Cats Set To Open Season
Aug. 31, 2009
Central Michigan (0-0, 0-0 MAC) @ Arizona (0-0, 0-0 Pac-10)
Saturday, Sept. 5 | 7:07 p.m. Kickoff | Arizona Stadium (57.400)
Television: AWSN (Dave Sitton, play-by-play; John Fina, color; Glenn Howell, field host)
Live broadcast: KWBA-TV (Tucson), FOX College Sports (nationally)
Replay: KGUN-TV (9/5 Tucson, 10:35 p.m.)
English Radio: Wildcat Radio Network (Brian Jeffries, play-by-play; Lamont Lovette, color; Dana Cooper, sideline)
Spanish Radio: 990 A.M. ESPN Deportes (Abelardo Oquita, play-by-play; Marco Rinco, color)
Satellite Radio: XM 195
AWSN Debut: The Arizona Wildcats Sports Network was created by IMG College to represent the University of Arizona athletics department for production, sales and distribution of Arizona Wildcat television broadcasts including games, coaches and magazine shows. AWSN programming is available through an affiliate network of local and national TV stations and online. In Tucson you can find AWSN programming on CW, KGUN, FCS; in Phoenix on FCS, and AZTV and nationwide on FCS. AWSN programming is also available online through arizonawildcats.com. Tonight's game can be viewed live on KWBA-TV in Tucson and on a nationally distributed broadcast by FOX College Sports. In Tucson, KGUN-TV will replay the game at 10:35 p.m. Contact cable or satellite providers for channel listings and broadcast information in local areas.
Some Game Themes: No theme stands out more than the fact of a season opener matching two 2008 bowl teams... Arizona head coach Mike Stoops' puts an unbeaten string of five home openers on the line... A match of Arizona's perceived strength on defense against one of the nation's most prolific yardage producers in CMU quarterback Dan LeFevour and his 11,000 career yards in total offense (making him the reigning national leader)... The Cats' evolving offense under new leadership (whether sophomore Matt Scott or sophomore Nick Foles) against a Chippewas defensive unit that hopes to improve from its last-place rating in MAC total defense a year ago. To their credit, the Chips did lead the league in rushing defense in 2008, posing another match-up question: will UA's new QB have to throw, to move the ball?... The game marks the first in the post-Willie Tuitama era for UA's offense. Tuitama ended his career (40 games) with 9,211 passing yards, best in school history by almost (literally) a mile... The Chippewas make their occasional trip into western time zones. The last four were excursions to Boise State in 2001, to Wyoming in 2000, to Boise State in 1996 and to face UNLV in the 1994 Las Vegas Bowl... A game featuring some exceptional profile players including UA tight end Rob Gronkowski, punter Keenyn Crier, center Colin Baxter, running back Nic Grigsby and cornerback Devin Ross against the Chips' quarterback Dan LeFevour, receivers Bryan Anderson and Antonio Brown, defensive end Frank Zombo and linebacker Nick Bellore...
The Coaches: Arizona - Mike Stoops, 47, (Iowa '86), sixth year at Arizona (25-34) and sixth year overall as a head coach. The 2009 year is his 24th in coaching. Stoops took over a 2-10 program and rebuilt the Wildcats into an 8-5 bowl champion with his victory over BYU in last year's Las Vegas Bowl. He carries a record of 8-8 in non-conference games and a 17-26 slate in Pac-10 games. His teams are 12-16 in games played in Arizona Stadium including a 5-0 mark in home openers. The Wildcats have beaten a ranked team each of his five seasons including a pair last season. Stoops was a UPI All-American as a senior and an All-Big Ten pick his last two years at Iowa in 1983-84. He coached defense since the get-go as an assistant, including eight seasons as a coordinator. Central Michigan - Butch Jones, 41, (Ferris State '90), third year at CMU (16-11) and thid year as a head coach. He was an assistant in Mount Pleasant for five years from 1998 to 2004 before taking a two-year stint as wide receivers coach at West Virginia. His background is offensively flavored, with five years as a coordinator along with 14 seasons coaching positions.
