Nov. 22, 2010
Complete Game Notes (PDF)
No. 20 Arizona (7-3, 4-3 Pac-10) at No. 1 Oregon (10-0, 7-0 Pac-10)
Live TV Broadcast: ESPN Television Talent: Brad Nessler (play-by-play); Todd Blackledge (analyst); Holly Rowe (sideline)
UA English Radio: Wildcat Radio Network (Brian Jeffries, play-by-play; Lamont Lovette, color; Dana Cooper, sideline)
Satellite Radio: SIRIUS 122, XM 143 (Oregon radio call)
National Radio: Westwood One (Wayne Larrivee, play-by-play; James Lofton, analyst)
Some Game Themes
The Cats play a No. 1 Oregon team for the first time, and get a crack at the top-ranked team for the first time in five years... Arizona ventures into 2010's college-football Hades, the open pit in Eugene where teams get skewered and fed to the crowd... The Wildcats try to make the BCS go back to the drawing board by taking down a celebrated choice for Jan. 10... UA's defense lines up for its shot at the nation's offensive juggernaut and one of the top rushing squads -- a thorn in the Cats' side the past two games... UA's introduction to play-clock disregard by the boys in green (black, yellow or ?)... The series has been a late-November affair for five years including this season, hence more jockeying for bowl-destination talking points. UA has a potential third-place league finish in sights, while a Ducks' victory wraps up no worse than New Year's in Pasadena... The Cats offer up playmakers like Nick Foles, Matt Scott, Keola Antolin and Juron Criner -- and see how they can handle electrifying Ducks in Darron Thomas, LaMichael James and Cliff Harris, among others: there will be some big plays in the game... Arizona and Oregon both come off bye weeks, which in the Wildcats' case should bring back some helpful bodies like Matt Scott, Nic Grigsby and others...
The Wildcats enjoyed a bye week Nov. 20. In the last game, Southern California earned a solid victory, 24-21, over Arizona in Tucson, employing the establish-the-run/stop-the-run strategy. Arizona outgained the Trojans with a decent output, 404 yards, but left a couple of scoring opportunities on the field and gave the boys from Troy a 22-yard field with one of its two turnovers. USC ran the ball 46 times for 205 yards and a pair of scores, while Matt Barkley threw for another in a controlled outing (21-for-35, 170 yards). UA's Nick Foles completed 67 percent of his passes, 32-for-48, for 353 yards and three scores, but it wasn't enough. The Cats took the opening kickoff and drove for six minutes to the USC 15-yard line, where they stalled and then missed a 34-yard field goal attempt. USC then drove 80 yards in 10 plays for the opening touchdown, and then Foles' fumble set the Trojans up for a 4-play drive to make it 14-0. The Cats responded with an 80-yard drive to cut the lead in half, but then USC showed its mettle with a 17-play march of 9:02 to push the lead back up to two scores. UA again answered with an 80-yard drive to make it 21-14 at the half. The Cats opened second-half play with a defensive stop and then took the ball to the USC 13-yard line. A false start pushed it back and on 3rd-and-16 David Douglas fumbled after a catch and lost the ball at the USC 19 to spoil a second red zone try. USC again took time off the clock, driving for six minutes to set up a field goal that proved to be the margin of difference. The Cats had the only fourth-quarter score, on a hurry-up drive late in the game, but could not execute an onside kick for a final try at victory. Marc Tyler's 160 rushing yards keyed the USC assault. UA wasted Foles' evening, as well as receiver Terrence Miller's career-best seven-catch, 116-yard outing, and two TD grabs by Douglas on a 6-44 outing. Playing from behind, the Cats' running game, normally effective, suffered with only 13 attempts by RBs and net rushing of only 52 markers. The victory lifted USC into a tie with UA for third place in the Pac-10 standings at 4-3 and 7-3 overall.
