Cats Head to Big Ten Country
Sept. 14, 2009
Arizona (2-0, 0-0 Pac-10) at
Iowa (2-0, 0-0 Big Ten)
Saturday, Sept. 19 | 2:35 p.m. (CDT) Kickoff | Kinnick Stadium (70,585)
Television: ABC (regional), ESPN2 (areas not shown on ABC)
Internet: ESPN 360
Commentators: Mike Patrick, play-by-play; Craig James, color analyst
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 Rincon, color)
Satellite Radio: SIRIUS 216, XM 195
Some Game Themes: A battle of early-season unbeatens, to add some edginess... The winner boosts its case for a spot in the national rankings. In Iowa's case it would be after a two-week hiatus, while for UA it would follow nine years since a ranking... The Cats take on the Hawks' streak of dominance in Kinnick Stadium, with Iowa sporting victories in 39 of its last 47 games at home dating to 2002... Arizona's fifth-best (nationally) running game against a Big Ten defense. How much of a hit will Arizona's 500-yard offense take in that environment? Can Wildcat running back Nic Grigsby find holes to keep his ascendant game going?... A match of Arizona's defense (15th-rated) against Iowa's experienced 109-start offensive line... Both teams average a modest 26 points per game, but both teams have top 25 scoring defenses in permitting only 9.5 (Iowa) and 11.5 (UA) ppg... Arizona has moved the ball all over the field except consistently into the end zone, and solving that riddle should be key this week... UA hopes to have its All-American tight end, Rob Gronkowski (sore back) on the field, a nice counterpart to Hawkeye Toni Moeaki... Iowa is 12th nationally in net punting and Arizona does not have a return this season, so there's some mystery there... A Hawkeye returns home, but on the other side of the field, as No. 41 Mike Stoops (Iowa strong safety 1981/83-84; class of '86) takes the Cats to Iowa City for his first game against his alma mater as a coach... Stoops learned the trade under Iowa legend Hayden Fry in a pair of years as a grad assistant and four more as a volunteer coach from 1986 to 1991... Another former Hawk (who also wore 41), brother and defensive coordinator Mark Stoops (class of '89), also shows up to renew his familiarity with Kinnick Stadium. Mark spent '90 and '91 as a G.A. under Fry. The Stoops’ earned three varsity letters apiece in Black & Gold...
Last Week: Arizona ran past Northern Arizona, 34-17, to set itself up at 2-0 to open a stretch of 35 days away from home. The Cats did not punt, made 11 of 17 third- or fourth-down conversions, had 27 first downs and wracked up 559 yards in total offense. Nic Grigsby used scoring runs of 25 and 30 yards, and the second-longest run in school history (94 yards) to post a career-high 207 rushing yards and help build a team total of 365 markers on the ground. He averaged a hot 13.8 yards per tote, thanks to the non-scoring long run that ended with him knocked out of bounds at the NAU 1 yard-line. Quarterbacks Matt Scott (14-for-20, 150 yards) and Nick Foles (6-for-8, 44) each tossed a touchdown pass and combined for a 71 percent completion rate. Neither was sacked. The Lumberjacks did not go easily into the night, and used a modest 226 total yards to post the 17 points. QB Matt Herrick's 20 completions, two for scores to Ed Berry, complemented 56 tough rushing yards by Alex Henderson. But UA's defense still had enough stops, plus two interceptions from cornerback Trevin Wade, to keep the FBS men from Flagstaff at bay. The Wildcats scored in each quarter, converted three times on fourth down, held the ball for 12 more minutes than the 'Jacks and used nine different receivers led by Terrell Turner and David Douglas with five grabs apiece. Big plays set up 10 of NAU's points -- a 57-yard kickoff return on its opening possession to set up a field goal after a 9-yard drive, and an interception by Matt Steinback deep in Arizona's territory that set up a 19-yard Berry TD catch on the next play. it was probably good that Arizona did not have to punt. UA had a field goal try of 27 yards by Alex Zendejas blocked, and he also missed an extra point kick to underscore a sub-par evening in the kicking game. But the 2-0 start gave Arizona a four-game winning streak over two seasons, its best in the Millennium.
