 teams unleash their goods. He shut things down on the boundary in the first three or four games, and then has had interceptions against Washington, Stanford and at Washington State, and six passes broken up, in the last four games as things heated up. He ranks No. 9 in the country in passes defended.
Brooks is Bringing It: Arizona sophomore defensive end Brooks Reed has made a big impact on the UA defensive line in his first season as a starter. Through eight games, Reed has recorded 24tackles, but leads the team with five sacks. Perhaps most impressive about his sack total is the fact that four of them have come in UA’s last three games – against No. 24 California and No. 6 USC nonetheless, and at Washington State. His crushing hit on Mark Sanchez forced a fumble at the USC 15-yard line, which set up UA’s lone touchdown in the game. In addition, Reed has broken up a pair of passes on the season and has forced two fumbles.
Zona’s Zone: The Wildcats have been particularly impressive in the Red Zone in 2008, posting a 93 percent success rate (40-43). The three times UA has failed to score? Well, twice UA has ended the game with the ball in its hand inside the red zone while running out the clock in blowout wins over UCLA (31-10) and Washington (48-14). The third occasion was also at UCLA, where UA’s second string offense turned the ball over on downs while trying to convert late in the fourth quarter. Otherwise, UA has scored 33 touchdowns inside the Red Zone (23 rushing, 10 passing) and added seven field goals. Incidentally, the only game UA has failed to score a Red Zone touchdown came at Stanford, a game it lost by one point and had to settle for three field goals instead.
Third Down, Last Down: The Arizona defense has shown marked improvement in third down situations in 2008. A year ago, UA allowed opponents to convert 43 percent (86-199) on third down plays. This season, the Wildcats have held the opposition to a 33 percent success rate (41-126). The Cats showed their ability to buckle down in key situations against Cal, holding the Bears to only 2-15 on third down. Looking deeper at that stat, the Bears converted their first two third down plays of the game, meaning Arizona limited them to zero third down conversions the rest of the game, including 0-8 in the second half.
More Third Down Facts: The main reason why UA”s defense has shown marked improvement in stopping teams in third down situations is because it is winning the battle for tough yards. In third-and-short situations (four yards to gain or less), UA is limiting teams to a 35% success rate (15-43) – or nearly on par with its total third down defense number. On the other hand, Arizona’s offense has been having success in those same situations, converting 72% (28-39) third-and-short situations.
Money Receptions: Despite tough economic times, Money Mike Thomas is proving his worth to the Wildcats. Now No. 1 all-time at Arizona in career receptions (236), Thomas doesn’t just rack up catches to fill the stat sheet; rather, his receptions are usually ones that matter in the game. Of his 51 receptions in 2008, a whopping 32 of them have resulted in a first down (61 percent) and four have gone for touchdowns. In addition, Thomas has four first down carries and one touchdown on the ground.
Big Play Robbie: Need a big play? Dial up No. 48. Rob Gronkowski. The sophomore tight end has played in only six games this season after missing the first three with an illness. But Robbie is doing his best to make up for lost time and he has hauled in 22 receptions for 357 yards in his six games. That is an average of 16.2 yards per catch. Even more impressive, though, is that seven of those catches have gone for touchdowns and 16 of them have resulted in first downs.
Big Days from the WR’s: Junior receiver Terrell Turner's 10 catches for 175 yards against Stanford were career bests. It was the second 100-yard game of his career (7-109 against New Mexico in 2007). Since UA adopted the spread offense, Arizona has posted 100-yard games by receivers on 15 occasions -- Turner's pair, Mike Thomas with nine, tight end Rob Gronkowski with a pair, Delashaun Dean with one, and former receiver Anthony Johnson with one. Thomas has four double-digit catches games while Turner added a fifth.
Touchdown Trends: Arizona has scored 42 offensive touchdowns in 2008 (4 non-offensive) with a split of 25 rushing scores and 17 passing strikes. Since 1978, when UA joined the Pac-10, only seven UA teams (this year included) have balanced at least 15 rushing TD’s and 15 passing TD’s in a season. The last Wildcat team to accomplish the feat was the 2001 squad that notched 16 rushing touchdowns and 21 passing scores. In the span, no UA team has ever rushed for 20 touchdowns and passed for 20 scores in the same season.
Getting Picky: The Cats have 14 interceptions through seven games,one shy of 2007’s total. The Cats are in good position to continue their year-by-year trend of increasing interceptions under the Stoops defense. Sophomore corner Devin Ross had his second career INT against Washington on Oct. 4 and then returned his third for a TD against Cal, while Nate Ness returned his seventh career interception 75-yards for his first score at Stafnord. Redshirt freshman Trevin Wade leads with four, including one against Cal in the fourth quarter.