Arizona - Mike Stoops (Iowa '86), seventh year (40-42) at UA and overall as a head coach. Stoops returned Arizona from a 2-10 program the year before his arrival to the national rankings in his tenure, and has taken the Wildcats to successive bowl games to close the decade. He's working on a 23-13 mark from 2008 onward. His Arizona clubs have beaten a ranked team each of his years in the red and blue including this year's victory over No. 9 Iowa. His recruiting and player development programs have put talent back on the field and sent more than a dozen players to the professional ranks via the draft or free agency in the past four years. He has coached national award winners and a combined 28 All-Pacific-10 players. Arizona football attendance has been a positive feature of a home-field advantage under Coach Stoops, with crowds averaging 93 percent of capacity each of his six seasons at Arizona Stadium and three sellouts this year. Arizona's football team APR checked in with an improved mark each of the five seasons since his inaugural year. Stoops is 2-4 against Oregon including a victory over the No. 2-ranked Ducks in Tucson in 2007 and a victory in Eugene in 2006. Oregon - Chip Kelly (New Hampshire '90), second year at Oregon (20-3) and second year overall as a head coach. Kelly, has a remarkable 15-1 record in Pac-10 games in his two years, hence his reigning Pac-10 Coach of the Year status. He joined the Oregon staff as offensive coordinator (2007-08) under Mike Bellotti after serving as OC and quarterbacks coach at New Hampshire from 1999 through 2006. He began his coaching career at Columbia in 1990 coaching on defense, returned to his alma mater as running backs coach in 1992, was defensive coordinator at John's Hopkins in 1993 and then coached RBs and OL at New Hampshire before taking over coordination duties.
Versus No. 1
Arizona has played the top-ranked team in the Associated Press poll eight times previously -- USC in 1981, Washington in 1982, Washington in 1984, UCLA in 1988, Miami in 1992, Washington in 1992, USC in 2004 and USC in 2005. The Cats pulled off victories against USC in 1981 under the late Larry Smith and beat Washington under former coach Dick Tomey in 1992. Mike Stoops' first Arizona team lost to No. 1 USC, 49-9, in 2004, and to top-ranked USC a year later, 42-21. Stoops' next-highest ranked opponent was the No. 2 Oregon Ducks in 2007 -- a game Arizona won, 34-24, in Tucson..
Slip and Slide
The Wildcats confirm this week whether their recent slippage in national defensive rankings is due (as some contend) to the November slate of upper-division and well-regarded offensive clubs (as opposed to some October schedule weakness in that area). In other words, Oregon -- the nation's top scorer, top six rushing and total offensive unit -- will show whether Arizona plays defense.
Don't Forget the 'D' in Ducks
The Cats face off on offense against a team that many overlook is a Top 25 defensive unit, notably strength-to-strength with a No. 5 pass efficiency defense. In fact, Oregon has better defensive numbers than Arizona in every category except rushing defense (UA leads 112 ypg to UO's 126 ypg) and the clubs have played six common opponents so far this year. Many numbers make the game a nice-looking match:
Arizona - vs. - Oregon
No. 10 pass offense vs. No. 22 pass defense
No. 78 rushing vs. No. 25 rush defense
No. 20 total offense vs. No. 15 total defense
No. 20 total defense vs No. 2 total offense
No. 14 rushing defense vs. No. 6 rushing offense
No 45 pass defense vs. No. 35 pass offense
No. 12 scoring defense vs. No. 1 scoring offense
No. 49 scoring offense vs. No. 11 scoring defense
Throwing the Ball Efficiently
...Is something Arizona has been doing pretty well in 2010. The historical best for Arizona's pass efficiency rating during the Pac-10 years was the 1998 team's 147.49 mark. This year the team carries a 148.67 into the final three games, helped by backups Matt Scott (151.7) and Bryson Beirne (221.4) behind eight-game starter Nick Foles (146.4). Keys this year are a reasonably low interceptions total (8) and a team completion rate of 71 percent. The average game: 20 completions in 28 attempts, for 300 yards and two touchdowns. Workable numbers if you can toss in 143 rushing yards and two more scores on the ground (the Wildcat average.)
Running the Ball Effectively
Arizona has had some solid outings in the ground game in 2010, notably 200-yard games against Citadel, Washington and UCLA, when it ran the ball a combined 131 times. It also kept at it against WSU, running 47 times for 142 yards and three scores, and against Stanford, rushing 31 times for 166 yards and a score. Against the Huskies UA scored four rushing TDs (two each by Keola Antolin and Nic Grigsby) in 43 carries for 234 yards. Against UCLA the season-high 52 rushing attempts netted a season-high 264 yards. UA had a season-high 5.9 yards per tote against The Citadel and 5.4 marks against UW and Stanford. Moving the ball against the Cardinal (414 total yards) wasn't a problem; getting into the end zone was. Ditto for the USC contest (404 total yards) and the OSU loss (541 yards). In fact, in its three losses the Cats had 1,359 yards, 75 first downs and a third-down rate of 24-for-43 (56%). But, UA was -2 in turnovers in those games, had 20 total penalties, minus 41 minutes in time of possession and a 6-for-11 red zone rate. Ouch.