Driving It Home: Arizona had back-to-back scoring drives totaling 194 yards, in alarmingly different fashion, against Northern Arizona, albeit spanning the second and third quarters. The Cats' 99-yard scoring drive to close the first half against Northern Arizona was their longest since a single-play drive covering 99 yards against Idaho Sept. 8, 2001. (Jason Johnson threw a 99-yard pass to Brandon Marshall for a TD.) The 17 plays were the most on a march since a 16-play, 72-yard drive for a field goal against Oregon State last Nov. 22... On their first play of the third quarter, after an interception by Trevin Wade near the goal line, the Cats had a two-play drive for 95 yards keyed by Nic Grigsby's 94-yard run to the NAU 1 yard-line. The run was the second-longest in school history. (Trung Canidate pulled off a 96-yard against San Diego State in 1997, his for a score).
Miscellaneous Football Factoids...The Cats' three fourth-down conversions against NAU -- in four tries -- were the most since a 3-for-6 effort at Ohio State in 1997... Arizona's 365 rushing yards against NAU were its most since a 317-yard game at Washington State a year ago. The last time before that over 300 was a 315 total against UCLA in 2005... The Cats' 500-plus yards in total offense was its fourth time over that barrier in the last two seasons... Dating back to last year Arizona has scored points in 14 consecutive quarters, some solid offensive consistency. It's also posted points in 24 of the last 28 periods... The two-game Arizona rushing total of 628 yards contrasts with 921 net yards in all of the 2007 season for Arizona, its first year of the multiple spread offense.It's also more than the 2002 Cats posted in the entire season, 526 yards... New quarterbacks can do this to you: Another contrast is the two-game offensive touchdown total of six, compared to 14 in the two early-game romps under senior QB Willie Tuitama a year ago... The Cats' 35-day break away from home following the NAU game comes after averaging crowds of 51,153 (90% of capacity) in games against MAC and FCS opponents. It will be good to see how the team reacts away from Arizona's ZonaZoo student section, jammed nearly 11,000 strong for both games and hour before kickoff...
Nic Is Ticking: Junior running back Nic Grigsby is quickly moving up the career rushing charts in several categories. Grigsby pushed his career total to 18 scores last week, pushing him into ninth place all-time in career rushing touchdowns at Arizona. On the yardage side of the charts, Grigsby shattered the 2,000-yard barrier with his 207 rushing yards against NAU, moving into ninth place in career rushing yardage with 2,182 yards. Grigsby has pushed his career yards-per-carry tally to an impressive 5.3, and his 94-yard carry is the second longest in UA history. In his last 23 games, Grigsby has rushed for 2,084 yards (5.3 ypc) and 17 touchdowns. Additionally, he has posted ten 100-yard games and has scored at least one touchdown in 12 of the last 15 games.
Strive for Five: Arizona’s victory over Northern Arizona last Saturday pushed UA’s carry-over winning streak to four games, the longest streak for the program since the 2000 season. Now the Wildcats look to extend that streak to five games, something last accomplished on two occasions during the 12-1 season in 1998.
UA’s Winning Ways: Arizona’s Mike Stoops has a career head coaching record of 27-34, but he has turned things around for the Wildcats in recent seasons. In fact, the Wildcats have won four consecutive games and 13 of their last 19. Going back to the final half of the 2006 season, Arizona is 19-14 in its last 33 games. That’s the best multi-season string of success at Arizona since Dick Tomey’s 1997-98 teams combined to post a mark of 19-6 in back-to-back seasons, capped by a Holiday Bowl victory over Nebraska in 1998. Stoops’ eight-win Wildcat team a year ago was just the second to hit the eight-win benchmark since 1994.
