Aug. 29, 2011
Northern Arizona @ Arizona
Date: Sept. 3 Time: 7 p.m. MST
Location: Tucson, Ariz. (Arizona Stadium -- 56,100)
Television Broadcast: FOX Sports Arizona, FCS Atlantic and KWBA-58
TV Replay: KGUN-9 10:35 p.m. replay
TV Commentators: Dave Sitton (pxp), John Fina (color analyst), Glenn Howell (sideline analyst)
UA Radio: Arizona Radio Network, 1290 AM Tucson
UA Radio Commentators: Brian Jeffries (pxp), Lamont Lovett (color analyst), Dana Cooper (sideline analyst)
UA Spanish Radio: 990 AM Tucson; Abelardo Oquito (pxp), Marco Rincon (color analyst)
Satellite Radio: SIRIUS 139
Live Webcast: www.arizonawildcats.com (All-Access)
Arizona-NAU Media Notes
Series Record: UA leads, 10-1
First Meeting: 1931 - UA 19, NAU 12 at Flagstaff, Ariz.
Last Meeting: 2009 - UA 34, NAU 17 at Tucson, Ariz.
Streak: UA has won nine straight games
Some Game Themes
College football's opening week finds Arizona at home against an old rival. The Cats and Jacks square off for the 12th time in a series dating to 1931... UA fights to maintain its dominance (10-1), with the lone loss coming 79 years ago in Phoenix (7-6 NAU victory in 1932)... Arizona plays its only '11 FCS opponent and the Lumberjacks play their lone FBS squad on the slate... Arizona honors candidates Nick Foles (QB) and Juron Criner (WR) take the field as the ringleaders of the Wildcat offense... The Cats get to test their new offensive line -- a group comprised of freshmen tackles, a sophomore guard and juniors at center and the other guard spot -- against a team that led the Big Sky in scoring defense, rushing defense and sacks... UA measures its own D against 1,000-yard runner Zach Bauman, among the nation's top 2010 freshmen in the FCS... NAU brings a senior kicker, Matt Myers, up for national honors (Mitchell Award)... The Wildcats have a Groza Award candidate in senior Alex Zendejas, but it will be juco transfer Jaime Salazar taking the first kicks after winning the job in camp... The UA unveils a sort of frontispiece to its football end zone project with the other end's dynamic new video board, installed in the last three months outside the south end of Arizona Stadium... A Wildcat team fights to get back in the left-hand column after closing the previous season with five tough losses, the worst losing streak since Mike Stoops'second UA club dropped an equal amount... It's a highly important game for Arizona, which enters a brutal stretch of FBS ball over the next six weeks...
Last Time Out
It's a brand new season and all that, but many Arizona players still might be cognizant of the last game played, a humbling 36-10 loss to Oklahoma State in the Valero Alamo Bowl. The Cowboys won 11 games and led the nation in total offense, but UA's ineffective offensive play -- six trips into OSU territory in the first half alone, with one score -- spelled much of the doom. Arizona held OSU to 72 rushing yards and a somewhat modest 312 total, but it wasn't enough defense to discourage the point scoring. The loss was UA's fifth consecutive and wrapped up the season at 7-6.
Arizona - Mike Stoops(Iowa '86), eighth year at Arizona (40-45) and overall as a head coach. Stoops had Arizona in the national rankings for 11 weeks in 2010 and has taken three consecutive teams to bowl games, matching the school's best string. His recruiting and player development programs have put talented players on the field, and solid citizens in the classrooms and community. He has coached national award winners and a combined 33 All-Pac-10 players at Arizona. His Arizona teams have beaten ranked teams each of his seven seasons in Tucson. Arizona's football attendance has flourished in his tenure averaging 53,155 per game, among the Pac-12's best of-capacity (93%) figures. Arizona's football APR mark has improved each of the past six years. He has developed 16 Arizona players selected in the NFL Draft. He was defensive coordinator at Kansas State and Oklahoma from 1996-2003 before his UA appointment and has been on the defensive side since his coaching start in 1986. Northern Arizona - Jerome Souers, 14th year at NAU (72-75) and overall as a head coach. His background is defense, with an eight-year run as coordinator at Montana preceding his NAU appointment in 1998. He was a finalist for the 2003 Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award with his best club (9-4).
