UA, NAU Re-Visit 78-Year Old Rivalry
Sept. 7, 2009
Saturday, Sept. 12 | 7:07 p.m. Kickoff | Arizona Stadium (57,400)
NAU (0-0, 0-0 Big Sky) at Arizona (1-0, 0-0 Pac-10)
Television: Tape Delayed Broadcasts on KGUN-TV (10:35 p.m.)
FOX Sports Arizona (10:45 p.m.)
Commentators: Dave Sitton, play-by-play; John Fina, color; Glenn Howell, field host
(Brian Jeffries, play-by-play; Lamont Lovette, color; Dana Cooper, sideline)
Spanish Radio: 990 A.M. ESPN Deportes
(Abelardo Oquita, play-by-play; Marco Rincon, color)
Satellite Radio: Pac-10 Channels 193-195
Commentators: Dave Sitton, play-by-play; John Fina, color; Glenn Howell, field hostEnglish Radio: Wildcat Radio Network
Some Game Themes... UA head coach Mike Stoops works to open 2-0 for the second time in as many seasons... Get your seats now: the Wildcats play at home before a span of 35 days until the next contest in Arizona Stadium, one of the longest see-you-later streaks in the nation... The two teams re-visit a 78-year-old in-state rivalry... The Cats test their evolving offense and high-strung defense against their younger FCS Division brother who it handled 45-24 two years ago in Tucson... The Lumberjacks open their season while Arizona has a piece of videotape for self-study... UA works to stick the ball in the end zone after stalling enough to thwart a bigger showing on the scoreboard a week ago... The state university system's most tenured coach, Jerome Souers, brings his 12th NAU squad to Tucson to work for the Jacks' first victory over Arizona since their lone win, 7-6, in Phoenix in 1932... Arizona's offensive resurgence in the past several years might be traced back to its 2007 victory over NAU. It's averaged just under 34 points per game since then in 23 games, against an average of 19 points per game in the preceding 23 contests... Hispanic Heritage Day on the University of Arizona campus...
Last Week: Arizona showed that its program could handle a bowl-savvy squad by powering past Central Michigan, 19-6, in silencing the NCAA's active career total offense leader. The season opener, delayed 43 minutes by lightning for the second consecutive season, showcased a new Wildcat quarterback (Matt Scott), a new placekicker (Alex Zendejas) and a stifling defense that made CMU signal caller Dan LeFevour struggle for each of his very modest 108 passing yards. Sophomore Scott's debut as the starter was sharp enough to help generate 448 total team offensive yards -- 202 off his passing and 83 from his nine rushing attempts. Junior running back Nic Grigsby added his ninth 100-yard game in 21 career starts (23-118) and a score. Scott's rushing total was the most since Ortege Jenkins ran 11 times for 104 yards against UCLA in 2000, although it was no surprise after Scott's 6-58 outing against Washington a year ago in mop-up duty. It underscored the shifty element in UA's offense -- an elusive QB -- as the true sophomore has 271 career rushing yards on 32 attempts (8.5 yards per tote). He completed 19 of 30 passes and was sacked once. Meantime, UA got to LeFevour twice (Donald Horton and Ricky Elmore sacks) but kept the pressure on without blitzing thanks to defensive speed across the board. Zendejas became the fifth Wildcat in history to connect on four field goals, including three such games by his UA legend uncle, Max Zendejas from 1983-85. Alex hit from 35, 36, 37 and 37 yards, missing from 43 to tie the school mark for attempts as well. The effort to hold the noted Chippewas offense to 182 net yards (74 of those rushing) was clearly a top performance to open the year, helping Mike Stoops stay unbeaten in all six of his home openers during his tenure. Senior linebacker Vuna Tuihalamaka led all Cats with 10 tackles, plus recorded his first career interception to snuff the Chips' first drive. The stopping kept going. On its first seven possessions CMU had six three-and-outs and screeched to a halt on another with a fumbled punt return. In its first 10 possessions the Chippewas averaged 3.8 plays and 10 yards per drive. It helped Arizona amass a 15-minute edge in time of possession. Notes... UA played without a top weapon in junior All-America tight end Rob Gronkowski, sidelined with a sore back... A crowd of 51,683 was not diminished by the lightning display in the near-distant Tucson skies a half hour before the scheduled kickoff. Despite some early-season hold-em style to the UA offense under coordinator Sonny Dykes, UA surpassed the 402-yard average it maintained under thrower Willie Tuitama last year... The Cats were 3-for-4 in the red zone but had to settle for two field goals. The miss came at the end of the game with UA letting the clock expire while at the CMU 1-yard line. The Cats did fumble inside the Chips' 20, but did not have possession inside at the start of the play, although coaches would consider that a red-zone foray...
