Cats Close Regular Season at No. 20 USC
Nov. 30, 2009
Arizona Weekly Game Notes (PDF)
Arizona (7-4, 5-3 Pac-10) at No. 20 USC (8-3, 5-3 Pac-10)
Saturday, Dec. 5 | 12:30 p.m. (PT) | LA Memorial Coliseum (93,607)
Live TV Broadcast: ABC
Television Talent: Mike Patrick (play-by-play); Craig James (color analyst); Heather Cox (sideline)
UA English Radio: Wildcat Radio Network (Brian Jeffries, play-by-play; Lamont Lovette, color; Dana Cooper, sideline)
UA Spanish Radio: 990 A.M. ESPN Deportes (Francisco Romero, play-by-play; Marco Rincon, color)
Satellite Radio: XM 193; SIRIUS 215 (Arizona radio network); XM 102, SIRIUS 125 (USC radio network)
Series Fast Facts:
All-Time Series: USC leads 26-6
First Meeting: 1916 (USC 20, UA 7 at Phoenix)
Last Meeting: 2008 (USC 17, UA 10 at Tucson)
Some Game Themes: Arizona takes on the challenge of facing USC on its home turf in the Coliseum, where its been vanquished only twice in eight seasons…The game’s portent includes bowl positioning, a noble quest for the lads from Arizona while an unfamiliar challenge (at least in the past decade) for the Trojans… Depending on outcomes Thursday in Eugene and elsewhere Saturday, the game finalizes the Pac-10 standings, notably the second- and third-place notches… Arizona works to complete its best regular-season winning record since 1998 while USC still has a shot at a remarkable 10-victory season including the postseason… The Wildcats take a look in the emotional cupboard and see what’s there after three last-gasp games including turbulent losses at Cal and home against No. 11 Oregon, and a squeaky victory in the Territorial Cup rivalry game against ASU… Can Arizona continue its recent improvement in this series – narrowing the gap, so to speak -- and get over the top?... Can USC take the apparent heartfelt thrill from its victory over UCLA in the Coliseum and keep that mojo alive against the dudes from the desert?... A showcase, it’s hoped, for a pair of young quarterbacks, each facing quality defenses… If 11 games builds a reasonable picture of a team's statistical trends, this one matches a pair of adequately matched squads... Arizona head coach Mike Stoops works to win against the only league team he's not beaten... The Cats get a final crack (possibly renewed later in a bowl) at extending Stoops' string of five consecutive seasons in knocking off a ranked team...
Last Week: Arizona managed to overcome its worst offensive output of the year with a pair of special teams plays late in the fourth quarter and win a key seventh game and the Territorial Cup at Arizona State, 20-17. The final play – a 32-yard field goal by sophomore Alex Zendejas, on the field where his uncle, Max Zendejas, pulled off similar feats – made the ultimate difference. The previous play, a 40-yard punt muffed by ASU return man Kyle Williams and recovered by cover man Mike Turner at the ASU 22-yard line, made Zendejas’ kick possible. Williams otherwise would have been the Bob Moran Most Outstanding Player in the game – with nine catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns, but that went to UA running back Keola Antolin, whose 67-yard scamper for a first-quarter score gave Arizona a lead that lasted 58 minutes. Arizona struggled on third down (2 for 16), but did the same to ASU (3 for 16) and both teams blew one of three red zone opportunities. Arizona managed only 265 yards in offense throughout the game, with QB Nick Foles completing 24 of 43 passes for a mere 148 yards and no touchdown throw for the first time in his career (streak halted at 10 games). The Cats suffered five three-and-outs, but forced ASU into six. UA held ASU to 86 rushing yards, but let a couple of big plays by Williams make the Devils' air attack competitive, especially when his diving catch led to a fourth-quarter tie, 17-17, with two minutes left. UA could not muster any offense on its subsequent possession and Keenyn Crier lined up for the aforementioned punt. This time the football fortunes fell on Arizona's side. There was one turnover in the game and it could not have come at a worse moment for the home team.
The Coaches: Arizona, Mike Stoops, 47, (Iowa '86), sixth year at Arizona (32-38) and sixth year overall as a head coach. The 2009 season is his 24th in coaching. He's sixth on the Arizona career coaching victories list, just passing Jim Young last week. Stoops took a 2-10 program and rebuilt the Wildcats into an 8-5 bowl champion last December. He carries a record of 21-28 in Pac-10 games and a 10-9 slate in non-conference games.. His teams are 21-18 in home games and 11-20 on the road. The Wildcats beat a ranked team in each of his first five seasons including a pair a year ago. Stoops was a UPI All-American as a senior and All-Big Ten pick his last two years as a Hawkeye in 1983-84. His coaching background as an assistant was all defense including eight seasons as a coordinator. Southern California, Pete Carroll, 58, (Pacific '73) nith year at USC (96-18) and ninth overall as a collegiate head coach. He was head coach of the New England Patriots for three years prior to taking the SC job and has been a coach for 36 years, all but two of those on the defensive side of the ball. Carroll is among the nation's top winningest active college coaches and led USC to national titles in 2003 and 2004.