Taking on the Pac: In 2008, Arizona posted its first plus-.500 season in Pac-10 play since the 1998 season with a 5-4 mark en route to a Las Vegas Bowl appearance. But going back to the end of the 2007 season when UA won 3-of-4 Pac-10 games to end the year, the Wildcats have posted an 8-5 mark in their last 13 league games. Further, the five losses have come by a combined 23 points (4.6 ppg), including three of the losses by a FG or less (’07 at ASU, ’08 at Stanford, ’08 vs. No. 21 Oregon State). While the losses have been hard fought and oh-so-close, UA has handily defeated its opponents, winning by an average of 18.3 point per game in the eight wins.
Visiting the Zoo? The Arizona student section – affectionately named the ‘Zona Zoo’ – seats nearly 12,000 standing-room only seats from endzone-to-endzone behind the UA team bench on the east side of the stadium. It’s been as raucous as any around, filling to capacity an hour before kickoff for opponents ranging from Idaho to USC. The in-game atmosphere has certainly picked up in recent years giving UA a decided home field advantage. The Wildcats have posted a 7-2 mark in their last nine home games, with the two losses coming by a combined nine points to No. 6 USC and No. 21 Oregon State in 2008. In fact, during the nine-game span that dates back to the end of the 2007 season, Arizona has outscored opponents 327-155 in Arizona Stadium, or by an average score of 36-17. Additionally, Arizona won five home games in a season (’08) for the first time since 1998. Since 1950, the Cats have won five games at home 15 times. Arizona was perfect at home twice in that span, 6-0 in 1961 and 6-0 in 1993.
Three-Year Span: Over the last three seasons, Mike Stoops and Co. have posted a winning record of 19-18. That puts the Wildcats among just six conference teams that have a winning overall record since the start of the 2006 season. UA’s 19 victories in three seasons surpass the 16 total wins Arizona teams collected from the 2001 through 2005 seasons, a five-year stretch. The current three-year win total is best for a set of UA teams since the 1998-2000 squads combined to win 23 games, paced heavily by the 12-win season in 1998.
Dela View: Arizona junior wide receiver Delashaun Dean enters the 2009 season with an active streak of 26 consecutive games with a reception. That places him in the nation's top 10 -- behind, among others, CMU's Bryan Anderson, the national leader at 40, and Antonio Brown (27).
In the Trenches: In a spread offense that included Arizona’s career leader in nearly every offensive passing category (Willie Tuitama) and the Pac-10’s all-time leader in receptions (Mike Thomas, 259), it’s easy to overlook another critical area where offensive success was born – on the offensive line. Talent, depth and stability were – for the first time in a while – traits of UA’s O-Line, which helped balance out the offense from a pass-first team to one that could run or pass at will. This year, Arizona loses second round draft pick Eben Britton (Jaguars) from his left tackle spot, as well as right guard Joe Longacre (graduation). Each anchored a starting position for all 13 games a year ago and their veteran leadership will certainly be missed. James Tretheway (seven starts) is also gone, but returning are 66 career starts elsewhere, a total that is fourth-best amongst all Pac-10 teams. Included is Rimingtion Trophy watch list honoree Colin Baxter who moved from left guard to center when Blake Kerley went down in the fourth game with a season-ending knee injury. Kerley had accumulated 28 starts, while Baxter now has 24 at either guard or center. Mike Diaz, who is versatile enough to play left guard or tackle, started eight games a year ago. Tackle Adam Grant was the starting right tackle to begin 2008 and made five starts, but an injury limited his action over the final seven games. Grant returns for his senior year again as the starter at right tackle.
