It's Game Week: Arizona vs. Idaho

Aug. 25, 2008

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Opponent: Idaho

Kickoff: 7:07 p.m.

Site: Tucson, Ariz. - Arizona Stadium (57,400)

English Radio: 1290 AM The Source (Brian Jeffries, Lamont Lovett, Pedro Limon)

Spanish Radio: 990 AM ESPN Deportes (Abelardo Oquita, Marco Rincon, Pedro Limon)

Some Game Themes: UA puts its preseason optimism to the best test -- real action. The Cats enter the game with some across the board talent, with watch-list candidates for the Maxwell, Davey O'Brien, Outland, Lombardi, Rimington, Mackey and Guy awards...  It's not an recurring rivalry. Arizona and Idaho played 10 games from 1951 to 1964, and then just once since, in 2001... Arizona tries its new offensive coaching orientation in a game for the first time -- outside and inside receivers coaches, and a double by tight ends/running backs coach Dana Dimel... UA coach Mike Stoops is even, 2-2, in season openers, with both losses on the road... It might only be August but UA joins every Pac-10 team except UCLA with season openers on the slate... Idaho coach Robb Akey, in his second year, has familiarity with Arizona from eight years on the Washington State staff from 1999-2006... Idaho offensive coordinator Steve Axman, a former UA assistant under Larry Smith, also has seen UA up close as a UCLA and Washington staff member.


Idaho and Arizona -  Fast Facts

First Meeting: 1951 (Arizona 13, Idaho 6)

Last Meeting: 2001 (Arizona 36, Idaho 29)

All-Time Series Record: UA leads, 9-2


Idaho and Arizona - The Series

The past and the present of the Western Athletic Conference meet in a non-conference battle that marks the first meeting between the schools since a 2001 clash that saw the visiting Vandals post a furious fourth-quarter comeback before falling 36-29 to the host Wildcats ... The two state schools have met a total of 11 times since 1951, with the Cardinal and Navy tallying nine victories ... The Vandals and Wildcats met 10 times between 1951 and 1964, but interestingly were never affiliated with the same conference ... Idaho was a member of the of the Pacific Coast Conference through the 1958 season, before it became independent of conference afiliation ... On the other hand, UA was associated with the Border Conference through the 1961 season, before it joined Idaho's current conference, the Western Athletic Conference ... In the series, UA has outscored UI 298-138 and has posted a 18.7 point margin of victory in its nine wins ... The Wildcats have claimed six wins in the last seven meetings.


Idaho and Arizona - 2001 Flashback

Arizona played good football for 49 minutes, cruising to leads of 29-0 and 36-7, then was reminded that the game is a 60-minute affair as Idaho scored 22 unanswered points and used 272 offensive yards in the fourth quarter alone to change a runaway into a slim UA victory, 36-29 ... UI's fourth quarter tally of 29 points was the most allowed by a UA squad in a single quarter since USC's 38 in 1928 ... Arizona accumulated 491 yards in total offense to the Vandals' total of 479 ... UI owned the time of possession by possessing the ball for 33:03 to the Wildcats' 26:57 of ball control .... One scoring play set a Pac-10 and school record on a 99-yard pass from Jason Johnson to Brandon Marshall ... Halfback Clarence Farmer netted his fourth career 100-yard game at the time (in seven starts) with 118 yards and two scores on 18 totes ... Johnson became the first UA quarterback to throw for 300 yards in the Cats' last 43 games ... UA capitalized on scoring opportunities by going 3-for-3 in the Red Zone - all touchdowns ... Linebacker Lance Briggs notched nine tackles, including three for loss, while the defense tallied seven sacks.


Season Openers: Arizona is 74-25-5 all-time in the first game of the season and has won two of four such games under Head Coach Mike Stoops. For the fifth time in seven years, UA will open a season at home in Arizona Stadium. The Cats have posted a 6-2 record in their last eight season openers and have won each of their home openers under Stoops (NAU in 2004 and BYU in 2006). Saturday's game will mark the first time the Wildcats have opened a season against Idaho.


`O' What a Start: At least that's what the Wildcats are hoping to say before the start of Pac-10 play on Sept. 20 at UCLA. UA is looking to get off to a fast start in '08 against a non-conference slate that features three `O' teams - Idaho, Toledo and New Mexico.