Stingy Defense: The Arizona defense doesn’t make a lot of headlines and has earned the nickname of the “No Name Defense” over the last two seasons. But the unit has quietly performed as one of the nation’s best. The Wildcats finished No. 24 in the nation a season ago in total offense (313.0 yards per game) and ranks in a similar position this season. Currently, Arizona checks in at No. 22 in the country by allowing 318.9 yards per game. Helping UA’s cause is a run defense that ranks No. 21 with 109.6 yards per game allowed, while UA’s front seven have created havoc in passing situations. Led by junior DE Ricky Elmore (10.5 sacks, 11.5 TFL) and DT Earl Mitchell (4.5 sacks, 9.5 TFL), Arizona ranks No. 16 in the nation with 31 sacks (2.82 per game). The staunch run defense has forced opposing teams into third-and-long situations when the big boys up front can pin their ears back and get after the passer. That has helped the Cats limit opposing teams to a 33.1 conversion rate on third down, which checks in at No. 17 in the country. Because of that, opponents are averaging just 16.6 first downs per game, another Top 20 mark (No. 18).
Late Season Success: Mike Stoops’ Wildcats have enjoyed a nice run of success in the months of November and December since his arrival in 2004 despite back-to-back losses at Cal and against Oregon State. A career record of 32-38 includes a 13-9 mark in the final two months of the season. Over the last three seasons, Arizona is 10-6 in such late-season games. But, perhaps most impressive, the Wildcats are 6-3 against ranked teams in November/December showdowns, , which includes last year’s Las Vegas Bowl win over BYU last December. This year, the Cats entered November with a national ranking of their own, but dropped from the polls after a loss at California. Oregon came to Tucson ranked No. 11 and victory slipped away from the Wildcats in the fourth quarter. The Trojans are next up and currently ranked No. 20. Stoops’ teams have been building toward the position they are in this year: playing meaningful football into November and December.
Overcoming Adversity: Arizona’s 7-4 mark this season is a credit to one of the deepest UA teams in recent memory, and that depth has been tested to the max this year. Among the issues the Cats have dealt with this year are: Losing All-American tight end Rob Gronkowski to a season-ending back injury prior to the season … The Wildcats played three consecutive road games, including trips to Iowa, Oregon State and Washington that spanned 7,116 round-trip miles and left UA without a home game for 35 days, the second-longest stretch in the nation … Arizona has trotted out five different starting offensive line combinations in 11 games … Over 50 players have suffered from the flu, with only a handful missing games, but nearly all missing 2-3 days of practice time … Running back Nic Grigsby, who suffered a sprained shoulder on his first carry at Oregon State, has been in and out of the lineup since late September, missing three full games. After carrying the ball 49 times for 400 yards in UA’s first three games, he has since carried just 26 times for 159 times in the team’s last eight games … Keola Antolin, the team’s No. 2 runner entering the year, suffered through ankle problems early in the season forcing redshirt freshman Greg Nwoko to assume the No. 2 duties. He did so admirably until spraining his shoulder against UCLA and went on to since miss nearly all of two games, before returning against Oregon … Junior wide receiver Delashuan Dean, the team’s top returner at the position entering the year, missed all of fall camp with a hamstring injury, then suffered a concussion against NAU and later injured his ankle at Washington … ’08 sack leader Brooks Reed suffered a high ankle sprain at Iowa in Week 3 and did not return to his starting role until two weeks ago at Cal … Not to mention, a controversial deflected interception at Washington and an unfortunate batted pass at Cal stand between UA and a much prettier record … And lastly, UA entered the season having to replace the Pac-10’s all-time leading receiver in career receptions (Mike Thomas) and the school’s all-time leading passer (Willie Tuitama), along with a second round draft pick in tackle Eben Britton.