D-Line Depth: Arizona has 46 career starts returning along the defensive front and, interestingly, all but one of those starts weremade a season ago. Indeed, the Wildcats’ defensive line was talented, but vastly inexperienced in 2008. Now the entire two-deep has significant playing experience – as starters or backups – and only part-time starter Kaniela Tuipulotu (transferred to Hawaii) departs. Fortunately for the Wildcats, one-time starter Lolomana Mikaele (an expected starter a year ago who missed the season for a disciplinary issue) was already penciled in ahead of Tuipulotu on the depth chart following spring ball. A rotation four defensive ends and five to six tackles (not including newcomers) figure to give UA as deep of a front-line unit as any team in the conference.
Coaching Newcomers: Mike Stoops' staff has two new faces in 2009, with both on hand for spring ball -- running backs and tight ends coach Seth Littrell and inside receivers coach Garret Chachere. The former came from Texas Tech and the Mike Leach spread system, with an Oklahoma player background, while the latter arrived from Memphis with some recent special teams and an offense-defense hybrid background. They replaced Dana Dimel and Michael Smith, respectively, who both took jobs at Kansas State.
Watch Lists: Arizona has several players on early watch lists with several more likely to come. Rob Gronkowski is on the John Mackey Award, Rotary Lombardi and Maxwell Award watch lists, respectively. Center Colin Baxter is on the Rimington Trophy list, running back Nic Grigsby is a candidate for the Doak Walker Award and punter Keenyn Crier will return to the Ray Guy Award list. Defensive linemen Earl Mitchell and Brooks Reed also have been named on the initial Rotary Lombardi lists. UA could have a receiver emerge for potential consideration for the Biletnikoff Award, likely Terrell Turner or Delashaun Dean, while senior corner Devin Ross is expected to be mentioned as a Jim Thorpe Award candidate. Senior Chris Gronkowski has been nominated for the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame 2009 Scholar-Athlete Award.
Watchin’ the Charts: The record-breaking careers of Willie Tuitama and Mike Thomas are now complete in the UA record books, but a handful of returning Wildcats are looking to etch their names into the UA annals this year … Paced by his 10 receiving touchdowns in 2008 (tied for third-best in a single season at UA) Rob Gronkowski currently stands tied for seventh in UA history with 16 receiving touchdowns. The junior trails Theopolis ‘T’ Bell, who snared 30 TD catches from 1972-75, but just eight more TD grabs for Gronkowski would tie him for second with Dennis Northcutt. Gronkowski, whose 12-catch game at Oregon in ’08 tied for second-best ever at UA, has 75 total receptions in his two seasons, which stands 34 short of breaking UA’s top-10 chart. Additionally, Gronkowski needs just 455 more yards to crack the UA career receiving chart … Junior running back Nic Grigsby has 1,857 rushing yards in his two seasons to date, which leaves him just 203 yards shy of moving into 10th-place in program history. Grigsby’s 13 rushing TD’s in ’08 tied for third-most in a season, while his 1,153 yards rushing were ninth-best at UA for a single season. He stands two rushing TD’s shy of matching Mike Bell’s 17 TD’s for 10th-most at Arizona … Sophomore running back Keola Antolin scored 10 rushing TD’s in ’08, which was tied for the sixth-highest single-season total at UA and leaves him just seven shy of breaking into UA’s career top-10. Antolin’s 24 points scored on four rushing TD’s at Oregon in ’08 is the third-highest total in UA history … Senior wide receiver Terrell Turner currently has 94 career receptions, a total that is just 15 shy of matching Terry Vaughn’s 109 grabs for 10th-most at UA. Turner, who had 10 catches (t-13th-most in a game at UA) for 175 yards (t-11th-most in a game at UA) at Stanford in ’08, has 1,162 career receiving yards. A modest 490 yards will move Turner into UA’s top-10 for career receiving yards … Junior wide receiver Delashaun Dean has 90 career receptions for 1,011 yards. He stands 19 receptions and 641 yards shy of breaking into UA’s career top 10 in each respective category … Senior cornerback Devin Ross, who broke up 13 passes a year ago and has 15 in his career, needs 11 more to break into UA’s top-10 chart in the category … Junior punter Keenyn Crier, whose first two seasons each rank in UA’s top-six for single-season punting, could challenge UA career leader Nick Folk for highest career punting average. Crier’s average currently is 43.79 yards per punt, while Folk’s career mark was 44.19.