Step by Step
Under Mike Stoops Arizona has returned from a 2-10 disaster in 2003 (the year before his arrival) to a contender, with back-to-back 8-5 bowl seasons in 2008 and 2009. A third consecutive bowl appearance comes in 2010, accomplished only once previously at UA by Dick Tomey's 1992-94 clubs with appearances in the Sun (lost to Baylor, 20-15), the Fiesta (Jan. '94, beat No. 10 Miami 29-0) and the Freedom Bowl (lost to Utah, 16-13). Where the Cats go this year depends on their finish against Oregon and ASU, with a number of other factors also in the mix. Whatever. Another victory would give Arizona eight regular-season victories for the second consecutive year and give it a chance at improving over 8-5. Everyone in the program feels the progress, now it's a matter of putting that consciousness to work on the field.
Arizona placed five student-athletes on the 2010 Pacific-10 Conference All-Academic Football Teams last week including first-team honors for sophomore linebacker Jake Fischer, senior safety Anthony Wilcox and junior kicker John Bonano. Earning second-team nods were linebacker R.J. Young and safety Adam Hall. Four Cats earned honorable mention -- junior quarterback Nick Foles, senior tight end A.J. Simmons, redshirt freshman tight end Jack Baucus and junior receiver David Roberts. Roberts earned second-team honors in 2008 and Young repeats from second-team honors a year ago. The Cats' five first- or second-team honors matched its historical high from 2008.
Crowing about Criner
Junior receiver Juron Criner's 64 receptions and 982 yards have him poised for a chart-changing season. He's sixth in UA history in single-season catches and sixth in single-season receiving yards. With three games to play, by hitting his highly rated national averages of 6-plus catches and 98 yards per game, he could potentially reach No. 3 or 4 in both categories. In terms of longevity, he's currently tied (Charlie McKee 1969-71) for No. 10 on UA's career chart with 1,652 yards and is No. 8 on the career chart with 116 career snags.
Crying about Crier
Senior punter Keenyn Crier momentarily lost his four-year job in the second half against USC when his first kick of the game was a line drive returned to midfield. Place kicker Alex Zendejas took over for the final two punts of the game and did about as well as a placekicker might do. Crier, the first-team all-Pac-10 punter as a redshirt freshman in 2007, has never been pushed since and maybe that's what special teams coordinator Jeff Hammerschmidt was doing by pulling him. He's the Cats leader with 48 starts, one ahead of center Colin Baxter. He had been knocking it pretty well this year (41.3), but consistency has plagued him (along with coverage) and UA checked out of the SC game rated 92nd nationally in net punting at 34.2 yards per exchange.
What might Oregon do if it had some tape (it does) of Arizona's last two games, both losses? RUN THE BALL. The Ducks do it as well as anyone, anyway. Stanford and USC saddled up and got some vanilla going, toting the pigskin a combined 91 times for a combined 422 yards. That dropped UA's rushing defense from sixth nationally down to 15th in eight days' time. Andrew Luck pretty much did what he wanted, also throwing for 299 yards, whereas UA did a decent job in the secondary holding Matt Barkley to a modest 177 total through the air. Tendencies aside, football's a game of emotions as well as execution, so if the Cats can find a way to stop some things the first couple of times, Moe Mentum could show up on their sideline. Happens every week all over the place, even against No. 1.
Staring at the Standings
Arizona needs a victory to guarantee it a third- or fourth-place finish in the Pac-10, which would give it its best two-year stretch (2nd last year) since the 1993 team tied for the championship and the '94 club finished second... The Cats' bowl destination hinges on not only Oregon's and Stanford's quest for the BCS but also how Oregon State - an early October winner in Tucson - fares against Stanford and Oregon in the coming weeks... Arizona was picked for fifth place by Pac-10 media in its August preseason poll.
The game in Autzen this week is Arizona's last Pac-10 road game. Ever. Done. No longer. Pac-12 play commences next year with the addition of Utah and Colorado to the conference. Oregon will visit Tucson next year on Sept. 24 for inter-divisional play, and the two teams also will meet each year from 2012-14 before the eight-year schedule model causes two years of misses between the clubs. A couple of other last league-affiliation road games for Arizona were a Border Conference tilt at UTEP in 1960 (Cats won 28-14) and a WAC game at Arizona State in 1977 (ASU won 23-7).
Starters by the Classes
The Wildcats' 2010 starting lineup has included six skill-position juniors and a senior offensive line. Defensively the Cats' primary starting group included three senior defensive linemen, a redshirt freshman DT, two juniors and a soph at linebacker, and a secondary with senior safeties and two junior corners. Basically it boils down to Arizona projecting to return six starters on offense and six on defense in 2012. Based on what's happened at Arizona in the past four years, that's a good ratio. Younger players have supported the top guys primarily at the skill positions on offense, at defensive tackle, linebacker and in the secondary on defense. . UA has been holding "JV" scrimmages during practice in recent weeks with an eye toward the future, notably in the early stages of re-tooling the offensive line. That will be a primary focus in spring ball.
