Dec. 2, 2008
Arizona State (5-6, 4-4) @ Arizona (6-5, 4-4)
6 p.m. MST - Saturday, Dec. 6
Tucson, Ariz. - Arizona Stadium (57,400)
Television: ESPN and Fox Sports Arizona
UA-ASU Series Fast Facts:
First Meeting: 1899 (Arizona State 11, Arizona 2)
Last Meeting: 2007 (Arizona State 20, Arizona 17)
All-Time Series Record: UA leads 44-36-1
Streak: Arizona State has won last three games
UA-ASU Series Notes: Arizona and Arizona State will be meeting for the 82nd time in a rivalry that dates back to 1899 ... Up for grabs is the Territorial Cup ... Winner's of the Big Game the last three years, Arizona State is the first team to do so in the series since 1993-95 when the Wildcats won three in a row ... ASU, which won 20-17 in Tempe last year, has won five of the last six ... Arizona's longest winning streak in the all-time series is 11 straight from 1932 to 1948 ... Arizona State's longest winning streak is nine straight from 1965 through 1973 ... Arizona's largest margin of victory was a 67-0 whitewashing of the Sun Devils in 1946 ... Arizona State's largest margin of victory is 47 points accomplished twice (61-14 in 1951 and 47-0 in 1958) ... The average margin of victory in the all-time series is 16.9 points, however four of the last seven games have been decided by a touchdown or less.
Some Game Themes: The battle for the Territorial Cup, the nation's oldest NCAA-recognized trophy game in a rivalry... A match of evenly rated squads, somewhat out of the Pac-10's limelight but still aspiring for upper-division status... Arizona works to halt a two-game skid, the guys from Arizona State work to make it four conescutive victories down the stretch... Both teams work to punctuate seasons colored beforehand by higher aspirations... Arizona fights for a seventh victory for the first time in a decade, ASU works to continue atonement for a mid-season swoon by securing a bowl berth... Arizona pits its disciplined offense against a defense that scored nearly all the points (school-record four TDs on defensive returns) in its 34-9 victory last week... The end of the college quarterbacking eras for Willie Tuitama of Arizona and Rudy Carpenter of Arizona State, two backbones for their squads... The Cats try to get this one changed: five players on the active 2008 roster have been on a Wildcat team that beat ASU, the fifth-year seniors who redshirted 2004 (or a later year) - guard Joe Longacre, kicker Jason Bondzio, linebacker Ronnie Palmer, H-back Brandon Lopez and receiver B.J. Dennard.... If it comes down to it, each team has a solid place kicker in Arizona's Jason Bondzio and ASU's Thomas Weber, school record-holders of note... The annual big-theater occasion for the posturing of Wilbur the Wildcat and Sparky, the teams' mascots... Senior Day at Arizona... An occasion for double television, with ESPN networks carrying the game, as well as FOX Sports Arizona (with its `Duel in the Desert' pre- and post-game programming) - plus national radio with SportsUSA Network sending the audio across the country...
The Coaches: Arizona - Mike Stoops (Iowa '86), fifth year at Arizona (23-34) and fifth year overall as a head coach. He carries a record of 16-26 in Pac-10 games. He is 9-7 in games played in November or December, including last year's loss to ASU. He is 11-16 in games played at Arizona Stadium. He is 1-3 against ASU, with the victory coming against Dirk Koetter's No. 18 Sun Devils in Stoops' first year. The Wildcats have beaten a ranked team each year under Stoops, including a No. 2 last year and No. 25 Cal this year. Stoops was a UPI All-American defensive back at Iowa in 1984 and All-Big Ten his last two years in 1983-84. Arizona State - Dennis Erickson (Montana State '70), second year at ASU (15-9) and 19th overall as a head coach (163-74-1). Erickson coached at WSU and OSU in previous Pac-10 stints. He is 8-2 overall against Arizona in his seven years in the league including last year's victory over the Cats. His Miami teams posted a 2-1 mark against UA, with the Cats' victory coming 29-0 over the Canes' in the January 1994 Fiesta Bowl.