Four In A Row? The Wildcats are seeking more than just another victory this week against the Lumberjacks; they are shooting for a fourth-consecutive win dating back to the final two games of the 2008 season. The four-game winning streak would be the first for the Arizona program since the 2000 season when the Wildcats jumped out to a 5-1 record to open the season in Dick Tomey's final year. Arizona posted three-game win streaks late in the 2006 and 2007 seasons, but was unable to post more than two-consecutive victories a season ago, which it did on three occasions, including the season-ending wins over Arizona State and in the bowl game against Brigham Young.
Well Grounded: Arizona quarterback Matt Scott has some ability to get out of trouble in the backfield. On 32 career carries, many of the pull-it-down-and-go variety, he's accumulated 271 rushing yards in seven appearances. That's a heady 8.5 yards per carry. He's likely to seriously challenge some of the modern running totals by UA quarterbacks. Here's a look at what he's up against:
Ronnie Veal 1987 161-566, 9 TD
Keith Smith 1996 136-546, 8 TD
Chuck Levy 1993 126-567, 9 TD (primarily at TB)
Chuck Levy 1991 128-505, 7 TD (4 QB starts)
Ronnie Veal 1989 107-315, 5 TD
Ronnie Veal 1990 99-281, 8 TD
Ronnie Veal 1988 95-257, 5 TD
Keith Smith 1998 49-199, 3 TD
George Malauulu 1991 73-188, 5 TD
Bobby Watter 1988 54-175, 2 TD
Alfred Jenkins 1986 59-167, 2 TD
Arguably the most famous Arizona quarterback run was Ortege Jenkin's 'leap by the lake' in 1998 at Washington in the wanning moments, the flip for the victory. Jenkins has 56 totes for 156 yards that year. He rushed for 166 yards his senior year in 2000, the most recent 100-plus season by a QB. Chuck Levy posted a number of 100-plus games while taking some all-purpose duty off to play under center.
Kicking A to Z : Sophomore kicker Alex Zendejas' initial work in the season opener put his name in the UA record books for most field goals in a game, four, tying four others -- Doug Pfaff (1989 vs. Stanford), his uncle Max Zendejas (3 times), Charlie Gorham (1973 vs. Indiana) and Steve Hurley (1968 vs. UTEP). Max was 4-for-4 twice and Gorham and Hurley also made all their tries in those games. Max tried five in a game three times, the record Alex now shares for attempts. The miss against CMU also cost him the school record for most points scored by kicking in a game. His 13 points (1 PAT) were two behind his uncle's 15 at Cal in 1983 (3 PAT, 4 FG). The best thing for Arizona is that Zendejas' performance came on the heels of struggling a bit in practice the last several weeks, causing Max to drop by for some encouragement and pointers.
Welcome to the Fray: The home opener against Central Michigan was the occasion for several players to make their playing debut as Wildcats. Redshirt freshman RB Greg Nwoko had some snaps while on special teams new guys playing included junior transfer DB Lyle Brown, true freshman LB Jake Fischer, junior transfer LB C.J. Parish, and junior transfer OT Jack Julsing. The Cats played it relatively close to the vest against the Chips, with a total of 44 players seeing action.
Miscellaneous Football Factoids... Dating back to last year, Arizona has scored points in 10 consecutive quarters, and in 22 of the last 24 Qs... Alex Zendejas' four field goals in the opener contrast to a year ago when it took Jason Bondzio (who set the school record with an .875 season percentage making 14 of 16) five games until he got his fourth... The Cats' 15-minute edge in time of possession against Central Michigan seems inordinate. But last year at Eugene the UA controlled the ball for 41:46, topping the Ducks by 23 and a half minutes. Some reasons: UO had a 66-yard run, 31-yard INT return, 44-yard pass, short 34-yard drive, 65-yard pass and a 40-yard run for soem scores that didn't take much time off the clock... UA's pass defense against CMU (108 yards) was staunch, its best restrictive effort since holding UCLA to 81 passing yards last September. Notable this past week was the fact Dan LeFevour of CMU entered the game with six miles of career passing yards... UA had 15 rushing first downs against the Chips, better than all but two games a year ago. Those games, too, were big land grabbers. UA had 18 rushing first downs and 256 yards against Washington and 16 rushing first downs and 317 yards against WSU in 2008...