Staring at the Stats: Looks like punt plays might be critical this week, with Arizona (5th) and USC (7th) in the nation's top 10 in punt returns. The Cats are led by receiver Bug Wright who checks in this week as the nation's best with a 19.2 yards per return figure. USC receiver Damian Williams isn't far behind at sixth with a 16.1 figure... Arizona pits its 11 sacks allowed pass protection against the nation's No. 7 sacking unit with USC getting there 33 times. Arizona has put a guy on his back 31 times, so there's pressure on both sides. And, as expected, the Trojans have allowed only 14 opponent sacks. It makes for a nice little sub-plot. UA's Ricky Elmore leads the league with his .95 per game (10.5 total sacks), while Everson Griffen leads USC with .80 per game (8 in 10 games)... The gang's all there, with 23 USC players being part of 80 tackles for loss. Arizona has 16 guys in that column for a total of 63 hits behind the line... Some well-deserved games in the national limelight, his play, and the sheer weight of the Los Angeles media machine has pushed USC's quarterback Matt Barkley into the national consciousness. Meantime, Arizona's Nick Foles just does his thing in relative obscurity. His thing has produced a 134.21 pass efficiency rating, 67 percent completion percentage, 17:7 touchdown to interception ratio and 2,181 yards. Those are better than Barkley, who has two more starts than Foles, in all but yards (2241). Barkley's big-play quotient is better -- 13.7 yards per completion to Foles' 9.6, but that's also a factor of UA's short-game style... The game this week features two teams averaging 5.1 yards per rush, and if you think that's eerily similar add these numbers: Arizona has 379 attempts, USC 378; USC has 1,942 net yards, Arizona 1,938. USC averages 176.5 per game, Arizona 176.2. The Trojans lead in rushing TDs, 22 to 18... The rushing factor held up in UA's victory last week. If opponents aren't successful running the ball, UA usually wins. Conversely, when they are, the Cats are in trouble (read: Cal, Oregon, Iowa, Washington). ASU had 86 net yards and 2.9 yards per tote... If Nick Foles hadn't caught one of his own passes -- the knock-back leading to a double-pass penalty that thwarted a winning field goal try in the Cal game -- both Arizona and USC would have 15 different guys catching the ball this year. Arizona has 16 catchers thanks to Nick... The Cats had one of their better penalty contests at ASU, with only three flags for 13 yards, compared to 10 penalties for 83 yards by the Devils. UA had fewer markers than that once previously this year, two against UCLA for 11 yads. That kept the Cats at No. 26 nationally in fewest penalty yards per game...
Cats in the Pac: Arizona’s 5-3 mark in the Pac-10 to date gives it 13 victories in the last 21 conference games, dating to the last four games of the 2007 season. That 13-8 record (0.619 winning percentage) is impressive by itself, but, even in the Wildcats’ six losses, they have been just a few plays away from winning. UA has lost five of the eight games by three points or less and by a total of 37 points (average of 4.6 per game).
Sack Master: Defensive end Ricky Elmore has turned in a breakout junior season as he has emerged as the Pac-10’s sack leader over USC’s Everson Griffen. Through 11 games, Elmore has tallied a career-high 10.5 sacks in much-needed fashion as classmate Brooks Reed struggled through the early-middle portion of the schedule with an ankle injury. Reed returned this year as one of the more heralded ends in the league, but Elmore has more than filled in on the opposite side. Elmore’s 10.5 sacks are the most for a Wildcat in a decade, surpassing Joe Tafoya’s 10.0 set back in 1999. The next best total is 11.5 by Joe Salave’a in 1997. Then it’s Tedy Bruschi’s 14.5 and 19.0 totals in the 1995 and 1993 seasons, respectively.
Six is Slick: Whatever victory might mean in terms of the postseason, a win over USC would give Arizona a sixth conference victory, something it's accomplished in Pac-10 play only three times previously -- 6-2 in 1993 and 1994, and 7-1 in 1998. That's modest stuff in terms of the success this week's opponent has posted, but progress is progress.
Anatomy of a Hump: Say you take a program to the next level and still battle another obstacle -- title contention. Arizona could be said to be in that situation, with a league total of 12 losses by an average of 4.9 points since the last time an opponent put a drub on the Cats. That game would be an October 2007 contest against Oregon State, which UA lost 31-16. Since, no conference loss has come by more than 10 points. Whether it's a need for one or two more plays on defense (a final stop against Oregon), or offense (one more first down at Cal) or simple serendipity (no kicked ball for an interception at Washington), the Cats could use some big plays to help them get over that hump against good teams. Those are the kinds of plays that could make a difference between 7-5 and 8-4, or 9-3 and 10-2, and Arizona believes it has the talent to do it. Last week's tough victory at ASU helped the psyche with some late-game heroics like a pair of big plays on special teams -- a muff recovery and a game-winning field goal.