Early Start: For the first time in Mike Stoops' tenure and only the sixth time in school history, Arizona will kick off its season in August. The Wildcats will be looking to continue their success in August as they have posted a 4-1 record in the month that typically serves as a countdown to the arrival of the college football season. This year, that countdown ends a little early and here is a look at UA's August games:

Date                             Opponent                     Result

Aug. 31, 1996                UTEP                            W, 23-3

Aug. 28, 1999                @ Penn St.                   L, 41-7

Aug. 30, 2001                @ San Diego St.            W, 23-10

Aug. 31, 2002                vs. NAU                        37-3

Aug. 30, 2003                vs. UTEP                       42-7     

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)

P Keenyn Crier - Ray Guy Award (Top Punter)

Jason Bondzio - Lou Groza Award candidate (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)

Senior Status: Willie Tuitama enters his final campaign at Arizona in elite company on a national level. The Stockton, Calif., native is one of seven quarterbacks across the country that has become a four-year starting quarterback after taking over the starting role in the final four games of his freshman season when he helped UA to wins over Oregon State and a Top-10 UCLA team. Here are the other six four-year starters:


Rudy Carpenter, Arizona State

Curtis Painter, Purdue

Mike Teel, Rutgers

Drew Weatherford, Florida State

Pat White, West Virginia

Drew Willy, Buffalo


Decoys are for Hunting: Senior receiver Mike Thomas has played in 35 games and caught a pass in 34 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... Northcutt (223) and Thomas (185) 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, 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.


Starting Line: One thing Arizona will bring on its 10-returning-starters offense is a line with some game experience. Guard Joe Longacre (27), tackle Eben Britton (24), center Blake Kerley (24) and guard Colin Baxter (11) are a nice starting point. The left tackle spot, where Peter Graniello handled duties for 43 career starts, is the lone position to be manned by a new or newer guy in 2008. The top throw-catch combination - senior QB Willie Tuitama (25) and senior receiver Mike Thomas (26) also have solid starting backgrounds. Tuitama missed two starts while injured in 2006 and didn't get going until the sixth game of his freshman year in 2005, otherwise he'd be a 30-game guy. Thomas actually has been a top-unit player from the get-go, but gave up a couple of starts to double tight-end formations and twin RB sets his first year, plus a couple of other formation first-play quirks his sophomore year.


Man in the Middle: Senior linebacker Ronnie Palmer is the only three-year player returning to UA's defense. Senior corner Marquis Hundley was a mid-year 2006 Juco transfer, as was senior safety Nate Ness.  Palmer leads all defenders with 28 career starts, while junior safety Cam Nelson is next with 12 starts. Ness and nickel back Corey Hall have six apiece. Junior tackle Earl Mitchell has 12 starts, but all on offense as a tight end and H-back. No one else has more than one start. Coaches aren't worried, but it's a different set of circumstances than the senior-laden unit from 2007 led by Antoine Cason, Spencer Larsen, Wilrey Fontenot, Dane Krogstad and Lionel Dotson.

Carry Over: For a second straight year, UA put together a three-game win streak against Pac-10 teams late in the year to restore bowl game hopes, only to drop finales' to rival Arizona State and keep the Cats home for the holidays. In 2006, UA put together its first three-game win streak since 2001 while knocking off No. 25 Washing State, No. 8 California and Oregon. In 2007, the Wildcats rallied from a 15-point fourth quarter deficit at Washington before returning to Tucson to knock off UCLA on Homecoming and then upset No. 2 Oregon in front of a National TV audience for the first Thursday night game at Arizona Stadium since 1995. Unable to carry over the momentum created by a three-game streak last year, UA hopes it will be more successful in doing so this year.


TEP Bill: It's a good thing that Tucson Electric Power is a proud sponsor of Arizona Athletics because the Arizona offense hopes to keep electricians busy by lighting up the home side of the scoreboard with points. The Arizona spread attack returns 10 starters from a year ago and enters the second year of an offensive system that averaged 28.0 points per game, the highest mark for a UA team in six years (29.1 ppg, 2001). Even more impressive was the offensive output in the Wildcats' five wins in 2008, when the unit tallied totals of 45, 48, 48, 34 and 34 points for an average of 41.8 points per game.


