2010 Spring Fish Wrap - Arizona Wildcats Edition

2010 Spring Fish Wrap - Arizona Wildcats Edition

WSU Football Blog

2010 Spring Fish Wrap - Arizona Wildcats Edition

By

Wait, what?  No post about expansion?  Oh, there’s news – like Texas A & M possibly making a late push for the SEC, where they might be excited to step out of the rather large shadow of the Longhorns;  Rumors of Texas flirting again with the Big Ten, as well as Texas not hanging around the Big 12 anymore, etc, etc, etc. 

But never fear – I heard Teddy Miller on KIRO 710 yesterday (and you can too by following the link) where he claims his high-level Pac-10 sources have told him repeatedly that Nebraska to the Big Ten “almost assures that the Pac-16 is going to happen.”

So, once Nebraska officially announces they are going Big Ten today as expected, things could really fall in place, you know, like this:

That said, believe it or not but today’s post is really another one of those spring Fish Wraps, where we continue to look at 2010 opponents on the WSU schedule.  This so-called “show” must go on, right? 

Anyway, after looking at Oregon last week, we are now on to the second half of the 2010 WSU schedule.  The Arizona Wildcats steam into Pullman as opponent number seven this season for Dad’s Weekend on October 16th.  How are things right now down Wildcat Way?  Let’s see….

After a long drought that began after the 1998 Holiday Bowl, a drought that saw the Wildcats wander around the desert for a decade of futility, Arizona finally made it out alive and well. They kicked down the door in ’08, getting back to the postseason and beating BYU in the Vegas Bowl.  But things really appeared to solidify after another nice run last year, where AZ even briefly flirted with the Pac 10 title before falling by the wayside.  But are they REALLY back to relevancy, ala their strong run in the mid-to-late 90’s?  I mean two winning seasons in a row is nice and all, but it doesn’t exactly spell out contender in the grand scheme of things, does it? 

It has to be said that Mike Stoops does have the look of running a stable, competitive program.  Sure, the start was disapponting with Stoops, and the patience was thin early on.  AZ was 3-8 in both 2004 and 2005, before saving his job with a six-win ’06 season.    

In this instant gratification universe where you and I currently reside, the idea of four straight non-post season appearances would be the end of the road for numerous BCS head coaches.  But amidst the storm,  the AZ admins hung in there with Stoops, believing he was “building this thing the right way”.  The right way consisted of solid recruiting classes, cobbled together amongst the losing seasons, and all the while creating depth while building a new culture of competitive football……hmmm, sound familar Coug fans??? 

Anyway, kudos to AZ for sticking with the guy they believed would get them exactly where they wanted to be.  It wasn’t easy, of course.  But they had a plan and hung in there, and now they have a legit Pac-10 football program with real hopes of contending for an upper-division finish.

2009:  8-5, 6-3 in the Pac 10.  As mentioned above, they got their “flirt on” with the Pac-10 contention, but some late losses bumped them out of the way.  They had some really difficult games to swallow, including the phantom int-for-td at UW when a pass attempt hit the foot/turf of AZ wide receiver Delashaun Dean. 

I know the play was reviewed, and they upheld the call that it was an interception….but whatever.  The refs are human beings.  As we learned during the Jim Joyce MLB blown call of Armando Galarraga’s perfect game, even in the biggest moments people make mistakes. 

AZ also lost a toughie at home, in a wild double-OT, 44-41 loss to Oregon that could have gone either way.  The season ended with a major thud however, an embarrassing 33-0 loss to Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl that wasn’t even as close as the final score.  Arizona would muster just six first downs and 109 total yards in a nightmare game, where the Cornhusker D dominated in every conceivable way. 

LAST TIME vs. WSU:  It was blowout-city in Tempe, as the Wildcats busted out of the gates with a 24-0 first quarter lead, then 34-0 at the half.  They would eventually go up 48-0 in the fourth quarter before the Cougs got a TD pass from Marshall Lobbestael to Jared Karstetter in the last six minutes, as the Cougs were dominated for the bulk of the game. 

AZ would own a 471-185 advantage in total yards, holding WSU to just eight first downs and 1-for-10 on third downs.  Oh yeah, Jeff Tuel would hurt his knee in this game and would be lost for the season.  Ugly, ugly game from a Coug point of view.