Alphabet Change: The game to close the regular season against USC instead of ASU is a first for Arizona since the 1986 season when Arizona played ASU on Nov. 22 and closed against Stanford in a regular-season finale played in Tokyo, Japan, called the Coca-Cola Bowl. Previous to that, UA closed at Hawaii in 1977 and at New Mexico in 1963 -- the only three games in the past half-century that weren't UA-ASU contests as regular-season closers.
What's Efficiency Worth? For the first time in awhile, Arizona enters the USC game with a QB (Nick Foles) holding a higher pass efficiency rating than the SC dude. Matt Leinart, J.D. Booty and Mark Sanchez took care of the last four games' edge in that department. Willie Tuitama had some more yards behind him on a few occasions but it was clear the other guy had more consistency. Foles has been that, with a high completion percentage, decent TD to INT ratio, big-play decisions and some good stewardship of a balanced attack. For a guy with only eight collegiate starts under his belt, his development has been outstanding. Ditto for true freshman Barkley in his 10 career starts, under considerably greater national focus.
Say It Ain't So: The two top running backs in the Arizona-USC game likely won't be at full strength. UA junior Nic Grigsby, who effectively has missed fulltime action since the fourth week of the year, is questionable with a sore shoulder that kept him out of action against Arizona State. USC junior Joe McKnight, who needs 21 yards for a career-first 1,000-yard season, left the UCLA game with a thigh bruise. Arizona has used a quartet of backs this year and should bring some health in sophomore Keola Antolin (517, 5.7 ypc) and redshirt freshman Greg Nwoko (263, 3.9). USC has Allen Bradford (530, 6.1) among its usual former prep all-Americans at the position.
Rushing Title: Junior Nic Grigsby (559) and sophomore Keola Antolin (517) each are in position to lead UA in rushing in 2009. Grigsby's availability this week at USC is in question because of a shoulder injury. Antolin leads the team with 90 carries and therefore has averaged only about 8 carries per game, also sidelined at times with various ailments (ankle, shoulder). The Cats run the ball about 35 times per game and have accumulated yardage at 5.1 yards per carry. Grigsby led the club with 1,153 yards a year ago and with 704 yards as a true freshman in 2007. Keola had 525 last year as a true freshman.
Receiving Title: Arizona senior Terrell Turner has 47 receptions for 450 yards and four scores to lead UA in catches and TDs, while sophomore Juron Criner leads with eight receiving TDs, 509 yards and 13.8 yards per catch (37). Turner looks to take the receiving crown in a year where Nick Foles has spread the ball around to 15 different guys. If Turner can snag three more he'll hit the UA single-season top 20 again. He and three others are tied at No. 18 with 50 each, his receptions total in 2007. He needs five to tie current Jacksonville Jag Mike Thomas (2005) at No. 17.
Going the Wrong Way: Arizona’s defense tallied 10 tackles for loss at Arizona State last weekend, marking the highest total for the unit in 2009. It was the most stops behind the line of scrimmage for the Wildcat defense since recording an impressive 14 tackles for loss against No. 10 USC in the LA Coliseum on Oct. 13, 2007, paced by the 4.5 stops by current Denver Bronco Spencer Larsen. Under Mike Stoops, UA defenses have posted double-digits in the TFL column on four occasions. Interestingly, over the last five games, the Cats have incrementally improved their TFL total by one in each game. The string began against UCLA with six and has since jumped to seven against Washington State, eight against California, nine against Oregon and 10 last week.
Return Artists: UA return specialists Travis Cobb (kickoffs) and Bug Wright (punts) are etching their names into the UA record books for their return prowess. Cobb has 682 kickoff return yards, which has surpassed Chuck Levy’s 682 yards in 1991, the previous single-season record at Arizona. Cobb, with help from a few others who have returned kicks, put this UA squad within reach of the school’s record for most yards gained per return. Averaging 25.2 yards per kickoff return, the Cats will need Cobb or someone else to break off another big return to reach the 1935 team’s 27.2 yards per return. In the meantime, Wright has made his presence felt returning punts. Wright leads the nation with a 19.2 yards per return average. That is based on at least one return per game, and he has 11 in 11 games played by the Cats. The UA record books list the minimum at 1.2 returns per game. Should Wright find a way to get his attempts up while maintain his average, he will break the school record held by Dennis Northcutt who averaged 18.9 yards per punt return on 23 returns in 1999.