Arizona has clinched a spot in a bowl game for the third-consecutive season, something the school has done just one other time. The last time the Cats tripped to the postseason in three-straight years was from 1992-1994. The '92 squad started the streak with an appearance in the John Hancock Bowl, which was followed up by the 1993 club's Fiesta Bowl season and the 1994 team's Freedom Bowl berth. This year's Cats will follow up holiday travels to Las Vegas (Las Vegas Bowl, 2008) and San Diego (Holiday Bowl, 2009). The only thing left to determine this season is the destination, which certainly hinges on UA's outcomes against Oregon and Arizona State, as well as a handful of other league outcomes to determine the bowl pecking order.
One thing all teams strive to do against Oregon is weather the early storm of facing the high-tempo offense and attacking defense in person. For the Wildcats, focus on early performance is even more critical given recent outcomes. In the Cats' last six games, they have yielded a score on opposing team's opening drive five times. Worse, UA's offense has scored just once on its opening drive in those six games with three punts, a fumble and a blocked field goal. The total difference is a 35-7 deficit for Arizona over the six games after each team touches the ball for the first time. No matter the case this week, the Cats certainly don't want a repeat of their 2008 start in Eugene, when they found themselves trailing 14-0 just 1:32 into the game. Should be interesting to see what happens. Perhaps Arizona is due for a fast start of its own.
As a true freshman, Keola Antolin turned in a sensational effort as he helped engineer a remarkable second half comeback against the Ducks in Eugene. Arizona trailed 48-17 early in the second half before it stormed back to trail by three points in the fourth quarter, 48-45. A key to that rally was Antolin's three fourth-quarter rushing touchdowns. He nearly factored into another key play, as UA elected to go on fourth down with under four minutes remaining in the game and the ball near midfield. However, a fourth-and-three swing pass went off Antolin's hands (he had room in front to easily gain the first down). It was an oh-so-close attempt at a one-for-the-ages comeback. For Antolin, his 20-carry, 87-yard day was highlighted by four touchdown runs in the game. His 24 individual points tied for third-most in a game for a Wildcat in program history, trailing two stellar outputs (25 and 32 points) by the Cactus Comet (Art Luppino) in the 1950s.
Not-So-Hot Red Zone
If Arizona wants to knock off No. 1 Oregon this week, then it has to convert in the Red Zone. It was an area that Arizona wanted to improve in this season after a so-so effort a season ago when it scored on 75-percent of its trips, but just 50-percent touchdowns (27 touchdowns in 54 red zone opportunities). This year, the Wildcats have seen the overall scoring percentage drop to 73-percent, but the touchdowns rate has gone up to 58-percent. That may sound like some slight improvement, but there is an alarming trend. In UA's last three games (1-2 record), the Cats have scored on 9-of-14 red zone trips (64.2 percent), but have touchdowns on just four opportunities (42.8 percent). On the season, Arizona ranks No. 111 in the nation with its 73-percent red zone scoring percentage. Not good.
Arizona's average total offense of 44.5 yards per game would check out at 3rd-best in school history if it held up. The current top two marks are by the same basic team -- 472 by the 1999 Wildcats and 444.9 by the 1998 Wildcats. They were led by receivers Dennis Northcutt and Jeremy McDaniel, running backs Trung Candidate and Kelvin Eafon and quarterbacks Keith Smith and Ortege Jenkins -- and some hell-raising defense that kept giving them the ball.
Grigsby Moving Up
Arizona senior tailback Nic Grigsby scored twice against Washington, pushing his career rushing touchdown total to 28, moving him in to sole possession of the No. 2 spot on the school's career rushing touchdown chart. UA's all-time leader is Art Luppino, who had 44 scores from 1953-56. So No. 2 is all the further he can realistically climb before his career wraps up in the next five - and hopefully six - games. He remains 153 yards shy of reaching the 3,000-yard milestone for his career, something accomplished by only five players in program history. Grigsby missed the final three quarters at UCLA after injuring an ankle. He played just one snap at Stanford and did not play against USC. He is expected to be back to full strength this week.