It Means Nothing, But...
Arizona has officially entered new eras in its football season-opener history only five times, with No. 6 coming up Sept. 3 -- the first game as a member of the Pac-12 Conference. In 1899 the Cats began play for the very first time, and opened the season playing a club team, "Tucson Town," to a scoreless tie. In 1911 UA opened against a four-year institution for the first time, visiting New Mexico for a 6-0 victory. After three decades as an independent, UA's season opener as a member of the Border Conference came in 1931, with UA dropping a home game to San Diego State, 8-0. In 1962, the Cats began play in the Western Athletic Conference and opened the season with a 27-21 victory over Brigham Young in Tucson. In 1978 as a new member of the Pacific-10 Conference, Arizona opened the year with a 31-0 shutout of Kansas State in Tucson. That makes Arizona 3-1-1 in so-called new-era games during the 112 years since its first football game.
Arizona opens the season at home for the third time in the last four seasons (opened at Toledo in 2010), and the fifth time in Mike Stoops'eight seasons at Arizona ... The Cats have yet to lose a home opener under Stoops, defeating Central Michigan (2009), Idaho (2008), BYU (2006) and NAU (2004) ... UA has given up a grand total of eight (8) points over the last three season openers ... The Cats have outscored those foes 130-8 over the three games thanks in large part to 70-0 and 41-2 victories over Idaho and Toledo ... The last two times UA has opened a season at home, late-season monsoon thunderstorms have delayed the kickoff. On Aug. 30, 2008, the UA-Idaho game was suspended as soon as the teams lined up for the opening kickoff. UA won 70-0 after a 64-minute weather delay. On Sept. 5, 2009, the UA-Central Michigan contest was suspended 43 minutes after lightning in the area delayed kickoff. The Cats won 19-6.
Labor Day Weekend
The Labor Day weekend has been kind to UA football over the years when the Wildcats play at home. Since the college football season began opening on (or before) Labor Day weekend back in 1983, the Wildcats have played 13 home games on the holiday weekend. UA's record in those contests is 12-1, including 11 straight wins dating back to 1984. The school's only loss was to Fresno State back in 1984. More impressive, though, is the fact that the Cats have outscored opponents 433-89 over the 13 games. Additionally, UA has allowed an opponent to score double-digit points just twice in those games (27 to Fresno St. in 1984 and 13 to BYU in 2006). Traditionally the holiday weekend has resulted in a lower attendance figure since many local familes have used the time for one final summer vacation. But in the Mike Stoopsera, the Wildcats have averaged just under 52,000 fans at the four Labor Day weekend games, a nice increase over the school's 46,106 average mark in the 13 such games.
Mike Stoops altered his coaching staff in a variety of ways during the offseason. He hired Robert Anae from Birgham Young to coach the offensive line (replacing Bill Bedenbaugh), named Seth Littrell solo offensive coordinator (dropping co- duties with Bedenbaugh), hired Joe Salave'a to coach the defensive line after a stint at San Jose State to open his coaching career (replacing Mike Tuiasosopo), named Tim Kish solo defensive coordinator (dropping co- duties with Greg Brown), and promoted graduate assistant Ryan Walters to secondary coach (replacing Brown). Littrell switched from coaching RBs to mentoring tight ends, inside receivers coach Garret Chachere switched to coaching running backs, and outside receivers coach Dave Nichol took over all receivers. Former Wildcat QB Kris Heavner (2003-07) was named offensive graduate assistant in the spring after serving as an office video G.A. (replacing Matt Rice). Former Wildcats reserve offensive lineman Chris Hannon (2007-09) was named defensive graduate assistant in August (replacing Walters).
It's Water Under the Bridge
A few key offseason developments point to a few tasks facing the 2011 Wildcats. For one, three UA defensive ends -- Brooks Reed (Texans), Ricky Elmore (Packers) and D'Aundre Reed (Vikings) were picked in the NFL Draft. Spring ball and fall camp have shown seniors C.J. Parish and Mohammed Usman are ready to step up and take starting roles, with some depth behind them from soph Dan Pettinato and juco transfer Lamar De Rego. Center (49-game starter) Colin Baxter and left tackle Adam Grant signed free agent contracts with NFL teams, and those roles have been taken up by junior Kyle Quinn and redshirt freshman Mickey Baucus. Their linemates -- soph guard Chris Putton, junior guard Trace Biskin and redshirt freshman tackle Fabbians Ebbele -- also are new to starting roles and will plug holes left by journeymen Conan Amituanai, Jovon Hayes and Phillip Garcia. The new guys clearly are able; it's a matter of getting the experience. Of all nine of the 2011 men mentioned in this paragraph only Quinn has a start -- a fill-in job for rehabbing Baxter in the Alamo Bowl.