Big Shoes to Fill: Not only is UA sophomore place kicker Alex Zendejas the nephew of former UA great Max Zendejas, but he has been assigned the task of filling the shoes of predecessors Nick Folk and Jason Bondzio, who each put their names in the books as two of UA’s premier specialists. Behind the legs of Folk and Bondzio, Arizona has drilled 57-of-73 (78%) field goals from the start of the 2005 season through the end of 2008. During that span, UA’s 57 made field goals have been far from chip-shots, as they have totaled 1,993 yards – or 35.0 yards per make. The Wildcats have seen 98 percent (150-153) of their PAT kicks successfully made during the four-year span. Zendejas will get his first crack at field goals this season, but he successfully booted 5-of-5 PATs as a freshman in 2008.
Second Half Surge: Over the last two seasons, Arizona has used an explosive offense and a stingy defense to dominate the second half of some games. In 2008, Arizona outscored opponents 235-111 in the second half of games, which marked a nearly 10-point advantage per second half in 13 games. Combining the 2007 season (161-127 second half advantage), UA has outscored its last 25 opponents by a total of 396-238 in the second half of games. That averages out to a second half score of 15.8-9.5, or nearly a full touchdown advantage. Additionally, 10 of those opponents have been held to a touchdown or less in the second half of games, including four shutouts.
Getting Pickier: The magic number for the UA defense, most notably the secondary, is 17 – as in that’s the number to beat last year’s 16 interception total. That mark by the ’08 squad continued a trend of increasing the total number of picks each year under the defense led by coordinator Mark Stoops. Devin Ross, a second team All-Pac-10 honoree at CB, snared three INTs a year ago and he will team up with fellow corner and projected starter Trevin Wade, who led the Wildcats with four picks despite playing a backup role. Defensive end Ricky Elmore and ’08 backup safety Joe Perkins each added an interception last year, which gives UA nine returning interceptions. Here’s a look at the year-by-year numbers under Stoops:
The Sacks Are Back: The ’08 Wildcat defense totaled just 24 sacks, but a young defensive line picked up the pace as the season progressed and is primed for big improvement in ’09. The Wildcats recorded just three sacks in the first three games a season ago, but tallied 21 over the final 10 games. Bookends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore totaled eight and four sacks, respectively, to lead the Wildcats, while linebackers Ronnie Palmer and Xavier Kelley had three sacks apiece. The good news for the Wildcats in ’09 is that 21 of the 24 sacks return as Palmer is the only player who recorded a sack not returning to the defense. With a year of experience under their belts, added strength and more depth, UA’s front four hopes to provide a more substantial pass rush in ’09.
Turnover Turnaround: The Wildcats benefitted from a plus-6 turnover margin in 2008, which was the second-best margin under Stoops (plus-7 in 2006). Arizona’s 19 giveaways matched the 2006 and 1998 squads for the fewest since 1997, when UA turned the ball over only 18 times on the season. The 25 takeaways nearly matched the 26 by the ’06 squad, which is the top mark for a Stoops team in his five seasons at Arizona.