The Matt Scott Factor
Arizona has been without backup quarterback Matt Scott the last two games (at Stanford, vs. USC) after the junior injured his wrist in the UCLA game. The timing was good from the standpoint that Nick Foles was set to return the following week, by Scott, who started two games in place of the injured Foles, proved that he brings a special element to the Arizona offense. In two starts against Washington and UCLA, Scott combined to complete 45-of-58 pass attempts (72.4 percent) with three touchdowns and one interception. That checks out to an impressive 165.98 pass efficiency rating. Not to mention, he added 136 rushing yards on 19 total carries. Arizona averaged 525 yards and 36.5 yards per game in those two starts. Even in a limited role, he may be called upon to make a few situational plays for the Cats from here on out.
More Senior defensive end Ricky Elmore is following up a sensational junior season in grand style. Through nine games, Elmore leads the Pac-10 with 8.0 sacks on the season. Elmore's 0.80 sacks per game tally is currently No. 15 in the nation. The 6-foot-5 senior led the Pac-10 in sacks during the regular season a year ago with 11.5, and he's on pace to do so again. In 2010, the 6-foot-5, 250-pounder has 38 total tackles, including 10.0 for loss. He has 22.5 career sacks, which are eight-most for active players in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision. He ranks tied for No. 5 in UA history for sacks. Should he average one sack per game over the final three games, he would move past David Wood (25 sacks) into No. 2 on UA's all-time sacks list. Of course, Tedy Bruschi is the school record holder with 52, more than double anyone else on the list.
Throw It and It's Caught
Arizona throws the ball about 35 times a game and enters week nine completing 71.2 percent of its passes, the second-best mark for a team in the nation (behind Northwestern's 71.5). The current rate would hammer the school record of 64.6 put up by the club just a few years ago in Willie Tuitama's (64.9%) senior campaign and Matt Scott's (63.6%) true freshman year. Nick Foles (71.0), Scott (70.3) and Bryson Beirne (100.0) have found some open guys who haven't wasted the opportunities.
Cats in the Pac
Arizona's 6-3 mark in the Pac-10 in 2009 was its best since 1998 and is the third six-win Pac-10 season in program history. With UA's 4-3 start this season, the Wildcats have 18 victories in their last 29 conference games, dating to the last four games of the 2007 season. That 18-11 record is swell, but most of losses have been close as well, leaving the Cats within a few plays of a much better W-L record. UA has lost seven of the 11 games by three points or less (including the loss to USC two weeks ago).
Big Play Juron
Wide receiver Juron Criner turned in a breakout season as a sophomore a year ago when he emerged as UA's big-play threat on the outside. His 2010 debut, which included a 10-catch, 176-yard performance, showed he has taken further steps to becoming on of the nation's most outstanding receivers. The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder is on the Biletnikoff preseason watch list and should be on that list as it narrows down throughout the season. Here are some quick hits on Juron Criner:
Tied for No. 7 in UA history with 16 career receiving touchdowns
116 career receptions are No. 8 in UA history
No. 10 at UA with 1,652 career receiving yards
No. 8 in nation with 98.2 receiving yards per game in 2010
Career-highs of 64 catches for 982 yards in 2010
Game-winning TD catch vs. California with 1:11 remaining followed 51-yard reception.
Led Pac-10 receivers with nine (9) receiving touchdowns in 2009
10 of 16 (62.5 percent) career TD grabs have been 20+ yard plays
75 of 116 (65 percent) of career catches result in first down or TD
15.3 yards per catch on 64 receptions in 2010
Four 100-yard games in 2010 (five in career)
10-catch, 176-yard performance at Toledo 2010
12-catch, 152-yard effort against Stanford in 2009
12-catch, 179-yard (career hight) effort against Oregon State in 2010
Career-high three (3) touchdowns vs. Oregon in 2009
Foles Making a Name for Himself
Arizona junior quarterback Nick Foles continues to show why he is one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. An honorable mention all-league pick as a first-year starter in 2009. This summer, he was one of four QBs (Jake Locker, Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley) selected by the Pac-10 office to represent the league in East Coast media days in New York and at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn. Voted by teammates as a team captain, Foles kicked off his junior campaign in style with a record setting performance at Toledo and set what could set up to be a special junior campaign. Here are some quick hits on Nick Foles:
Preseason watch list for Davey O'Brien and Manning awards
Currently ranks No. 5 in nation for active career completion percentage (66.7%)
Currently ranks No. 3 in nation for active career completions per game (23.2)
Has thrown for 4,687 yards (No. 9 in UA history) in 21 career games (19 starts)
No. 8 in UA history with 32 career passing TDs
His 19 passing TDs in 2009 tied for fourth-most in a season at UA
63.41% completion percentage in 2009 No. 3 in UA history
Career-high 440 yards passing vs. Oregon State in 2010
Holds UA record for single game pass completion % for 30+ attempts (86.49% at Toledo, 2010)
Where Grigsby Stacks Up
Senior tailback Nic Grigsby has moved up to No. 2 on the UA career rushing touchdown chart (28) and No. 6 in school history with 2,847 career rushing yards. That total puts him No. 14 on the list of active players in the NCAA for career rushing yards. Grigsby needs 155 yards to become the school's sixth player to reach 3,000 career rushing yards. Against Oregon State this year, he became the eighth player in school history with 500 carries in a career. Here are some more quick hits on Nic Grigsby:
Currently stands as UA No. 6 rusher in school history with 2,847 yards
His 28 career rushing TDs is No. 2 in school history.