Offense Wins Games: While Head Coach Mike Stoops is known for his defensive prowess as a coach, he has realized the need for a high-scoring offense in the Pac-10. Arizona only needs to look back on its 2007 season to understand the importance of scoring points as the Wildcats were a perfect 5-0 when scoring more than 27 points in a game. Arizona failed to post more than 20 points in six of its seven losses, and mustered only 27 points at Cal in a 45-27 loss in September.


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).


Arizona's Aerial Assault: Senior quarterback Willie Tuitama helped UA finish No. 10 nationally in passing by tossing for 3,683 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2007, among his school records. There is no reason he can't continue the assault in 2008, notably because Arizona returns its top receivers in Mike Thomas (83), Terrell Turner 50), Delashaun Dean (37) and Terrell Reese (20), plus tight end Rob Gronkowski (28) to make it happen.


Home Cookin': Perhaps somewhat quietly, Willie Tuitama has developed a knack for posting big numbers at home in Arizona Stadium. In 2007, Tuitama posted significantly better numbers, except in completion percentage, than he did on the road. The Washington game aside, where he accumulated 517 yards of total yards - third best in league history - here is a breakdown of Willie's 2007 season:



All Games (12)

Road Games (5 - Excludes UW)

Home Games (6)

Comp. - Attempts




Completion %




Passing Yards












Yards Per Game




Yards Per Completion




Yards Per Attempt





Willie in the Pac - Willie Tuitama has not only written his name in the UA record books, his arm and UA's spread offense has helped him etch his name into the Pac-10 records and with a similar season in 2008 to the one he had a year ago, he will find himself among the Conference's best. His 2007 total of 3,520 all-purpose yards ranks him No. 11 all-time in single season total yardage, which includes sacks. If he did not lose yards on sacks and only used his total passing yards as the total offense stat (3,683), Tuitama would move himself into the top-10. As is, his single season passing yards total does rank No. 10 all-time, and his 28 touchdown passes in 2007 place im in a tie for No. 14 in a single season. Add in one more scoring toss and he would again find himself in the top-10 of a category. Lastly, he is only 3,270 yards away from jumping 33 spots (currently No. 43 with 6,123 yards) in the all-time passing yards, which would put him in the top-10 of one of the Conference's most prestigious record books.


Money Mike in the Pac - 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. In addition, he is within striking distance of some career marks, including career receptions. Thomas, who has 185 receptions in three years, is only 74 catches away from becoming the Pac-10's all-time receptions leader (Derek Hagen, ASU, 258). And while he currently stands at No. 39 in career receiving yards, a modest -by his standards - 732 yards this season will move him into the top-10. Lastly, with seven more touchdowns, he will find himself among the top-10 all-time leaders in receiving touchdowns.


Bondzio, Jason Bondzio: The man with the gold finger, er, toe, for Arizona is senior kicker Bondzio. Last year he knocked home 21 field goals in 26 tries. That .808 percentage is the second best in school history and his total made him only the fourth place kicker in Arizona history to make 20 or more.  Max Zendejas (1982-85) had numerous last-second winning kicks (like at Notre Dame in 1982) and built a legend with 20 or more his sophomore through senior years, while his successor, Gary Coston was 21-for-24 in 1986 and Lou Groza Award winner Steve McLaughlin was 23-for-29 in 1994. Coston's .875 mark in '86 is the school record. Bondzio scored 100 points on the nose in 2007 (with 37-for-38 PAT support) to make him the first kicker in school history to reach the century mark and the No. 3 spot overall for season scoring. Zendejas, whose nephew Alex is Bondzio's understudy redshirt freshman, had 99 points in 1983 when he kicked 20 field goals and 39 extra points. Here's a look at the historical Made Field Goals chart for UA:


