Aug. 15, 2008
2008 Fall Camp – The Arizona football team rebounding from a lackluster morning practice with a highly spirited evening workout on Thursday evening. From the beginning of practice to the final snap, it was clear that the coaching staff’s messages to the team earlier in the day had sunk in.
“This was a much better practice tonight,” head coach Mike Stoops told his team afterwards. “Our intensity and enthusiasm is what helped us have a great practice. There’s no excuse for us not to play with that focus and energy every time.”
After beginning the evening with the standard half hour of individual and group drills, the offense and defense came together for a 20 minute “middle” drill segment focused on running plays and quick, short passes. Each side met in its own spirited huddle without coaches in a display of enthusiasm missing earlier in the day. And while the evening drills were conducting without full pads, players played faster and harder.
During the “middle” drill, the offense showed its aggressiveness by utilizing its quick passing game to catch an over-anxious defense off guard at time. That included a Willie Tuitama pass to the sideline to Greg Nwoko, who slipped out of the backfield uncovered for a sizable gain downfield. On the next play, Tuitama aired a quick fade pass out to Derick Barkum down the opposite boundary for another gain.
Not to be outdone, the defense settled in shutting down several plays over the middle and limited UA’s ground game. Defensive end Ricky Elmore showed off his athleticism by batting down a Tuitama pass intended for an open receiver in the flats.
As the team moved on to its 7-on-7 skeleton period, Tuitama helped lead an offensive charge with his arm. The senior completed his first four passes, including a pair of nine yard gains to tight end Rob Gronkowski. On the fifth snap, Tuitama delivered a perfect pass to Nick Booth who slipped out of the backfield on a wheel route for a 27 yard gain. In all, Tuitama completed 9-of-12 attempts.
Freshman Matt Scott then took his turn behind center and was able to get the momentum going for the offense. After connecting on 6-of-8 attempts for 30 yards to start, Scott then began to look for the big play. On a play action call, Scott gave a quick pump fake, then lofted a pass over the defense to a streaking Juron Criner downfield for a 60 scoring play. On the next play, Scott found tight end A.J. Simmons open behind the defense for another 60-yard strike.
The defense returned the favor to the offense during the blitz period. Xavier Kelley broke through the line on the first play to team up with Earl Mitchell for a “sack” of Tuitama on the first play. Two plays later, pressure by D’Aundre Reed forced an early pass for an incompletion, before Hans Phillipp and Reed combined for another “sack”.
On the first play with Scott at the controls, Kelley came off the edge and broke up an attempted quick-hit play near the sideline. After a completion and an incompletion, Scott found Terrell Turner along the sideline for a pickup of 36 yards to end the drill.
The offense and defense battled back and forth during the team segment. Defenders Devin Ross and Zander Fabbri broke up Tuitama passes early, but the single-season record holder for passing yards was able to catch the defense off balance one play later. With the defense showing blitz and cornerback Marquis Hundley positioned to take away a crossing pattern, David Douglas sprinted up the left sideline and hauled in Tuitama’s pass for a gain of 32 yards.
Tuitama connected with Gronkowski for a 10 yard gain on the next play, before the defense again stepped up. Apaiata Tuihalamaka and D’Aundre Reed supplied pressure on a play that forced an incompletion, then Hundley got a bit of revenge by breaking up a pass on the next play.
As the Wildcats looked to close practice, the team worked on moving the ball in a hurry up offense starting at the 50 yard line. Vuna Tuihalamaka ended the first drive on fourth and two by breaking up a Tuitama pass that would have converted the first down.
The offense was able to convert on a fourth down play on the next drive, as Tuitama found David Roberts open for seven yards. The, four plays later, Delashuan Dean snagged a Tuitama pass for nine yards to convert another fourth and short sitation. However, the drive stalled out as the offense failed to convert on fourth and ten on the next set of downs.
The Wildcats will return to practice this morning, Friday, at 8:30 a.m. The players will wear only uppers again (shoulder pads and helmets.