ARIZONA FANS ARE:  Happy with the last couple of years, no doubt about it.  Back-to-back eight win seasons are nice, especially when you consider where they’ve been – Arizona didn’t have a winning season from ’99 – ’07, a long, tough stretch of futility.  But that Holiday Bowl bid was nice last year.  And they have rung up some legit victories the last couple of seasons, including the beating of USC and Stanford last year, as well as Cal and BYU in ’08. After a bumpy start, the fans are ready to see where this thing can go under Stoops.

’09 OFFENSIVE RANKINGS:  Arizona was kinda/sorta middle of the road in most offensive categories last year.  They were 5th in the Pac-10 in scoring offense, at just over 27 points per game.  They were 6th in the Pac-10 and 58th in the country in total offense, averaging 384.5 yards per game.  They were 3rd in the conference and 48th in the country in passing offense, at 225.2 yards per game.  Finally, they were 5th in the Pac-10 and 52nd in the nation in rushing, with 159.4 yards per game on the ground. 

However, it must be said that the offense didn’t really take flight until Nick Foles took over at QB.  Foles didn’t even start until the end of September, but he led an upset of Oregon State in Corvallis in that first-ever start. 

OFFENSIVE SYSTEM:  Even with the departure of Sonny Dykes from the offense, Arizona should still roll with the spread/multiple passing offense that has been their deal the last several years.  They will go with co-offensive coordinators this year, but things should stay relatively the same.

2010 RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS:  Arizona welcomes back ten starters from a deep, potentially high-octane offense for 2010.

TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER:  There are some good ones back, including running backs Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin, plus top WR’s like Juron Criner, who led the team with nine TD catches last year.  But let’s roll with the trigger man, Nick Foles.

Foles had quite a first year of starting in Tucson, where he threw for 2,486 yards and 19 TD’s in 10 starts in 2010.  Foles had some big games last year, including the win over Oregon State where he threw for three TD’s on the road.  But his biggest moment has to be the win over Stanford, where he was an amazing 40-for-51 for 415 yards and three TD’s in a 43-38 win over the Cardinal. 

Foles has great size at 6-5, 235, yet he doesn’t have the John Elway-type rocket of an arm.  But he is quick and decisive in the Arizona offense.  And best of all, the guy doesn’t make a bunch of mistakes!  In over 400 passing attempts last year (409), he threw just nine interceptions.  With so much offensive talent coming back in ’10, Foles should contend for all-conference honors.  It’s not hard to put him high up in the Pac-10 QB hierarchy, right with the Andrew Luck’s and Jake Locker’s of the conference.

DEFENSIVE SCHEME: An aggressive 4-3, Arizona is a tough, physical defensive team.  But like the offense, they also lost their defensive coordinator, as Mark Stoops has left the program for Florida State.  But again like the offense, the schemes should stay roughly the same.

’09 DEFENSIVE RANKINGS:  A top 25 team in total defense, giving up 322 total yards per game.  29th in the nation against the run (120.5 yards per game), and 33rd in the country in pass defense (201.5 yards allowed).  They were also 23rd in the country in sacks, averaging 2.62 per game.

2010 DEFENSIVE RETURNING STARTERS:  Just four return from last year’s team, as they lose two starters on the line, the entire trio of starting linebackers, and two members of the secondary.

TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER:  Some good ones to pick from here, as Trevin Wade at corner is back after leading the team in interceptions (5).  But in terms of big-play influence, and the trickle-down of what this guy can do up front, let’s go with defensive end Ricky Elmore. 

Elmore led the team in sacks last year, logging 10.5 of ’em from the defensive end position, good for second in the Pac-10.  Elmore teams with Brooks Reed on the opposite side of the defensive line, where Arizona might have the top pair of defensive ends in the conference coming back in ’10.  Elmore is the whole package, 6-5, 250 and relentless off the edge.  He was hard to handle for WSU last year, with two sacks and constantly living in the Cougar backfield for most of the game.  With all the losses on the Arizona defense for the upcoming season, they are going to need whatever Elmore can provide in his final season in Tucson.