Premier Punters: A string of punters – Danny Baugher, Nick Folk and Keenyn Crier – have given UA an extra defensive weapon over the last four seasons. Baugher, one of the top punter’s in the nation as a senior before a season-ending injury, was replaced by Folk who took over the duties for the remainder of the 2005 season. Folk then assumed the duties again fulltime in his senior season of 2006, before handing over the reigns to Keenyn Crier the last two years. The cumulative result has been an average of 44.28 yards per punt over the last four seasons, and a net punting average of no worse than 36.0 in any of the four seasons. Crier and the UA coverage team posted an impressive mark of 38.1 net punting in 2007, one of the top marks in school history. Here’s a look at where the four individuals rank in single season punting average at UA:
Player (Yr.) Ave. Rank
Baugher (’05) 47.5 1
Folk (’06) 44.0 3
Crier (’08) 43.9 t-4
Crier (’07) 43.7 t-6
Offense Through Defense: The Arizona offense reaped the benefits of an opportunistic defense in 2008, as the Wildcat ‘D’ forced 25 turnovers. The offense cashed in those turnovers for points 16 times (64%), with 14 leading to touchdowns. A pair of those scores were by the defense, with Devin Ross (vs. Cal) and Nate Ness (at Stanford) collecting a pick-six, respectively. But beyond the turnovers, the UA ‘D’ sparked the offense simply by forcing the opposing team off the field. UA’s defense forced 78 punts in 2008. Following those punts, the UA offense scored 35 times (45%), including an impressive 26 touchdowns (33.3%). Conversely, the UA defense limited opposing teams to just nine touchdowns (18%) following an Arizona punt. Further, following a UA punt, its defense forced a turnover (12%) or a punt (47%) back to the offense a combined 59 percent of the time.
Brooks’ Breakthrough: Entering his sophomore season in 2008, defensive end Brooks Reed had only seven tackles in nine games played as a backup. He emerged as UA’s top rush-end during Fall Camp, but it took some time before the results showed on the field. He tallied just one sack and nine solo tackles through UA’s first six games. But against a pair of nationally ranked teams, he exploded in October and proved to be one of the Pac-10’s top ends. In UA’s 42-27 victory over No. 25 Cal, Reed collected a pair of sacks. One week later, against No. 6 USC, Reed’s crushing hit on Mark Sanchez forced a fumble that led directly to a UA score to tie the game in the third quarter. It gave him three sacks in two games, and set the stage for the rest of the regular season. Over the last seven games, he collected seven of his team-high eight sacks, and notched 17 solo tackles. Only a junior, 2009 could be an even bigger break-out year for Reed.
Special Teams Stars: One of the fastest ways to earn playing time is to excel on special teams, and UA had a handful of players take great pride in that a year ago. Reserve safety Joe Perkins led all UA players with 18 tackles on special teams – all coming on the kickoff coverage team. Walk-on Trevor “Tito” Foster was second, collecting nine tackles on kickoffs and three on punt returns. Fellow walk-on Orlando Vargas made 10 stops on kickoffs – good enough for third on the squad. True freshman Robert Golden got some game reps in the secondary throughout the year, but was a steady player on special teams, tallying nine tackles on kick returns.
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 105 games in which they have scored 30 or more points. Their record in those games? An astounding 95-9-1. That record included a streak of 18 consecutive victories prior to the Oregon game in 2008 (55-45 loss), and UA is now 16-1 under Mike Stoops in such games. Arizona was 8-1 in such games in 2008.
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 108-4 when scoring 40 or more points in a game, something it did in four home games a year ago. As you might expect, Arizona was 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.
New Faces: Arizona should play a variety of newcomers in 2009 including ransfers, redshirts and true freshmen. Early-season possibilities include redshirt junior offensive tackle Phillip Garcia, redshirt freshman offensive tackle Trace Biskin, sophomore transfer quarterback Nick Foles, redshirt freshman running back Greg Nwoko, true freshman H-back Taimi Tutogi, junior transfer receiver Travis Cobb, true freshman receiver DeWayne Peace, junior transfer linebacker C.J. Parish, redshirt freshman linebacker R.J. Young, true freshman linebacker Jake Fischer, junior transfer cornerback Marcus Benjamin, true freshman safety Adam Hall, junior transfer offensive tackle Jack Julsing, junior transfer defensive tackle Jonathan Hollins and junior transfer DB Lyle Brown. Julsing, Hollins, Fischer and Brown likely will cut their teeth initially on special teams. Junior letterman corner Mike Turner, who did not play last year while under an unspecified suspension, returns as a backup CB and special teams starter.