Other New Faces
Two new kickers could factor. Mid-year punter Kyle Dugandzic enters the opener as the top guy. August newcomer Jaime Salazar has been competing with Alex Zendejas for the top role as place kicker. Mid-year junior college transfer Drew Robinson, who missed most of spring ball with a minor injury, enters the season opener as the top tight end. His play and that of true freshman Michael Cooper allowed coaches to move 2010 backup Jack Baucus to tackle where depth is more of a premium. Along with the linemen, Robinson's the only probable new offensive starter. Redshirt freshmen Austin Hill, Garic Wharton and Tyler Slavin figure to get some action in the receiving corps along with redshirt transfer Dan Buckner (Texas). True freshman RB Ka'Deem Carey appears close to some rotation work behind or among a threesome in the backfield (Antolin, Jenkins, Butler). Mid-year juco transfer center Addison Bachman is working behind Kyle Quinn along with some other young "twos" on the OL -- OT Trent Spurgeon, OG Carter Lees, OG Eric Bender-Ramsay and OTs Jack Baucus and Shane Zink. On the other side of the ball a number of new guys appear to be in position for action -- redshirts Dan Pettinato (DE), Kirifi Taula (DT), Aiulua Fanene (DT), Sani Fuimaono (DT); juco linebacker David Lopez, true freshman linebackers Rob Hankins and Hank Hobson, true freshman DEs Dame Ndiaye and Reggie Gilbert, redshirt freshmen DBs Jourdon Grandon and Josh Robbins, and true freshmen DBs Tramayne Bondurant and Cortez Johnson. Grandon was the top nickel back for much of camp until a knee cartilage injury slowed him down; Bondurant has come on strong there. Another pair of likely new faces belong to junior long snappers Brian Chacon (FG/PAT) and David Highberger(punts). Dugandzic is the holder.
Bring It On
Prognosticators have taken a glance at Arizona's 2011 schedule - particularly the first month - and most have given the Wildcats little chance of early season success. Sure, after the season opener against the Lumberjacks, UA is set to face three straight preseason AP Top-10 teams. That's a daunting task for any squad. But it's not totally unusual territory for Mike Stoops'squads to face ranked teams in groups. In Stoops' inaugural season as head coach, the Wildcats played No. 17 Utah and No. 20 Wisconsin in consecutive weeks, before later playing No. 1 USC and No. 18 Arizona State in order to end the 2004 season. In 2005, Stoops' second UA team faced No. 12 Purdue, No. 12 California and No. 1 USC in three straight games. In 2006, the Cats wrestled away victories from No. 25 Washington State and No. 8 California in consecutive November games. In the 2007, UA closed the season with No. 2 Oregon and No. 13 Arizona State. In 2009, UA closed the regular season with a win over No. 20 USC, before facing then-No. 20 Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl three weeks later. So yes, should Oklahoma State, Stanford and Oregon all remain ranked in the Top 10 this year at the time of the games, it will be the first time the Cats have played a trio of Top 10 teams consecutively under Coach Stoops. But the Cats are used to playing tough competition by now.
It Won't Be The First Time
Arizona certainly has a tough slate of games lined up on its 2011 schedule. Most will point out preseason Top 10 clubs Oklahoma State, Stanford and Oregon as the primary reason the schedule is so tough. But ask any football coach, and they will tell you every game is tough. Certainly that's true this year for the Wildcats, whose opponents had a cumulative 89-60 (.597) record in 2010. That includes five teams that played in bowls - two in BCS bowls. Only four squads this year had a losing record a season ago, while four won at least 10 games. But the Wildcats are used to playing a tough schedule. In fact, three times in Mike Stoops'seven season at Arizona, the Wildcats have played one of the nation's top 10 toughest schedules. In 2004, UA played the third-toughest schedule in the country with opponents owning a 69-39 (.639) overall record. Two years later, the 2006 schedule checked in as the eighth-toughest in the nation with opponents holding an overall record of 76-50 (.603). And two years in 2009, The Cats played the seventh-toughest schedule in the nation as their opponents combined for an 83-55 (.601) overall record. Check back after the bowl season to see where the 2011 schedule stacks up nationally.