All-Purpose Yards: The Wildcats are averaging 551.9 all-purpose yards per game (includes all returns with total offense). The figure is the best in the Mike Stoops era and a 222-yard improvement from the low set in 2006 (332.2 all-purpose yards per game). Each of the three teams since ’06 have hit 530-yards per game or better. Much of the credit has to go to Sonny Dykes for revamping the offensive attack, but it’s also a tribute to UA’s dangerous kick and punt return units. In 2007, Antoine Cason returned two punts for touchdowns and Mike Thomas followed suit with a pair last year. This year, Bug Wright (punt) and Travis Cobb (kickoff) have scores on returns. This year’s 550+ total is the best since the 1999 squad posted a 577.3 yards per game average one season after the ’98 club averaged 554.5.
Pitching the Shutout: While UA has not shut out an opponent in a game this season, it has shut out three teams in the first halves of games. The Cats held Central Michigan scoreless in the first half of the season opener and smothered Washington State on Homecoming, blanking the Cougars for the first three periods. UA added a third first half shut out at Arizona State last week. What was notable about that performance was that it marked the first time the Cats shut out an opponent in the opening half of a road game since doing so at Stanford on Sept. 30, 2000.
Punt Alert: Keenyn Crier and Arizona have punted 21 times in the last three games, which equals the total number of punts he and the team had through the first eight games. Crier punted a career-high nine times last week at Arizona State in the same season that he has tied a school record on two occasions (NAU, Washington St.) for the fewest punts in a game – zero. Crier and the Cats had been – and may still be – within reach of breaking the school record for fewest punts per game. With 42 punts in 12 games, UA is averaging 3.818 punts per game, slightly ahead of the school-record pace set by the 1954 club that had 36 punts in 10 games (3.6 per game).
Making Them Cri-er: In two seasons against the Trojans, punter Kennyn Crier has turned in some of his best performances. In 2007, Crier boomed seven punts for an average of 48 yards per punt in the Coliseum. Beyond those numbers, he launched the second-longest punt in school history (83-yards), yet showed his touch as well. He placed five punts inside the 20-yard line with zero touchbacks and a team net punting average of 40.4 yards. A year ago, in Tucson, Crier again punted seven times, but averaged 50.3 yards per punt. He placed four more punts inside the 20-yard line, with only one touchback. The Wildcats hope he isn’t relied upon as much this time around, but if he is, hopefully he’s up to his usual vs. Troy.
Fun Foles Facts: Despite not starting the first three games of the season, Nick Foles has quickly put himself on many UA single-season passing charts, while even inching towards some career marks: Foles, who has thrown a TD pass in 10 of 11 games this year, has 17 on the season. That total is the eighth-best for a season at Arizona, but it also is just three shy of the No. 10 spot for a career, held by Bill Demory (1970-72) and Marc Reed (1966) who each had 20 … Foles’ 67.4 percent completion percentage would be just short of being the best ever for a UA quarterback should it hold up, narrowly behind Keith Smith’s 68.5 percent marksmanship in 1998. The difference is Foles already has more completions (229) than Smith had attempts (165) … Speaking of completions, the 229 he has this year already are the fourth-most in a single season at UA, while his 340 attempts are sixth-most … Foles has a pass efficiency rating of 134.04 is just outside the top 10 … Foles’ 2,198 passing yards in ’09 check in at No. 9 for a season, just four (4) short of Alfred Jenkins’ 2,202 in 1984 … His 2,143 total offense yards are ninth-most in a single season … Foles' 415 yards passing against Stanford rates No. 8 in Arizona single-game passing history, while his 420 yards in total offense in the game rank sixth on the UA chart. His 40 completions rank as the No. 2 figure in history behind Willie Tuitama's 42 at California in 2007... Foles and SU's Andrew Luck combined for an Arizona combo record of 62 pass completions, besting the 60 tossed by Keith Smith (25)and Pat Barnes (35) of California in the first quadruple overtime game in NCAA history at Berkeley in 1996... Foles set a school record for pass completion percentage (78.4) for games with 20, 30 and 40 completions. Tom 'Terrific' Tunnicliffe hit 78.0 (21-for-27) against Pacific in 1982, Willie Tuitama hit 74.5 (38-for-51) at Washington in 2007 and Willie hit 68.9 (42-for-61) at Cal in 2007.