Arizona vs. Big Ten: The Wildcats have an all-time record of 13-22 against the Big Ten Conference and have lost six straight, but the last two games have been oh-so-close for the Wildcats. In 2005, the Wildcats hosted No. 12 Purdue, narrowly losing 31-24 in front of 56,400 fans at Arizona Stadium. A year earlier, in Mike Stoops’ inaugural season at Arizona, the Wildcats dropped a heartbreaker to visiting No. 20 Wisconsin, 9-7, in a weather-delayed game that saw current Dallas Cowboys kicker Nick Folk barely miss a 47-yard field goal wide left with less than a minute remaining. That’s 4.5 points per game that UA has fallen to Big Ten teams under Mike Stoops. This week’s game will be the first for Stoops on the road.
Deferred Payment: Arizona has a little piece of gratitude owed the Iowa Hawkeyes, but it's in another sport so forget about any well-meant sentiment. On March 29, 1983, the Wildcats lured Robert Luther Olson from Iowa City to move to Tucson and coach the UA basketball squad. In the ensuing quarter century, Lute Olson won 589 Wildcat games, won a national title and changed the landscape of Pac-10 basketball. The Hall of Famer's name emblazons the floor at UA's McKale Center -- 'Lute and (the late) Bobbi Olson Court.'
Seeing Yellow: The Cats have been flagged for five penalties in each of the first two games. That's not a huge breach, but it is a bit higher than when UA finished in the national top five for fewest penalties (4.0) and penalty yards per game (35.1).
Seeing Red: Arizona has scored six times in nine trips inside the Red Zone, but only four of those are touchdowns. Improving on this short-field success will be a key down the road. A year ago the Cats were in the national top 10 at 92 percent overall and scored TDs at a 75 percent rate.
Home Sweet Home: It won’t matter for the Wildcats in the next three games, but Arizona has been impressive at home in recent seasons. UA has treated the home faithful to a run of nine victories in the last 11 games played at Arizona Stadium. The only two losses came in gut-wrenching fashion, as UA dropped showdowns to No. 6 USC (17-10) and No. 22 Oregon State (19-17). Otherwise, the Cats have protected their turf as well as anyone can, posting the best stretch of home wins since Arizona won 11-of-13 home contests in the 1997-99 seasons.
Visiting the Zoo? The Arizona student section – affectionately named the ‘Zona Zoo’ – seats nearly 11,000 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 9-2 mark in their last 11 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 11-game span that dates back to the end of the 2007 season, Arizona has outscored opponents 380-178 in Arizona Stadium, or by an average score of 34.5-16.2. 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.
IN”T Wade”: Redshirt sophomore corner back Trevin Wade posted his second career two-interception game last week against Northern Arizona. In his college debut a year prior, Wade snared his first career interceptions against Idaho. The 5-foot-11 cover specialist picked off two additional passes in a backup role in 2008, and his tally of four thefts tied with ’08 senior Marquis Hundley for the team lead. Despite starting at corner at Stanford, coaches estimate Wade played fewer than 100 snaps as a freshman, yet still nabbed the four interceptions. Already in 2009, with two games under his belt as a starter, Wade has continued to display an uncanny nose for the football in the secondary. Through 15 career games, his six INTs put him half-way to the 12-INT mark that rounds out the UA career Top-10 in the category, held by six different players.