One More For Four
The 2011 Wildcats are seeking to do something that has never been done before in program history: earn a fourth straight bowl bid. Arizona has played in the Las Vegas (2008), Holiday (2009) and Alamo (2010) bowls the last three seasons, which has tied the 1992-94 teams for the best three-season stretch in school history. Interestingly, Arizona and Oregon are the only two Pac-10 teams that enter the Pac-12 era with three consecutive bowl appearances. Utah from the Mountain West adds a third such team with the new configuration of the conference. The Cats and Utes will battle four other schools for the Pac-12 South Division title and a berth in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game against the North Division winner on Sept. 3.
Arizona returns one of the deepest and most experienced receiving corps in the nation. Headlined by All-American candidate Juron Criner, the Cats return 485 career receptions for 4,889 yards to the 2011 roster. Criner accounts for 1,903 yards and 21 touchdowns, but seniors David Douglas (86-876) and Dave Roberts (89-912) are closing in on 1,000-yard careers, too. Add in sophomores Richard Morrison and Terrence Miller, along with Texas transfer Dan Buckner, and you have six reliable targets. Senior Gino Crump turned in an impressive preseason training camp and will see increased playing time from a year ago. This list doesn't even include redshirt freshmen targets Garic Wharton, Austin Hill and Tyler Slavin, or true freshman receiver Patrick Onwuasor, who showed he may be ready to play in camp. Plus, UA's running backs have always factored into the offense, evidenced by Keola Antolin's 51 receptions for 311 yards in his three seasons. Suffice it to say, Nick Folesor whoever else is under center will have plenty of options to throw to this season.
True Freshman Linebacking
It's probable that true freshman linebacker Rob Hankins could start the NAU game. Arizona's last true freshman starting linebacker was Spencer Larsen, in the fifth game of his first year at UA in 2002. He started the final six games and seven of the last eight alongside eventual Pro-Bowl stalwart Lance Briggs (Chicago Bears). Larsen, who took the next two years off on a Mormon mission before returning for three years in 2005-07, now toils as a combo back for the Denver Broncos. Hankins is among three newcomers vying for roles this year, joining fellow rookies Hank Hobson (freshman) and juco transfer David Lopez in helping build some depth on the middle level. Walk-on senior Bilal Muhammad returns after some play a year ago and also is competing for time. Seniors Paul Vassallo and Derek Earlsclearly are the vets in the corps and will be counted on heavily.
It's going to be difficult to keep track of which guy is which, owing to the onomastic similiarity of their names. Those are some confusing vowels. Go by No. 19 for Hobson and 44 for Hankins. Maybe they'll end up being Robo and Hobo later on if they're stars, but for now this pair is guaranteed to mess up Arizona's long-time TV voice of the Wildcats, Dave Sitton, in the NAU opener.
Cracking the Top 10
Senior running back Keola Antolin will, with a typical year, reach 2,500 career rushing yards and finish among Arizona's all-time top 10. He enters the year at 1,829 career yards and No. 14 on the list after splitting chores with departed Nic Grigsby (2,957) for three seasons. He's accomplished his totals in 12 starts and 38 games played and is hands-down the veteran force in a group which includes sophomores Daniel Jenkins and Kylan Butler, and freshmen Ka'Deem Carey and Jared Baker. Antolin's career 4.9 yards per carry compares favorably with the current Top 10 Arizona rushers. Art Luppino leads in the category at 6.6, Trung Canidate is next at 6.3 and Grigsby charted a 5.2 figure. Antolin would match Clarence Farmer(2,530) at 4.9 per tote on his current rate. Antolin averaged 5.6 yards per carry as a sophomore so it's possible he could reach the 5.0 level.