Zendejas on Point: Somewhat quietly, Alex Zendejas has turned in an impressive year for a place kicker. Zendejas has connected on 17-of-22 field goals, including a career-long 47-yarder at the end of the first half against Oregon and a game-winning 32-yarder as time expired against ASU. He’s missed three PATs, but still has hit 35-of-38, giving him 86 points on the year. He stands three points shy of reaching uncle Max’s 89 points in the 1985 season, which is the No. 10 mark for a single season for scoring (all players). His 7.82 points per game could mean he becomes UA’s single-season scoring leader for a kicker if the average held up over the final regular season game and in a bowl game. In 2007, Jason Bondzio became the first UA kicker to reach 100. Alex’s four field goals in four tries at Washington tied the school record for which he already grabbed a share. He hit on relative chip shots of 18, 23, 29 and 24 yards against the Huskies. For his effort, Zendejas was named one of three “Stars of the Week” by the Lou Groza Collegiate Place Kicker Award. He opened the season 4-for-5 against Central Michigan to join four other former Wildcats with four in a game. His UW performance also gave him a piece of the 4-for-4 single-game high-percentage mark held by the same four kickers (Doug Pfaff vs. Stanford 1989, Max Zendejas at LSU 1984, Charlie Gorham vs. Indiana 1973 and Steve Jurley vs. UTEP 1968). Collegefootballperformance.com gave Alex its honorable mention PK of the Week honor.
Touchdown Trends: The 2008 Arizona Wildcats became the first UA team to score at least 20 rushing touchdowns and 20 passing touchdowns in the same season (33 rush, 24 pass) since the school joined the Pac-10 in 1978. This year’s squad could repeat the feat as UA has 18 rushing and 18 passing touchdowns to date. Interestingly, only eight UA teams (including the ’08 and now ‘09 squads) balanced even 15 rushing TDs with 15 passing TDs in the same season.
Fast Starts: In the last two seasons, the Wildcats have developed a knack for fast starts to games and halves. In 2009, the Wildcats are outscoring their opponents 98-48 in the first quarter of games and 77-39 in the third quarter. Combined with the 2008 season, those numbers are even more impressive. UA has outscored opponents 190-110 in the first quarter of its last 24 games, and 205-93 in the third quarter of those games. What does it mean? Either the Wildcats thrive playing fully rested or perhaps game plans and coaching adjustments are spot-on and the players are executing those plans.
Big Earl: One of the steadiest performers on UA’s defense in 2009 has been senior tackle Earl Mitchell, an individual who excels in all phases of the program. In his second season as a starting lineman following his switch from FB/HB on offense, Mitchell has become a load for opposing teams to handle up front. On the season, he has 38 tackles, including 4.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss, and he has forced one fumble. In his career, Mitchell has 77 tackles, 6.0 sacks and 15.0 tackles for loss. As a true freshman in 2006, Mitchell debuted as a fullback/H-back, where he remained for two seasons. He caught 14 passes for 174 and two touchdowns on offense, and had four carries for seven yards. He has been selected to participate in the East/West Shrine Game in January and was also named a winner of the National Academic Momentum Award. The award is administered by the Scholar-Baller Program in conjunction with the National Consortium for Academics and Sports (NCAS). Mitchell, an interdisciplinary studies major from Houston, was named the male Western region honoree among 22 female and male student-athletes from 10 regions picked for the award.
Horton Hears a 'Who?:' Arizona senior defensive tackle Donald Horton notched two sacks at ASU last week, his second and third of the year, and third and fourth in his career. The 6-foot, 290-pound graduate will complete his fifth year in the program this month and turned in two solid years as a regular on the interior front. He has 21 tackles this year, same as his 2008 total in six starts. Horton has played in 41 career games, all 11 this year as the starter.
Introducing Mr. Criner: Sophomore wide receiver Juron Criner has emerged as Arizona’s top-big play threat in 2009, despite starting just three games. At 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, Criner has the size, strength and speed that makes him a mismatch for nearly any defense. He leads the Wildcats with 508 receiving yards despite hauling in 10 fewer passes (37 total) than teammate and Terrell Turner. His 13.7 yards per reception is tops on the team for players averaging at least one catch per game. But, perhaps most impressive about Criner’s numbers is the fact that 24 of his 37 receptions (64.9 percent) have resulted in a first down or touchdown (8). His eight receiving touchdowns are twice as many as the next top target, Turner, and he has nine in his career. He and Turner, who also has nine, are just two TD grabs away from hitting UA’s career chart, which begins with Vance Johnson at No. 11 (11 TDs). Junior tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is out for the season, is tied for seventh with 16 TD catches. Criner’s ’09 season tally for TDs is tied for seventh in UA history with five other players.
Pipe Dreams: ...What if you added up 2009 single-game highs and put them in one package for a contest? Nic Grisby would run for 207 yards and two touchdowns, including a 94-yard run; Nick Foles would complete 40 passes in 53 attempts for 415 yards and four scores; Juron Criner and David Roberts would catch 12 apiece and Criner would post 152 yards and three scores; Alex Zendejas would kick four field goals including a 47-yarder; Bug Wright would return a punt 86 yards for a score; Travis Cobb would take a kickoff back 95 yards for a score; and Trevin Wade would return one of his two interceptions for a score. That would add up to about 700 yards in offense and some 75 points. Keep dreaming... But Arizona's guys did that stuff and just a little piece of those successful days -- and good things would happen.