Pals and Peers: Four players serve a pair of University of Arizona athletics department student organizations, the Peer Athletic Leaders and the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. Senior defensive tackle Donald Horton and redshirt freshman linebacker R.J. Young are members of the PAL group that offers transitional assistance to younger students, while senior defensive tackle Earl Mitchell and sophomore quarterback Bryson Beirne are members of SAAC, which works with athletic administrators to provide feedback on improving the Arizona experience for student-athletes. Additionally, seniors Cam Nelson and Chris Gronkowski were selected to serve on Student-Athletes Taking Active Roles (STAR), a group that instills a 'we are always in uniform' message to the 500-plus UA athletes, advocating responsible personal comportment.
2009 Captains: Senior defensemen Earl Mitchell and Cam Nelson will join classmate Terrell Turner and junior Colin Baxter as this year’s team of captains. Each was voted to the team by fellow teammates and approved by the coaching staff. A balance of experience and talent across various positions is clearly evident in the group, as the group has a combined 95 starts. Mitchell, nelson and Baxter started every game of the 2008 season, while Turner started all but one at wide receiver.
That Was Fun: The Arizona Wildcats are better for their Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl championship over No. 17 BYU than can be imagined. The albatross of nine years of holidays at home flew the coop with the dominant showing in Las Vegas. Winning the final two games of the year gave the program some serious momentum. The Pac-10 went 5-0 in 2008 bowl games and Arizona owns a piece of the pie. The effect cannot be understated.
Power Spread: Arizona’s ‘spread’ offense was more of a power game, thanks in part to All-American tight end Rob Gronkowski, a junior to be, and a focus on being physical enough in short yardage to make a difference. The Cats rushed for 33 touchdowns while Tuitama threw for 23. He continued to set nearly all Arizona passing records, albeit in support of a more rugged style. The quarterback who gets the nod Sept. 5 against Central Michigan could be a key to what the Cats do in the backfield, but UA will continue to be able to run the ball. UA had a 3:2 pass-run ratio in building its 5000 yards (402.4 ypg) offensive system. No one expects a drop in production.
Offensive Turnaround: Two years ago the Wildcats rated around 100 in the FBS in passing (94), total offense (115), rushing (110) and scoring (105). Ouch. Last year UA checked in at 16th in scoring (37 ppg), 33rd in total offense (402 ypg), 36th in passing (244 ypg), and 48th in rushing (153 ypg). The improvement coincided with the arrival of current offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes, line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, (former) inside receivers coach Michael Smith, outside receivers coach Dave Nichol (a grad assistant in 2007), and some increased influence lent by (former) tight ends/RBs coach Dana Dimel in the adoption of a different scheme. It’s still evolving and will under a new quarterback and a pair of new coaches, but the system has definitely turned one corner – putting points on the board. UA averaged 17 points in 2006 and an average of 33 points the last two seasons.
Get Gronk’d: Rob Gronkowski, junior tight end, should be the best in the nation at his position. He’s a monster in the running game, handles Pac-10 defensive ends and blitzers in pass-pro action, and at a swift 6-foot-6, 265, can get open. He can catch the ball, and yards after catch come easily to a guy who can run people over. He can play tight, split or slotted and slant, post or break with anyone. His 10 receiving TDs led UA in 2008 and helped earn him third-team AP All America honors. Twice he was John Mackey National Tight End of the Week. He has 75 career catches for 1,197 yards and 16 scores as a youngster and now is a man. It’s said he’ll be a first round NFL pick, whenever that day arrives. But he’ll be at Arizona in 2009 and clearly will be one of the best players in the country. Big Rob’s the reigning first-team All-Pac-10 player at his position and he already owns ever single season and career mark for a tight end at Arizona.