On the Family of Networks: In recent years, the Wildcats have taken a liking to playing on the ESPN Family of Networks, including ABC. Including UA’s upset of then-No. 9 California in 2006, Arizona has appeared in seven games on ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC since the end of the 2006 season, posting a 5-2 record in such games. Among the games was the 2008 Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl victory last December, when UA defeated BYU 31-21. Here’s a look at the rest of the games:
Date Opponent Result Network
Dec. 20, 2008 vs. No. 17 BYU W, 31-21 ESPN
Dec. 6, 2008 Arizona St. W, 31-10 ESPN
Dec. 1, 2007 at No. 13 Arizona St. L, 20-17 ESPN2
Nov. 15, 2007 No. 15 Oregon W, 34-24 ESPN
Nov. 3, 2007 UCLA W, 34-27 ABC
Oct. 13, 2007 No. 10 USC L, 20-13 ABC
Nov. 11, 2006 No. 8 California W, 24-20 ABC
Return Game: One of the area’s the Wildcats have shown significant early-season improvement is in the kickoff return game. A season ago, the Wildcats ranked 105th among all FBS teams. Through two games, UA has upped its 19.3 average from a year ago all the way up to 29.6 yards per return. Keola Antolin leads the charge with three returns for an average of 28.7 yards. Against NAU, Terrell Turner returned his first career kickoff a season-long 49 yards. On the flip side, UA has limited opponents to just 21.7 yards per return.
Get Gronk’d: Rob Gronkowski, junior tight end, could be the best in the nation at his position and may make his season debut this week after missing the first two games with a back strain. 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 every single season and career mark for a tight end at Arizona.
Lonely Guy: Arizona punter Keenyn Crier has three boots for a 41.0 average after two games, including a no-kick outing against NAU. The zero punts tied a school record set against Colorado State in 1979 and against Pacific in 1989. Crier was a first-team all-league kicker as a redshirt freshman and honorable mention pick a year ago. It's likely that he and counterpart Ryan Donahue (41.1, 9 kicks) of Iowa could have an impact on the game this week even without the excessive work under their belts.
Lonely Guy 2: Keenyn Crier's three punts in two games are somewhat of a trend in UA's recent history. In his last four games -- against Arizona State, BYU, Central Michigan and NAU -- Arizona has punted 4, 3, 3 and 0 times. That doesn't even qualify a player for NCAA statistical ratings in the category; one needs 3.6 punts per game.
“Cam”araderie: Senior free safety Cam Nelson, in his third season as a starter, leads a veteran defensive unit. One of four team captains, Nelson is nearing the 150 tackle mark for his career, currently credit with 141 tackles in 39 games. Playing strong safety in his first three seasons at Arizona, Nelson also has seven tackles for loss, eight passes broken up and one forced fumble on his resume.
Mixing It Up: In its last game Arizona had eight players run the ball and nine players catch the ball for a total of 14 different Cats getting touches on scrimmage plays. That fexibility is clearly part of the plan. Throw in Rob Gronkowski, whose return at tight end could come at Iowa, and possibly the group gets trimmed a bit. New QBs Matt Scott and Nick Foles are mixing it up in nice fashion under offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes.
Running the Chains: The Wildcats have averaged 15.5 rushing first downs per game in the first two contests. You take what you can get, as is said. No doubt that kind of ball control gets hugely tougher starting this week at Iowa. Indicative of the eye-popping nature of that figure is that the school record for first downs by rushing per game is 13.3, accomplished by a versatile group in QB Bruce Hill, halfback Willie Hamilton and fullback Jim Upchurch in 1973 -- who combined for 2,307 rushing yards as the '1-2-3 Backfield,' so named for their jersey numbers.
Time is on My Side: Arizona is No. 2 nationally with an average of 36:49 minutes in time of possession, trailing the Wildcats of Kansas State by two seconds per outing. UA's big edge over Central Michigan in the season opener fueled that one, with the Cats holding the ball for nearly 38 minutes in the game. Against NAU it was a 12-minute edge. No question that running the ball (93 attempts in the games, 30 rushing 1st-downs) is the key, but a .672 pass completion percentage also has helped keep the ball in the Cats' hands and generate first downs (20 passing 1st-downs).