TOP THREE POST-SPRING QUESTIONS:

1)  AZ’s OFFENSE LOOKS GREAT, BUT WHAT ABOUT THAT D? It’s got to be concern number one coming out of spring, doesn’t it?  When you have a top-25 type defense, and you lose not just the seven starters but also the defensive leader in Mark Stoops, there are bound to be worries over what they will look like on the defensive side of the ball.  But Mike Stoops is picking up the slack, as he will be heavily involved in running the defense.  They are rolling with co-D-coordinators at Arizona, something Stoops is familiar with in his past (he was a co-DC at Kansas State).  Now schemes and coordinators and all that are great.  But, as we are all too familiar around these parts, more times than not it’s the talent on the field that makes the difference, not who’s wearing the headset on the sidelines or up in the box.  Having Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore back at defensive end will be a big boost to the pass rush.  But when you lose both of your starting defensive tackles, as well as your starting linebackers, there could be some very nervous moments for the D early on this season!   Arizona is going the JC route for some immediate help at linebacker, but you can expect teams are going to try to challenge them, early and often and right up the middle.  We’ll see if the new blood is up to the task.

2)  SO HOW GOOD IS THE O-LINE? Based on how things look on paper, it should be REALLY good.  While Arizona had some shining moments last year on offense, and the skill guys get the pub, but there should be little concern about the offensive line.  They return four starters up front, losing just one starter in left tackle Mike Diaz.  And, they are led by an all-conference candidate at center in Colin Baxter, a second-teamer last year who could be on some All-American short lists before it’s all said and done.  They were excellent in pass protection last year, giving up just 13 total sacks, tied with Oregon for second-best in the conference and 10th overall in the country. 

3)  AND THE USUAL SCHEDULE QUESTION? Not bad.  Phil Steele ranks them with the 40th-most-difficult schedule in the country.  Not exactly soft, but certainly not a scary slate of games.  And they get seven home games, including four of their first five in Tucson.  The highlight is a return trip by Iowa, as Arizona will be out for revenge after a difficult 27-17 loss on the road last year.  They do have to go to Stanford and Oregon, but have just the four Pac-10 road games.  From an Arizona perspective, overall you have to be happy with the 2010 schedule!

WSU FOOTBALL BLOG SEZ DOT-DOT-DOT…..Speaking of the schedule, Arizona has been pretty good at home.  Arizona is now 14-5 at home since 2007, their best stretch of home wins since the mid-1990’s…..Arizona is especially deep at the skill positions.  They do lose wide receiver Terrell Turner, who led the team with 48 catches, but they bring back the next five receivers from last year’s total, losing just one of their top six overall from 2009.  And in the running game, the top four rushers are back from last year.  It’s hard to imagine any other Pac-10 team bringing back the quality – and quantity – of offensive skill guys like Arizona’s…..One other concern about Arizona’s defense is the possible lack of turnovers created.  Arizona had just 19 takeaways total last year, eighth in the Pac-10. While they bring back Trevin Wade, they do lose Devin Ross, who led the Pac-10 with 12 passes broken up at corner.  Ross was a force in the secondary last year, also logging 61 tackles.  He will be missed…..If it seems like WSU always struggles with Arizona, you’re right.  The Cougs have lost the last four to the Wildcats, and WSU hasn’t beaten Arizona since 2004, in a wild, comeback victory when Josh Swogger hit Jason Hill for a TD in the final minute of the game.  Overall, Arizona is now 24-13 vs. WSU all-time, one of only three Pac-10 schools where Arizona owns an all-time winning record.…..Recruiting has been, well, not spectacular the last few years.  Arizona has ranked 39th, 47th, 39th and 49th the last four years, per Scout.com.  But Stoops had a lot of success before that, signing the 15th ranked class in ’05 and the 19th ranked class in ’06, so it’s not hard to see why the team is coming off back-to-back eight-win seasons.  The ’06 class should be the foundation of the 2010 season.  Brooks Reed, Delashaun Dean, Ricky Elmore, and Colin Baxter are all the leaders for the upcoming season, all part of that ’06 class.  And they also had guys like Devin Ross and Terrell Turner who have now departed, but were big contributors as the highlights of that second-best-ever class for Stoops…..Some of the top web stops for all things Arizona include AZStarnet.com, from the Arizona Daily Star; the TucsonCitizen.com’s Wildcat Report; GoAzCats.com, part of the Rivals/Yahoo network; WildcatScoup.com, from Scout; and finally, ArizonaDesertSwarm.com, part of SB Nation.

All for now.  Happy Friday, and GO COUGS!

More Sports

10hr

  A quick snapshot at the week that was.   Biggest Upset: Saul Sanchez +230 over Ja’Rico O’Quinn (…)

More WSU Football Blog