Put Your Money in Bonds: Or, Bondzio. Arizona's senior kicker Jason Bondzio has scored 71points just through the year, a potential second straight 100-pointer for the only kicker who ever hit the century mark in an Arizona uniform. Wanting that success is an approach-avoidance problem: who wants to give up TDs for FGs? Nonetheless, Bondzio has connected on his last seven of his last eight field goal tries spanning four games and is 10-for-12 overall, with 41 PATs. Three treys at Stanford matched his career best against Oregon State a year ago. Overall he is 30 of 36, a sparkling 83 percent, which would be an Arizona record better than his Arizona record .807 mark a year ago.
Loch Ness Monsters: Safety Nate Ness returned his seventh career interception 75 yards for a score at Stanford on Oct. 11. That along with a fumble recovery and 14 tackles. The latter were a career high, besting his 10 against Washington in 2007, his first year after a redshirt season in 2006 following transfer from junior college. Ness led a foursome of Cats with double-figure tackles at Stanford, nice but probably indicative of too much work on the field -- fellow safety Cam Nelson with 12, linebacker Sterling Lewis with 12 and linebacker Ronnie Palmer with 10. Nelson's total also is a career high.
Silver Lining: Linebacker Sterling Lewis' 10 hits against USC kept him atop the UA chart with 58 tackles, but he did not record a tackle against Cal the week prior. The mid-year junior college transfer filled in for injured Xavier Kelley in the Cats' second game and posted his first double-digit game, with 12 tackles against Toledo. He has five starts since, but with Kelley now healthy, the two will seemingly split time. Lewis missed the WSU game while nursing an injured ankle.
Quarter Scores: Arizona has played 36quarters of football in 2008 and has scored at least a field goal in 29 of those quarters. Here’s a look at how Arizona has spread its points around by quarter:
1 2 3 4 Total
Arizona 68 136 79 69 352
Opponents 41 60 37 34 172
In a Rush For TD’s: No, this is not another note on Arizona’s track recording of quick scoring drives; rather, this note about the 25 rushing touchdowns that the Cats have scored this season. A year ago, the Wildcats rushed for seven (7) touchdowns on the entire season, a figure that sophomore Nic Grigsby has surpassed single-handedly with 11 TD’s this year. The 25 ground scores also surpasses the total rushing touchdowns scored by each of the last four Arizona squads (2004-2007). Of the 25 rushing scores in 2008, 14 of them have come in goal-to-gain situations.
Double D: Sophomore receiver Delashaun Dean posted his first career 100-yard receiving game with a 6-106 effort and a score at Albuqurque in September. His previous high for yards was his debut game at BYU last year with four snares for 88 markers. His single-game high for catches is an 8-for-51 game against Stanford a year ago. He has a reception in each of his 17 career games and a total of 61.
2 X 100: Receivers Mike Thomas (136 yds) and Delashaun Dean (106 yds) each surpassed the 100-yard receiving mark against New Mexico, becoming the first UA receiving duo to accomplish the feat in 2008. The last time two Cats went over the 100-yd mark in the same game came against, interestingly, New Mexico in 2007, when three players tallied 100 yards or more (Mike Thomas 7-137, Terrell Turner 7-109, and Anthony Johnson 3-117).
They’re Taking Notice: Antoine Cason won the Jim Thorpe Award last year, now a host of other Wildcats are on the early watch lists for major college football awards. Eight different Wildcats are on pre-season watch lists for awards:
QB Willie Tuitama – Maxwell Award (College Player of the Year)/Davey O’Brien Award (Top QB)
WR Mike Thomas – Maxwell Award (College Player of the Year)
OT Eben Britton – Outland Trophy (Top Interior Lineman), Rotary Lombardi Award (Top Lineman)
P Keenyn Crier – Ray Guy Award (Top Punter)
Jason Bondzio – Lou Groza Award Semi-Finalist(Top Kicker)
C Blake Kerley – Rimington Trophy (Top Center)
TE Rob Gronkowski – John Mackey Award (Most Outstanding Tight End)
LB Ronnie Palmer – Butkus Award (Top Linebacker)
One of the Pac-10’s Best: Like the other half of the TNT connection (Tuitama and Thomas), “Money” Mike Thomas is moving up the Pac-10 charts. With 83 receptions in 2007, he ranks No. 15 in single season receptions and his 11 touchdown grabs also place him No. 15 in a single season. Thomas is within striking distance of some career marks, including career receptions. The senior playmaker, who has 236 receptions in three-plus years (currently No. 4 all-time), is only 23 catches away from becoming the Pac-10’s all-time receptions leader (Derek Hagen, ASU, 258). And while he currently stands tied for No. 12 in career receiving yards (3,043), 66 more yards this season will move him into the top-10. Lastly, with four more touchdowns, he will find himself among the top-10 all-time leaders in receiving touchdowns (currently t-No. 21 with 22 TDs).