Adding Depth: Arizona played 58 guys in its second game after using 44 in the opener. Among those seeing action for the first time as Cats last week were mid-year juco transfer cornerback Marcus Benjamin, soph quarterback Nick Foles, freshman H-back Taimi Tutogi, redshirt freshman linebacker R.J. Young, redshirt junior tackle Phillip Garcia, redshirt freshman guard Kyle Quinn, juco transfer receiver Travis Cobb and juco transfer defensive tackle Jonathan Hollins. In the opener, redshirt frosh RB Greg Nwoko, juco transfer CB Lyle Brown, freshman linebacker Jake Fischer, juco transfer LB C.J. Parish and mid-year juco OT Jack Julsing had to take meaningful showers after the game.
Well Grounded: Arizona quarterback Matt Scott has some ability to get out of trouble in the backfield. On 39 career carries, many of the pull-it-down-and-go variety, he's accumulated 319 rushing yards in eight appearances. That's a heady 8.2 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)
Jim Krohn 1978 141-335, 5TD
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).
Sub-200: The Wildcats’ defense has been a nightmare for opposing offenses, particularly when it comes to moving the football. In its last 15 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 and he added five more against NAU. He remains just four receptions shy of cracking the UA Top-10 chart for career catches. Against the Lumberjacks, Turner nabbed his sixth career touchdown reception. He leads the Wildcats with 11 catches on the season, ranks third in the Pac-10 in receptions per game (5.5) and 10th in yardage per game (50.5).
Another Dela on the Job: With a pair of catches in the season opener ands two more against NAU, junior WR Delashaun Dean extended his consecutive games streak with a reception to 28. That places him in the nation's top 10 -- behind, among others, CMU's Bryan Anderson, the national leader at 42, and Antonio Brown (29)., a pair of foes who extended their respective streaks against the Cats. Here’s the full list:
Name (School) Games
Bryan Anderson (Central Michigan) 42
Naaman Roosevelt (Buffalo) 40
Duke Calhoun (Memphis) 39
Dennis Pitta (BYU) 32
Brandon LaFell (LSU) 30
Antonio Brown (Central Michigan) 29
Eric Decker (Minnesota) 28
Toren Dixon (Rice) 28
Three-Year Span: Over the last three-plus seasons, Mike Stoops and Co. have posted a winning record of 21-18. That puts the Wildcats among just six conference teams that have a winning overall record since the start of the 2006 season. UA’s 21 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.
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 2182 rushing yards in his two seasons to date, which puts him No. 9 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 No.9 at Arizona with 18 career rushing TDs… 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 105 career receptions, a total that is just four 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 1,263 career receiving yards. A modest 389 yards will move Turner into UA’s top-10 for career receiving yards … Junior wide receiver Delashaun Dean has 94 career receptions for 1,049 yards. He stands 15 receptions and 603 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 nine games in Arizona Stadium, UA’s defense has held opponents to a paltry 126 total points (14.0 points per game). The Wildcats have allowed just 56 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). In UA’s season-opening 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. In the opener, 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 NAU, and is UA’s top option behind the first unit at any of the three interior line spots. Hall will also be used in power formations as an ineligible (to go downfield) tight end for blocking purposes.
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 the season opener, Arizona converted 3-of-4 Red Zone forays, with the lone miss coming as the game ended. The Cats were just 3-for-5 against NAU in the Red Zone, putting them at 4-for-6 on the season.
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 stretches away from home in the nation. Here’s a look at some other teams that 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 106 games in which they have scored 30 or more points. Their record in those games? An astounding 96-9-1. That record included a streak of 18 consecutive victories prior to the Oregon game in 2008 (55-45 loss), and UA is now 17-1 under Mike Stoops in such games. Arizona was 8-1 in such games in 2008 and is 1-0 in 2009.
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 remains on the road for a second straight week but opens Pac-10 play at Oregon State on Saturday, Sept. 26 at 4:30 p.m. (PT) in a game that will televised nationally by Versus. UA’s second Pac-10 game will be at Washington, meaning Arizona will open with a pair of road games to start Pac-10 action. It marks the third straight year and the fourth in the last five seasons that the Wildcats begin Pac-10 play on the road.