Century Club: The Arizona defense features four players with over 100 career tackles, paced by senior free safety Cam Nelson who has 194 career stops. Next in line is cornerback Devin Ross with 138, followed closely by linebacker Xavier Kelley, who has 137. Nickleback Corey Hall, a key defense player who has 12 career starts, has 109 tackles as a part-time player. Linebacker Sterling Lewis is poised to be the next Cat to join the club, as he is seven shy with 93 tackles.
Chart Watchers: Senior WR Terrell Turner, who has a catch in 17 consecutive games, now has 141 in his career, which puts him alone at No. 5 in UA history. Turner needs 12 more grabs to catch ‘T’ Bell’s 153, which rank No. 4 … Junior WR Delashaun Dean has quietly moved into the No. 7 spot for career receptions at UA, hauling in 124 grabs. Seven more will tie him for the No. 6 spot, held by Syndric Steptoe (131 – 2003-06) … Junior RB Nic Grigsby’s next rushing touchdown will move him into a tie for No. 4 all-time at Arizona. Grigsby, who has 20 rushing scores in his career, is one shy of Ontiwaun Carter’s 21, set from 1991-94 … Grigsby ranks eighth on UA’s career rushing yardage chart with 2,416 yards, which is 214 shy of Clarence Farmer’s career tally (2,630 – 2000-03).
Steady TT: With his nine-catch, 101-yard performance against Stanford, senior wide receiver Terrell Turner moved past Richard Dice for seventh place in Arizona history for career receptions. Since, Turner has moved up to No. 5 with 141 catches for 1,584 yards in his career. He is just 49 yards shy of breaking into UA’s top 10 for career receiving yards. He pushed his receiving TD tally to nine with a score against the Cougars and stands three shy of hitting the career top 10 in the respective category. With a reception in each game this season, Turner now has a streak of 17-consecutive games with a catch. He leads the team with 47 receptions for 450 yards and four scores in 2009.
Return Game: One of the area's the Wildcats have shown significant improvement from a year ago is in the kickoff return game. In 2008, the Wildcats ranked No. 105 among all FBS teams. Through 11 games, UA has upped its 19.3 average from a year ago all the way up to 25.2 yards per return, good enough for No. 12 in the nation and second in the conference. Travis Cobb leads the way with a 25.4 yards per return average, including a 95-yard touchdown return that ended a drought of 136 games between kickoff return touchdowns for Arizona. On the flip side, UA has limited opponents to just 21.0 yards per return.
Just What D.R. Ordered: Sophomore wide receiver Dave Roberts has emerged as a key weapon for the Wildcats in his sophomore season. Against Washington, Roberts led all receivers with 12 receptions for 138 yards. The dozen grabs tied with eight other players for second-most in a single game at Arizona, while the 138 yards were the most for a UA receiver in 2009 (until Juron Criner hauled in 152 yards worth of passes against Stanford). Roberts is the Cats’ second-leading receiver by reception tally with 40 on the season for 390 yards, and he tallied his first career touchdown grab against Huskies. His emergence has helped fill the void left by Mike Thomas, the Pac-10’s all-time reception leader who is now starring for the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sundays.
Unlucky 13: For some reason, UA receivers in recent seasons haven’t been able to reach the elusive No. 13 for single game receptions. The number is significant because no player has ever finished a game at Arizona with 13 catches. In 1996, Jeremy McDaniel eclipsed the mark by hauling in 14 passes for 283 yards (another school record). Since, UA receivers have snared 12 catches a total of six times. Bobby Wade hit the dozen mark in 2002, while Mike Thomas did so twice in 2007. A season ago, Rob Gronkowski caught 12 passes in a game at Oregon, while teammate Dave Roberts did so this year on the road at Washington. Juron Criner is the latest Wildcat to join mix, pulling in 12 grabs for 152 against Stanford. In all, eight single game performances have fallen one catch shy of 13 in UA history.
IN“T” Wade: Sophomore cornerback Trevin Wade snagged his fourth interception of the year and eighth in his short 24-game playing career against Oregon State. A backup to Marquis Hundley and current mate Devin Ross a year ago as a redshirt freshman, Wade has blossomed into a ball-hawking cover man with some serious smarts. Wade has 13 passes defended on the season, which is good enough for No. 14 in the country. He has two career double-pick games, one last year against Idaho and one against Northern Arizona this year. Additionally he is in the Top 5 on the team with 57 tackles.