His 536 career rush attempts are sixth-most by a UA player
His 107 rushing yards against The Citadel marked his 11th career 100-yard game
Arizona is 10-1 in games he rushes for 100 yards or more.
Tied career high with three rushing touchdowns against The Citadel
Average of 5.3 yards per carry in career, including 5.7 ypc since start of 2008.
Had 1,153 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2008
Reed Racking Up the Sacks
Senior defensive end Brooks Reed has returned to his dominating form showcased in his breakout 2008 season. Plagued by a high ankle sprain that forced him to miss several games in 2009, Reed has enjoyed a healthy 2010 season to date. He has 5.5 sacks through nine games, a mark that is second on the team and No. 3 in the Pac-10. Overall, the team co-captain has 33 tackles, including 7.0 for loss, on the season.
Vassallo Making a Name for Himself
Junior linebacker Paul Vassallo has quietly become one of the leaders on the UA defense. Vassallo has settled comfortably into his role has a nine-game starter after joining the program as a junior college transfer last December. He has a team-high 80 tackles (28 more than No. 2 Joseph Perkins), 5.5 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks. He was named the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week following a dominating 14-tackle performance against Washington on Oct. 23. He currently ranks No. 6 in the Pac-10 in tackles per game.
Ten For Trevin
Junior cornerback Trevin Wade snared his 10th career interception against Iowa on Sept. 18, which put him in a tie for No. 10 in the NCAA for career active leaders in interceptions. Amazingly, it was second career "pick-six" with both coming against the Hawkeyes (one in 2009). His 85-yard return against the Hawkeyes this year tied for the sixth-longest in school history. To date, he has 32 tackles, two pass breakups and one interception on the season. He was a preseason candidate for a handful of national honors, including the Jim Thorpe Award, the Bonko Nagurski award and the Bednarik Award.
Colin the Shots
UA center Colin Baxter returns for his final season in a Wildcat uniform and will undoubtedly be calling the shots on the offensive line. He has started 47-consecutive games along UA's line, providing stability at a position of need. In 2008, he was slid from guard to center mid-year after center Blake Kerley went down with a season-ending injury. Since, Baxter hasn't look back. He's a featured spokesman for the team, offering unique perspective acquired from his time in the trenches and his tireless work with the program on and off the field. He was named a team captain prior to the season for the second straight year and will make a final push for national honors at his position. An All-Pac-10 selection a year ago, Baxter is on the Outland Trophy and Rimington Award watch lists entering the season. Several mid-year lists by various publicists have him as an All-American candidate.
Old Man on the Block
Arizona graduate offensive tackle Adam Grant, who moves to the left side this year after a couple of years on the right, is an NCAA-approved sixth-year player thanks to some earlier medical problems that caused him to miss nine games as a sophomore (knee) and his redshirt freshman year in 2006 (knee). He also missed six games with a hand injury in 2008. Grant's tenacity and physical situation are at all-time highs. The 24-year-old religious studies student earned his degree two Mays ago. He's a 28-game starter in 30 overall appearances and one of the team's spokesmen on a variety of topics, notably perseverance. He initially was recruited as a tight end (redshirted 2005 in that role) but his big frame (now 6-foot-8, 325) was evident, and his future was a few feet closer to the ball from the onset of his career. His showcase game was likely against then-No. 9 Iowa on Sept. 18, when he went head-to-head with Adrian Clayborn, an All-American defensive end. Clayborn finished with just three tackles and was never a threat in the backfield on pass plays.