Solid in the Secondary: Senior cornerback Devin Ross returns as the top cover guy in the secondary, with senior safety Cam Nelson also back. Senior Corey Hall has played nickel back for two years and will be penciled in at the LB spot he replaces. Sophomore Robert Golden gets his first chance at showcasing his prep All-America talents, but will get the shot at strong safety. UA has some depth with corners Trevin Wade (soph) and Marcus Benjamin (mid-year juco), plus junior Mike Turner back on the field after a 2008 suspension. Junior Joe Perkins and senior Brandon Tatum are No. 2 at the safety spots. Everyone’s a letterman except Benjamin and safety Anthony Wilcox, so UA’s secondary will not be in a rebuilding mode despite the loss of Nate Ness (FS) and Marquis Hundley (CB). Tito Foster, a special teams flyer of note, and redshirt freshman Mark Watley could get opportunities at safety as well.
Spread it Around: Whether UA puts Matt Scott or Nick Foles behind center, one thing is certaint: there will be guys to throw the ball to. All-league players Willie Tuitama (2nd team) and Mike Thomas (1st team WR and PR) are gone, but everyone else who handled the ball is back. Whoever ends up throwing, it’s clear who will end up joining Rob Gronkowski catching passes – junior receiver Delashaun Dean (90 catches the last two years) and senior Terrell Turner (94 grabs the last two years). The elder Gronkowski, H-back Chris, turned into a big-play (25 yards per catch) occasional target who can break into the patterns and make teams pay for double coverage elsewhere. Sophomore lettermen Bug Wright, Juron Criner, David Douglas and David Roberts also will vie for routes and balls in the receiving corps. Add in junior college transfer Travis Cobb and the Wildcats potentially have as good of a set of receivers as anyone in the conference. Tailbacks Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin combined for 19 receptions in 2008 after Grigsby snared 35 alone as a true freshman in the pass-happy 2007 inaugural year of the UA spread. The aforementioned emphasis on running the ball might point more toward the former than the latter.
Zona’s Zone: One thing Arizona wants to repeat is its Red Zone success. In ’08 the Cats were sixth nationally with a 92 percent effectiveness. Running the ball (33 rushing scores) had a lot to do with it. UA scored 45 touchdowns on 60 possessions inside the opponents’ 20 yard-line. That was among 56 offensive touchdowns, so much of the time UA drove down the field into the red zone and kept going. Throw in 10 field goals and the Cats only missed on five RZ trips. Four of those were self-inflicted run-out-the-clock at the end of periods. If being able to power people is the key, that’s where the focus will lie. Moving the ball when the field closes down was a strength UA will again emphasize.
Labor Day Openers: Since 1980, Arizona has played at home on Labor Day weekend a total of 12 times. In recent year’s UA has drawn some of its best Labor Day weekend crowds on what can sometimes be one last summer getaway for Tucsonans. UA’s top Labor Day crowd was 58,450 fans who came to see the Wildcats defeat BYU, 16-13, in a nationally televised game to open the 2006 season. Nearly 50,000 were on hand in 2004 as Mike Stoops opened his UA coaching career against Northern Arizona and a total 47,511 perservered through the thunderstorms a season ago as lightening delayed the start of UA-Idaho by one hour and four minutes. Four of Arizona’s top six season-per-game average attendance figures have come in the last four seasons, a credit to the job Stoops and his staff have done by bringing meaningful football and bowl championships to Tucson.
Up Next: Arizona will host the Northern Arizona University Lumberjacks on Saturday, Sept. 12 in Arizona Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on a tape-delay basis on KGUN-TV in Tucson. The game will be the final UA home game in over a month, as the Wildcats hit the road for three consecutive games with a bye week mixed in. Arizona returns home on Oct. 17 for Family Weekend against Stanford.