“Cam”araderie: A senior-laden defense includes free safety Cam Nelson, one of the leaders of the tight-knit unit. A two-year starter at strong safety, Nelson moved to free safety prior to the start of his senior campaign. The move seems to have paid off as Nelson checks in fourth on the squad with 60 tackles, including 5.0 for loss, three forced fumbles and three sacks. Against Cal, he snared his first career interception and he was named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week following his six-tackle, two-sack and two-forced fumble game against UCLA. In the game against the Bruins, Nelson narrowly missed hauling in his first career interception.
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 Cats extended the streak to 15 games, but saw the run snapped at Iowa. Since, UA has found paydirt on the ground in eight consecutive games.
Gronkowski Out for Year: Arizona junior tight Rob Gronkowski, who missed most of the full-action drills in fall training camp and the first three games with back trouble, will not play this season, Coach Mike Stoops announced Saturday. Gronkowski was a third-team AP All-American as a sophomore and a top preseason candidate for the John Mackey Award this year. He also is the reigning first-team All-Pacific-10 Conference man at his position.
30 Is (Usually) The Magic Number: The Cats’ loss to Oregon in double overtime and their 36-33 loss to Washington on Oct. 10 was a rare one. Since joining the Pac-10 in 1978, the Wildcats have played 111 games in which they have scored 30 or more points. Their record in those games? An astounding 99-11-1. That record included a streak of 18 consecutive victories prior to the Oregon game in 2008 (55-45 loss), and UA is now 20-3 under Mike Stoops. Arizona was 8-1 in such games in 2008 and is 4-2 in 2009.
If Not 30, Try 40: If Arizona's .892 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 110-5 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. In 2009, the Wildcats have reached 40 points three times with a 2-1 record in those games. The loss? A 44-41 double overtime victory by Oregon. Amazingly, the Ducks also dropped the Cats the year prior, 55-45, in Eugue, accounting for two of the five all-time losses.
Sub-200: The Wildcats' defense has been a nightmare for opposing offenses, particularly when it comes to moving the football. In its last 23 games, the UA defense has held five opponents under 200 total yards in a game, the most recent being Washington State (42 plays – 185 yards on Nov. 7). 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.
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, which is becoming quite unlikely. 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. To date, the Wildcats have 11 interceptions and, if they are going to surpass last year’s total, need to pick off – err, pick up – the pace.
The 40 Club: Arizona has six veteran seniors -- all defenders -- who have played in 40 or more games, led by safety Cam Nelson and nickelback Corey Hall with 48 GPs apiece. Cornerback Devin Ross (47), linebacker Xavier Kelley (47), tackle Earl Mitchell (47) and tackle Donald Horton (44). Nelson (36) and Mitchell (35) lead in starts. They played as true freshmen, as did Ross. Horton and Kelley already have their college degrees. On offense, senior receiver Terrell Turner leads with 42 games played (32 starts). Junior center Colin Baxter has played in 36 games, with 35 starts, ahead of his position predecessor and current reserve senior Blake Kerley (32 GP, 29 starts). A knee injury caused Kerley to miss the last two-thirds of last season, and gave Baxter a chance to shine.
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.
Pac-10 Players of the Week: Three Arizona players have been named Pac-10 Players of the Week this season ... Most recently, Cam Nelson was named the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week following his game against UCLA on Oct. 24 when he recorded a career-high two sacks and forced two fumbles, which led to UA offensive touchdowns ... Nick Foles was named the offensive POW for his sensational performance in rallying the Wildcats to a come-from-behind victory over Stanford on Oct. 17, 43-38. Foles passed for a career-high 415 yards in the game ... Devin Ross was handed the weekly honor for his defensive effort in UA’s 38-33 win at Oregon State on Sept. 26. The senior hauled in a game-clinching interception late in the fourth quarter and added 12 tackles … Alex Zendjas was named the Pac-10 Special Teams Player of the Week after kicking two fourth quarter field goals, including the game-winner as time expired at Arizona State on Nov. 28 (20-17).
Up Next: With seven wins on the season, the Wildcats have secured a bowl berth for the second consecutive season. However, Arizona’s destination is dependent upon its result in Los Angeles this week, as well as the rest of the league action taking place, including the Civil War pitting Rose Bowl hopefuls Oregon and Oregon State. The Wildcats are in contention for the league’s designated second-place bowl game (Holiday) all the way through the sixth place bowl (Poinsettia).
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