Decoys are for Hunting: Senior receiver Mike Thomas has played in 43 games and caught a pass in 42 of them. His one miss – the final game of his freshman year on Nov. 25, 2005, at Arizona State. In that game he wore a soft but cumbersome cast on a hand, courtesy of an injury a couple weeks earlier. No passes went in his direction, but he drew coverage as expected anyway. Otherwise, Thomas could challenge for the Arizona record for consecutive games catching a pass. That’s held by Dennis Northcutt, who posted 42 successive games with a grab after he was switched from true-freshman cornerback to receiver in late October of 1996, through his senior year in 1999. The 33 consecutive games with a reception rates Thomas 12th nationally and first in the Pac-10 (tied with Brandon Gibson of WSU). Had he caught one against ASU in 2005 he'd be third in the country behind Jarrett Dillard of Rice (43) and Casey Flair of UNLV (42) with 41 .… Northcutt (223) and Thomas (236) join leader Bobby Wade (230) in the all-time threesome for career pass receiving at UA. Northcutt was on the Arizona squad that posted the top two Wildcat per-game offense averages of 471.9 yards (’99) and 444.9 (’98), Wade was part of John Mackovic’s passing makeover of the UA attack, and Thomas is now part of Mike Stoops’ and Sonny Dykes’ system that topped the historical chart with 308 yards passing per game last year. Thomas should emerge as Arizona’s all-time pass receiver with anywhere near his 83 grabs from a year ago (51 to date in ’08), and if he can match his 1,000-yard junior season he’ll push for the career figure in yardage as well. (See ‘Charting Some Cats’ elsewhere in this release for the numbers.) Clearly, there’s little doubt you can say ‘Mike Thomas’ in the same Arizona historical context as Northcutt, Wade or Jon Horton and the late Theopolis T. Bell -- among others: playmakers all.
Close Calls: Arizona played six games in 2007 that were ultimately decided by seven points or less, including wins at Washington (48-41) and on Homecoming against UCLA (34-27). Unfortunately, UA was on the losing end of such close ball games twice as many times. The Wildcats dropped heartbreakers to New Mexico (29-27), USC (20-13), Stanford (21-20) and Arizona State (20-17). That is four games lost by a combined 13 points (3.25 points per game). In 2008, UA’s UA three losses have come by a combined 16 points (5.3 per game) to USC, New Mexico and Stanford.
The Graduates: Two Arizona players already have received degrees, placekicker Jason Bondzio in finance and offensive lineman James Tretheway in mathematics. J.B.'s working on a master's degree, while Tretheway is taking an additional bachelor's degree program in economics. Three other letterwinning Wildcats are anticipated to graduate in December -- H-back Brandon Lopez, offensive guard Joe Longacre and offensive lineman Bill Wacholz.
Records Check: As one might expect in a 70-0 romp, Arizona broke several school records for offensive scoring output against Idaho. The first record to fall was the 28 year old record for most points scored in a single half (42 points against Pacific in 1980 and against UTEP in 1976) as the Wildcats tallied 49 first-half points.In doing so, UA posted 35 second quarter points, breaking the previous high mark set in 1954 when the Cats scored 29 in the third quarter against New Mexico State.
Cloud 9: UA scored 10 – yes, 10 – touchdowns against Idaho on Aug. 30. What can be more impressive than scoring 10 touchdowns in a single game? How about nine (9) different players scoring those touchdowns. Nic Grigsby (2), Mike Thomas, Marquis Hundley, Chris Gronkowski, Keola Antolin, Terrell Turner, Matt Scott, Nick Booth and Xavier Smith all found the endzone in what is believed to be the most individual touchdowns in a single game in UA history.
Opening Day Rosters: Arizona had 16 former players suit up for NFL opening-week games as active roster members. They included linebacker Lance Briggs-Bears, Tedy Bruschi-Patriots, defensive lineman Copeland Bryan-Ravens, defensive lineman Lionel Dotson-Dolphins, cornerback Antoine Cason-Chargers, kicker Nick Folk-Dowboys, running back Chris Henry-Titans, safety Michael Johnson-Giants, linebacker Spencer Larsen-Broncos, tight end Brandon Manumaleuna-Chargers, offensive lineman Edwin Mulitalo-Ravens, cornerback Chris McAlister-Ravens, receiver Dennis Northcutt-Jaguars, receiver Syndric Steptoe-Browns and receiver Bobby Wade-Vikings.
MOV: Not that any team can or should expect 70-0 performances to be the norm, but UA’s 70-point margin of victory last Saturday was a long time coming. It was the largest MOV since 1921 and the third largest in school history. Here’s a look at the Top 5 MOV’s in UA history:
Point Margin Opponent Year Score
1. 74 UTEP 1921 74-0
2. 73 New Mexico St. 1916 73-0
3. 70 Idaho 2008 70-0
4. 60 South Dakota St. 1956 60-0
5. 59 Arizona St. 1919 59-0