Cracking the Top Five
Senior receiver Juron Criner played his freshman year with current Jacksonville Jaguar Mike Thomas and current New England Patriot Rob Gronkowskialso running routes for UA. The focus elsewhere gave Criner a seven-catch season in 2008. The following year, 45 grabs. Last year, 82. It puts Criner (134 receptions) in position to challenge for a 200-reception career, accomplished only by eventual pros Thomas (259), Bobby Wade (230) and Dennis Northcutt (223). Criner would become No. 4 behind those guys with 19 more receptions, passing another former pro, T' Bell (153). Three more catches moves Juron into the top five, surpassing Jon Horton at 136. No matter what, he's clearly among the most talented receivers in Arizona history.
Experience Factor Of One
Kyle Quinnis the only UA offensive lineman who has started a game in his career - the 2010 Alamo Bowl last December. That certainly qualifies the Wildcats as one of the least experienced O-lines in the nation. Some preseason research by UNLV SID Mark Wallington identified six schools (Arizona, Florida, Georgia Tech, Tennessee, UNLV and USC) that are slated to begin the 2011 season without a single senior on the offensive line. Out of that group, the Wildcats and Rebels are the only club's that have slotted two freshmen. The good news for the Cats and the other squads listed above is that the experience factor will increase significantly each week.
An area that Mike Stoopsand Co. would like to see improvement for the Arizona Wildcats in 2011 is in the turnover department. The Cats have failed to post a positive turnover margin the last two seasons, after netting a plus-six margin in 2008. It works two-fold. First, ball security will be a priority on offense, and in a pass-happy offense led by a senior QB, the Cats could/should be in good shape there. Secondly, the UA defense needs to force more turnovers. Last season the defense turned opposing teams over just 18 times. Opportunities for more turnovers were there, perhaps best evidenced by five or six dropped interceptions against Arizona State in the regular season finale. When the Wildcats win the turnover battle, they are pretty good. Consider that Arizona is 19-7 since 2008 when it wins or ties in the turnover column. Conversely, the Cats struggle at a 4-9 clip in games they lose the turnover battle. Keep an eye on turnovers this season.
A high priority for the Arizona offense in 2011 will surely be to capitalize on red zone opportunities. In 2010, the Wildcats ranked near the bottom of the Pac-10 in red zone scoring percentage at just 72 percent (39-54). Even worse was the fact that UA scored a touchdown on just 30 of 54 trips inside an opponents' 20 yard line. At the same time, the UA defense allowed opponents to score 84-percent of the time in the red zone. This year, the Wildcats will strive to get their scoring percentage up in the mid to high-80 percent range. If they do that, their points per game figure will likely increase over its 28.2 ppg a year ago.
Cats Report To Duty
For the fourth straight year, Arizona head coach Mike Stoopstook his team to Fort Huachuca, a U.S. Army post 75 miles southeast of Tucson, for four days of preseason training camp in August. Fort Huachuca was founded in 1977 and is now home to units such as the Army Intelligence Center, Army Signal Command, Information Systems Command and other test facilities associated with communications and electronic proving systems. For Arizona football, the mission is threefold, but simple: learn from the best team (U.S. Army) in the world, enjoy a cooler climate for football training, and bond as a team in preparation for the long grind of a college football season. It affords quality football practice fields for the team's physical work and barracks for housing, but moreover offers exceptional leadership-skills training opportunities and daily interaction with U.S. Army soldiers on post. The formula has worked the last three years, each of which has ended with a bowl appearance. The Wildcats are seeking for a school-record fourth bowl trip this year.
Building For The Future
In the summer of 2011, Arizona Athletics completed work on a new video board for the south end zone at Arizona Stadium and has begun plans for the North End Zone Complex. The new video board measures 113' wide by 47' high -- 6.5 times larger than the existing board and will be one of the largest in all of college sports. The North End Zone Complex will include 5,000 upgraded end-zone seats, and among them 420 premium loge-level seats. Arizona football staff offices will move from McKale Center to a four-level, 185,000-square-foot operations center that includes football-specific strength and conditioning facilities, a sports-medicine suite for student-athlete care and treatment, a team dining hall, coaches' offices, team locker rooms, small group and auditorium meeting spaces, and equipment and laundry rooms.
Arizona will have a quick turnaround for its next game - a Thursday night tilt against No. 9 Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla., on September 8. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. (CDT) on ESPN. Thereafter, The Wildcats return home for Pac-12 Conference showdowns against Stanford (Sept. 17 on ESPN) and Oregon (Sept. 24 on ESPN).