Steve McLaughlin, 1994        23-29 FG, .793, 26-26 PAT

Gary Coston, 1986               21-24 FG, .875, 34-34 PAT

Max Zendejas, 1985             22-29 FG, .759, 23-23 PAT

Jason Bondzio, 2007            21-26 FG, .808, 37-38 PAT  

Max Zendejas, 1984             21-27 FG, .778, 23-24 PAT

Max Zendejas, 1983             20-25 FG, .800, 39-39 PAT


Gronk-WOW-ski: Sophomore tight end Rob Gronkowski wasted no time moving up the top performance charts in Arizona history at the tight end position. In his first season, he set the UA single-game

receiving yardage record for a tight end with his 4-115 effort against WSU, becoming only the second UA tight end to rack up 100 yards in a single game (Mark Keel had the only other tight end 100-yard game with an even 3-100 effort vs. Stanford in 1982). Gronk totaled 525 yards on 28 snares last year to average a whopping 18.8 yards per reception. He looks to exceed the total catch and yardage numbers in 2008 with a year's worth of experience in the offense and improved route-running abilities.


More Robbie: Although he has only played just 12 career games, Gronkowski is already statistically placing himself among the top TEs in school history. A look at what Gronk has done through 12 games against the career totals of some of the best TEs UA has had to offer over the years:


Player                           Years    Rec      Yards    TDs

Ron Beyer                     75-78    53         811       7

Mark Keel                     81-82    59         856       6

Gary Parrish                  84-85    28         366       1

Richard Griffith               89-92    35         358       2

Mike Metzler                 94-96    34         497       6

Mike Lucky                   95-98    43         563       4

Brandon Manumaleuna    97-00    40         544       3

Steve Fleming                01-04    50         584       4

Brad Wood                    03-06    41         413       7

Rob Gronkowski            07-        28         525       6



G-Man Catches C-Farm: True freshman Nic Grigsby rushed for an Arizona freshman

school record 704 yards last season, tallying a solid 4.4 yards per carry figure (161 tries)

and scoring twice. Grigsby moved past former record holder Clarence Farmer's prior

mark of 666 set in 2000. With a 124-yard performance against UCLA on Nov. 3, Grigsby joined Farmer and Ontiwaun Carter as Arizona's only true freshmen to have three 100-yard rushing games as first-year players. Carter ran for 606 yards on 113 carries in a rushing-dominated offense (528 runs, 198 passes) in 1991.


Willie vs. NCAA Numbers:  Then junior quarterback Willie Tuitama set some Arizona records with 510 passing yards and 517 yards in total offense (third highest in Pac-10 history) at Washington last year. He completed 38 of 51 tosses, with one pick and five TDs. It gave him a 186.9 pass efficiency rating, almost within reach of the NCAA record of 199.2 (for a 50 attempts game) by Chris Redman of Louisville against East Carolina in 1998. Redman had six TDs, one interception and 592 yards, on 44-for-56. Willie could have pulled it off with one more TD throw, one more completion and no interception = 199.3.  Willie's best PE for a game was 217.97 against Washington State, built with 22-for-31, 5 TDs, 346 yards and no picks. That was well under the NCAA record of 317.4 by Rob Gradowski of Toledo vs. Buffalo in 2003... In case you're ever sitting around wondering what numbers would result in what efficiency rating, check this out: ... Willie's 43.7 passes per game in 2007 compared to the NCAA record of 58.5 by David Klingler of Houston in 1990. Willie tossed 524 in 12 games, while Klingler pitched 643 in 11 games... Had UA played in a league championship game (no such Pac-10 thing) and a bowl game in 2007, Tuitama might have tied the NCAA record  with 14 games of 200 yards or more passing... Willie's three best yards-per-attempt games all were victories: 11.1 (31 attempts, 346 yards) against Washington State, 10.0 (51-510) at Washington and 9.7 (35-341) against UCLA., Not too hard to recognize that particular stat can be telling. For one thing, it fueled some serious scoring - 48, 48 and 34 points, respectively.


Where you at?: Arizona's coaching Staff will have the following game day positions


Press Box

Sonny Dykes (offensive coordinator), Dana Dimel (tight ends/running backs), Matt Rice (offensive graduate assistant), Tim Kish (linebackers coach) and Frank Buffano (defensive graduate assistant).



Mike Stoops (head coach), Mark Stoops (defensive coordinator), Bill Bedenbaugh (offensive line), Michael Smith (inside receivers), Dave Nichol (outside receivers), Mike Tuiasosopo (defensive line) and Jeff Hammerschmidt (special teams).




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