Mike Stoops' Program: The Last Four+ Years
When one thinks of Arizona football under Mike Stoops, they likely point to the early struggles in the first four years as he worked feverishly to rebuild the program followed by promising eight-win seasons the last two years. One thing that goes overlooked is the fact that, despite injuries to record-setting QB Willie Tuitama, the Wildcats posted a 6-6 mark in 2006 to achieve bowl eligibility on the heels of a pair of 3-8 seasons. While they didn't go bowling, the Cats had broken a stretch of six straight losing seasons for the program. The following year, Stoops brought in Sonny Dykes to overhaul the offense. While Arizona posted just a 5-7 mark in 2007, the offensive makeover was well underway and set the stage for breakout years in 2008 and 2009, as the Cats went bowling for the first time since 1998 in each season. Now, UA has winning overall and Pac-10 records the last four seasons and is bowl eligible with a 7-3 record again in 2010. Surely, having his systems firmly established and his recruits in place has benefitted Stoops' teams over the long haul. Here's a look at the last four seasons - three of which have been bowl-eligible campaigns - for Stoops' Wildcats as it relates to the previous four and seven year stretches of UA football:
UA is 26-14 in its last 39 games including a 18-11 mark in the Pac-10
UA is 16-5 at home over the last 21 games at Arizona Stadium
At least six wins in four of last five season (three-straight 7+ win seasons)
UA averaged just 4.0 wins per season over the previous seven seasons
UA is 11-10 on the road in the Pac-10 the last four years (won four straight Pac-10 games)
UA never won more than one road game in a season from 2002-05
Rushing Attack Intact
Arizona's running back trio of Nic Grigsby, Keola Antolin and Greg Nwoko has combined for over 4,000 career rushing yards. Through seven games this season, the current tally is 5,019 rushing yards, paced by Nic Grigsby's 2,847 yards, which places him No. 16 amongst active players in the NCAA for career rushing yards. Throw in Matt Scott's 622 career markers as a dual-threat quarterback, and you tally 5,641 career rushing yards ready to see the field at any time. Of course, UA's receivers are also threats on reverses and end-around plays, notably Travis Cobb, Terrence Miller and Juron Criner (50 rush yards at Stanford in 2010).
Rushing to Success
The spread offense has taken over college football in recent seasons and the Wildcats jumped on the bandwagon with Sonny Dykes and his staff in 2007. With it came a record-setting passing season for Arizona in 2007 and back-to-back eight-win seasons in 2008 and 2009. But the Wildcats have found their success most consistent in running the football, not tossing it around for 300-plus yards per game. Not coincidentally, a more consistent ground game the last few seasons has helped the Wildcats win more games. Consider this rush of facts:
Arizona is 8-9 in games when it passes for 300+ yards since the start of 2006
Arizona is 6-2 in games when its opponent throws for 300+ yards in a game since '06
Arizona is 26-8 in games when it rushes for 100+ yards in a game since `06
Arizona is just 13-21 in games when its opponent rushes for 100+ yards in a game since `06
Only five teams have beat UA when rushing for less than 100 yards since the start of `06
UA is 15-1 in the last 16 games when holding an opponent under 100 net rushing yards
Not to Be Offensive
Over the course of the last 47 games, Arizona has scored 15 non-offensive touchdowns (nearly every 3 games or so). In 2007 and 2008, the Wildcats scored on two punt returns and two interception returns in each season. In 2009 , Travis Cobb scored on a kickoff return (95 yards), Bug Wright returned a punt to the house (86 yards), Orlando Vargas blocked a punt and returned it for a score (23 yards), and defensive backs Trevin Wade (38 yards) and Robert Golden (79 yards) had pick-six's. This season, Trevin Wade (85 yards) returned an interception for a scored against Iowa, and Travis Cobb has a 100-yard kickoff return against the Hawkeyes. UA has gone seven straight games without a non-offensive touchdown this season.
Impressive Starting Debut
True freshman cornerback Shaquille Richardson made his first career start against Washington State, and he didn't disappoint. Filling in for the injured Trevin Wade, the Carson, Calif., native intercepted a pair of passes, broke up three additional passes and registered seven tackles - all solo - against the Cougars. He two picks in his first career start are the first for a Wildcat since current San Diego Charger Antoine Cason snared two against Northern Arizona in the season opener of his true freshman season of 2004. Interestingly, Cason and Richardson both hail from the same high school - Los Alamitos - and both wear the same number: No. 5. The man Richardson filled in for - Wade - also picked off two passes in his Arizona debut, but did so as a redshirt freshman and in a reserve role. Wade's pair of picks came against Idaho in the 2008 season opener.