Nic Is Ticking: Junior running back Nic Grigsby is nearing some career rushing milestones, which he could reach against Northern Arizona. With his three-yard touchdown against Central Michigan, Grigsby pushed his career total to 16 scores, leaving him one shy of Mike Bell's tally of 17, which is 10th-best in UA history. On the yardage side of the charts, Grigsby stands just 25 rushing yards shy of hitting 2,000 markers for his career and 85 yards away from the career Top-10 chart. Interestingly, 85 yards is exactly Grigsby's per-game average since he became the starting running back against Washington State on Sept. 29, 2007. In his last 22 games, Grigsby has rushed for 1,877 yards (4.99 ypc) and 15 touchdowns. Additionally, he has posted nine 100-yard games and has scored at least one touchdown in 11 of the last 14 games.
Sub-200: The Wildcats' defense has been a nightmare for opposing offenses, particularly when it comes to moving the football. In its last 14 games, the UA defense has held four opponents under 200 total yards in a game. The stat is even more impressive when compared to previous UA clubs, as the Wildcats have accomplished the feat just six other times in the last 12 seasons. The Cats stifled Central Michigan (182 yards) in the '09 opener, just one year after holding Idaho (112 yards), UCLA (196 yards) and Arizona State (162) under the 200-yard mark. Previously, in 2006 UA had a superlative effort at Stanford and held the Cardinal to 32 plays and a total of 52 yards, the Cats' Pac-10 -game record. That season UA held Stephen F. Austin to 50 plays and 196 yards. In 2005 Arizona held Stanford to 58-195. In 2000 the Cats held San Diego State to 66-196. In 1998, the 12-1 team held Oregon State to 54-167 and Hawaii to 60-176.
Ocho-Cuatro: Terrell Turner's six grabs (55 yards) in the opener gave him 100 career receptions, four shy of No. 13 on the UA chart, Vance Johnson with 104 from 1981 to 1984. Johnson is the lone running back on the list. Turner can move up pretty swiftly with a continued performance. Six more would pass Andrae Thurman and Anthony Johnson and put TT in the top 10, a dozen more would pass Terry Vaughn and Rodney Williams. (See chart elsewhere in this release).
Another Dela on the Job: With a pair of catches in the season opener, junior WR Delashaun Dean extended his consecutive games streak with a reception to 27. That places him in the nation's top 10 -- behind, among others, CMU's Bryan Anderson, the national leader at 41, and Antonio Brown (28). Dean's presence on Saturday was much welcomed, as he missed nearly all of UA's pre-season training camp before returning to full-speed practices last Monday.
Three-Year Span: Over the last three-plus seasons, Mike Stoops and Co. have posted a winning record of 20-18. That puts the Wildcats among just six conference teams that have a winning overall record since the start of the 2006 season. UA's 20 victories in three-plus 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.
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 an 8-2 mark in their last 10 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 10-game span that dates back to the end of the 2007 season, Arizona has outscored opponents 346-161 in Arizona Stadium, or by an average score of 34.6-16.1. 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.
First Game Firsts: Arizona's victory over Central Michigan included a handful of Wildcats setting or matching individual game highs. Here's a look at the performances: Matt Scott, who made his first career start, set individual game highs for pass attempts (30), completions (19), passing yards (202), rushing yards (83) and total yards (285) ... A.J. Simmons' pair of receptions were a new high, as were his 28 receiving yards, including a career-long grab of 21 yards ... Davis Douglas pulled in a career-best two catches, totaling a career-best 22 yards ... Bug Wright recorded his first career rush, collecting three markers ... Juron Criner equaled his top reception total of four, but his 54 receiving yards were a new high ... Greg Nwoko appeared in his first career game with two carries for six yards ... Ricky Elmore's five tackles surpassed his previous high of four ... Lolomana Mikaele, who did not play in 2008, recorded his first tackle-for-loss since playing at Oregon State in 2007 ... Vuna Tuihalamaka recorded 10 tackles, surpassing his previous best of six at New Mexico in 2008, and notched his first career interception ... True freshman Jake Fischer tallied the first two tackles of his career, both solo stops on special teams ... Linebacker C.J. Parish recorded his first tackle and forced a fumble on a punt return ... Place kicker Alex Zendejas kicked his first career field goal, going 4-for-5 in the game and tying the UA single-game record for made field goals ... Jason Bertoni, who transferred to the UA from Central Michigan in 2008, recovered a fumble on a punt return.
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 1,975 rushing yards in his two seasons to date, which leaves him just 85 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 one rushing TD 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 100 career receptions, a total that is just nine 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 1,217 career receiving yards. A modest 435 yards will move Turner into UA's top-10 for career receiving yards ... Junior wide receiver Delashaun Dean has 92 career receptions for 1,023 yards. He stands 17 receptions and 629 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 43.7 yards per punt, while Folk's career mark was 44.19.