Arizona's Mike Stoops has coached in 82 games in his seven-year tenure at the school. Of those, 31 of them (37.8 percent) have been decided by seven points or less, which discards a few eight-point decisions that could also be considered one-possession outcomes. Added up, Stoops is just 12-19 in the seven-point games. At the surface, that doesn't sound very good. But a deeper look reveals that his program has learned how to win close games, despite another tough loss to Oregon State on Oct. 10 (29-27) and against USC on Nov. 13 (24-21). Consider that UA has won last four of its last six contests decided by seven points or less. Prior to the recent string of success, Stoops' squads mustered just six wins in 21 games that were seven-point or less decisions. In even closer contests, Stoops' teams were 2-11 in games decided by a field goal or less.
Don't Confuse Your 2's
Arizona has a handful of regular players that share duplicate numbers. Perhaps the most troublesome for those high in the press box to identify is UA's pair of 2's. Junior running back Keola Antolin is the guy you'll see making the plays on offense in the running game and passing game, and he may make a foray onto a kick return team. His number-sharing teammate is a guy that will make plays on the side of the ball - Mike Turner. Turner is a speedster on special teams that is adept at creating big plays, particular in punt coverage. He has two forced fumbles on punt plays in 2010, and was the man who recovered a muffed punt against ASU in 2009 that set up UA's last-second game-winning field goal. He'll also be featured at cornerback in UA's dime packages in passing situations. Certainly a valuable multi-talented player who has been in the program for five seasons.
Don't Confuse Those 3's, 4's, 5's, 6's and 14's
A few other bothersome duplicate numbers to consider: The primary No. 3 for UA is senior safety Anthony Wilcox. Often an overlooked part of UA's defense, he's played steady in his six games this season, and he'll appear on a coverage team once in a while, too. The other No. 3 is running back Daniel Jenkins. He's an elusive runner who you'll mostly see on UA's kick return team as an upback. But he may field a short kick at some point ... The No. 4 is shared by quarterback Matt Scott and freshman defensive back Marquis Flowers. Scott will be easy to pick out when he's in the game on offense, but you'll find Flowers on several UA special teams units and in various defensive coverage packages throughout a game ... The No. 5 is shared by senior running back Nic Grigsby and freshman defensive back Shaquille Richardson. If you see a No. 5 in the game on defense or special teams, it's the talented corner Richardson, who is featured prominently in UA's dime defense and made his first career start at Washington State... The No. 6 is used by WR/KR Traivs Cobb and freshman DB Jonathan McKnight. On coverage teams and perhaps in the secondary is where you'll find McKnight ... Place kicker Alex Zendejas is the prominent No. 14 in kicking situations, but you'll find No. 14 Richard Morrison, an inside WR, on offensive plays and perhaps on some non-place kicking special teams units.
Arizona's success on the gridiron hinges greatly on its fortunes in the turnover battle, particularly on the road. Since the start of the 2006 season (56 total games), the Wildcats are an impressive 15-3 when they win the turnover battle in a game. Conversely, they struggle to a 6-14 mark in games when they lose the critical battle. The Cats linger just over .500 in games they split the turnover margin with a 13-9 mark. In multiple miscue games, Arizona is just 14-16 when it turns the ball over two or more times, but has benefitted with a 12-3 clip when opponents turn it over twice or more in a game. But perhaps the most notable statistical trend as it relates to turnovers is the fact that the Cats are 0-10 when they lose the turnover battle on the road. At the same time, UA is 12-4 away from the home when it wins or splits the turnover battle.
Moving the Chains
The Wildcats' offensive attack the last several years has been very good at moving the chains and keeping drives alive. A good game in this category includes accumulating 20 or more first downs in a game. When the Cats reach that mark, they are 17-7 over the last 37 games and 22-8 since the start of the 2006 season. At the same time, keeping opponents under that mark is critical, too. UA has captured 25 of its 34 victories over the last four years by keeping opponents under 20 first downs in a game. If UA gets 20 and keeps its opponents below that number in the same game, the Cats win better than 80-percent of the time (16-3 record).
Game of Possession
While not always the case, maintaining possession of the football is a sign that one's offense is moving the ball and its defense is doing a sound job controlling the opposing offense That has usually been the case for the Wildcats, although some quirky games (such as a 23:32 edge in possession at Oregon in 2008) skew TOP from being a perfect stat. Even so, Arizona is 25-7 since the start of 2006 when it has a positive margin in time of possession and struggles to just a 9-18 mark when its opponents keeps the ball longer. For games in which the opponent controls the ball four or more minutes longer than the Cats yields a 4-16 record for the Cardinal and Navy. When the tables are turned and UA has the four-plus minutes of possession, the Cats are 17-6.
Arizona will return home on short notice to host its final regular season game against rival Arizona State. Both teams play this Friday (ASU is at home against UCLA), and will square off in Tucson on Thursday, Dec. 2, for a nationally televised game on ESPN.