House of 'No Names': Arizona defensive players welcome the 'No Name Defense' nickname that they have earned since the start of the 2008 season. A young, talented and motivated group, the '08 unit didn't listen to pundits who dismissed the group and put UA's post-season aspirations firmly in the hands of a more proven offensive squad. Interestingly, as the offense continued to rank highly in scoring, the defense became the backbone of the team, emerging in the Top-25 and third in the Pac-10 in total defense following the Las Vegas Bowl Victory. The 'No Names' have taken a particular liking to playing in Arizona Stadium, shutting down some of the nation's best offensive teams. In the last eight games in Arizona Stadium, UA's defense has held opponents to a paltry 109 total points (13.6 points per game). The Wildcats have allowed just 49 points in the second half of those games (7.0 ppg), and only California (27) has broken the 20-point barrier for points in a game.
A New Way To Win: A season ago, Arizona scored at least 31 points in all eight of its wins. In fact, the Wildcats failed to reach 20 points only twice in 2008 (10 vs USC, 17 vs Oregon State). Last week's 19-6 win over Central Michigan marked the first time UA collected a win in a game that it didn't reach 20 points since a season-opening 16-13 victory against BYU in 2006, a stretch of 18 wins.
Running to Pay Dirt: Nic Grigsby's three-yard TD run against CMU extended the Cats' streak for consecutive games with a rushing touchdown to 14, surpassing the 1998-99 streak of 13 games. UA rushed for scores in all 13 games in 2008, marking the first time a Wildcat squad had done so since the 1998 season. The '99 club added a rushing TD in the opener before seeing the streak end at 13 one week later. The '09 version hopes to extend its own streak further into the season as it continues to roll-over.
Third Down, Last Down: The Wildcats' defense seems to be picking up where it left off in 2008, shutting teams down on third down. A year ago, opponents converted just 34 percent (61-of-178 attempts) on third down. Last Saturday, the Cats limited CMU to just 2-for-12 on third downs, including the first conversion which came on a third-and-one midway through the third quarter.
Revamped Line: The Wildcats' offensive line paved the way for 246 rushing yards last week and allowed just one sack. That's a pretty impressive performance for a line that featured the debut of Mike Diaz at left tackle (nine starts at OG in '09), Conan Amituanai at left guard (first career start) and Vaughn Dotsy at right guard (first career start). Colin Baxter anchored the line at center, as he made his 26th career start (guard and center). Adam Grant, who started the first five games at right guard in 2008 before missing time with a hand injury, reassumed his starting position. Herman Hall, one of UA's most improved players during spring and fall practices, saw significant playing time against Central Michigan, and is UA's top option behind the first unit at any of the three interior line spots.
Zona's Zone: One thing Arizona wants to repeat in `09 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. In last week's opener, Arizona converted 3-of-4 Red Zone forays, with the lone miss coming as the game ended. But you can count on Red Zone being an emphasis this week in practice as two of UA's three Red Zone trips stalled and ended with field goals.
Mark Your Calendars: If you're a Wildcat football fan, you better be in Arizona Stadium this Saturday. If not, you won't see Arizona play at home for another month. Due to a quirky schedule, Arizona not only plays three-consecutive road games, but a bye week is mixed in as well, keeping the Cats away from home for four straight weeks. The rabid fan will have to endure 35 grueling days without UA football in Tucson, one of the longest stretched away-from home in the nation. Here's a look at some other team's who will be seeking a remedy for homesickness:
Most Days Between Home Games
36 - Hawai`i (Sept. 4-Oct. 10)
35 - Washington State (Oct. 10-Nov. 14)
35 - SMU (Sept. 5-Oct. 10)
35 - Middle Tennessee State (Sept. 12-Oct. 17)
28 - Colorado (Sept. 19-Oct. 17)
28 - Houston (Sept. 26-Oct. 24)
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.
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.
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. Vuna Tuihalamaka picked off a deflected pass in the season-opener, putting the UA defense on the board to start 2009. Here's a look at the year-by-year numbers under Stoops:
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.
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
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. Foster and Vargas each collected tackles on special teams against CMU to open the 2009 season.
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.
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.
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.
Next Up: Arizona hits the road for the first time in '09 as it travels to Big Ten country to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes. The game, set for a 2:30 p.m. (CDT) kickoff on Saturday, Sept. 19, will be aired on ABC/ESPN2.
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