Last Week: Arizona had a bye Nov. 29. On Nov. 22, Oregon State proved its winning ways weren't an anomaly in a stirring comeback to beat Arizona, 19-17, and spoil the Wildcats' chances of a November victory. A 24-yard field goal by Justin Kahut as time expired pulled the Beavers back from devastation after Kahut had missed the game-tying extra-point kick minutes earlier. For UA, its 17-16 lead dissipated in literal seconds, with the Beavers driving 73 yards on seven plays in 79 seconds to keep their Rose Bowl hopes alive. The bulk of the drive came in the form of three successive passes from Sean Canfield, to running back Jeremy Francis for 20 yards, to Francis for five yards and to Sammie Stroughter for a Wildcat-nightmare 47 yards. Those 75 yards put the ball on the UA 7 yard-line. The Cats stopped one running play, Canfield took an intentional loss to put the ball in the center of the field, and Kahut put the ball through the uprights. Canfield was a difference maker in throwing for 224 yards on 20-for-32 passing, while the Beavs added 166 rushing yards spearheaded mostly by 10 end-around rushes by receiver James Rodgers for 102 yards. UA wasted a game-high 114 rushing yards from freshman Keola Antolin (25 carries, 1 TD), and a nifty TD catch from tight end Rob Gronkowski. UA quarterback Willie Tuitama put his team in position to win with a modest 158 yards from 16 completions in 22 attempts. Senior receiver Mike Thomas caught six balls for 50 yards. The OSU defense, to it credit, held Arizona to 297 net yards and some 20 points under its scoring average. In a defensive game, UA could not prevent an OSU drive at the end in a contest that was otherwise even-up before that final winning march. The loss kept the Wildcats in search of their seventh victory of the year, with one to go.
The Territorial Cup: The Territorial Championship Cup was first presented to Tempe Normal School after its 11-2 victory over Arizona at Tucson's Carrillo Gardens Field downtown on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 30, 1899. That makes it the oldest rivalry game trophy in America -- compared to, say, the Little Brown Jug (Michigan-Minnesota 1909) or the Old Oaken Bucket (Indiana-Purdue 1925). Carrillo Gardnes was in a downtown park on a site south of the current Tucson Community Center in the Barrio Historico district, near South Main Avenue and West Simpson Street. The cup has been registered with the NCAA and thereby sanctions the game as the oldest trophy game. Early origins of the piece are unclear, but the cup itself is silverplated over Britannia base metal and was manufactured by Reed and Barton of Taunton, Mass., according to some reports, which also indicate it catalog price at $20. The lone inscription reads "Arizona Foot Ball League 1899 Normal." The cup's whereabouts for the next eight decades also remains unclear until its discovery among items found in the basement of a church near ASU in the early 1980s, and then displayed in various ASU collections. In 2001, then ASU President Lattie Coor led the move to have it presented to the game winner. over the years, the Governor's Trophy (1953-1979) and a 'Victory" sculpture by artist Benn Goo (1979-1997) were presented to the game's winner. The Saguaro Trophy, a bronze piece commissioned from artist Dora Perry in 1998 also has been in the mix, and now goes to the winning coach earch year. The Most Outstanding Player in the game, this year named after the late sportswriter Bob Moran, earns the Ben Goo sculpture for his school's hall of fame. The Cup on the sideline at the game itself is a replica; glove-treatment transfer by curators -- if necessary -- goes for the original pice, which also is a hall of champions display artifact. The games themselves are not atypical of a state where the Territorial legislature awarded one city (Phoenix) the initial economic price, the state hospital, while the other town (Tucson) got the first state university. The games are competitie, territorial and a huge matter of pride.
Bob Moran Most Valuable Trophy: In January of this year, ASU initiated a move to rename the Arizona-Arizona State game MVP award in honor of longtime East Valley Tribune sports reporter Bob Moran, who later died of cancer in May. Henceforth, the game's hero as voted by the media will receive the Bob Moran Most Valuable Player Award. Moran covered both schools as a beat writer and columnist, and covered the big game for a quarter century until his illness. The MVP will continue to receive the Ben Goo Trophy, "Victory." The trophy previously was awarded from 1979 to 1998 as the game's prize until ASU discovered the original 1899 Territorial Cup in storage. Moran, was was 55 at the time of his death, was named Arizona sportswriter of the year seven times. He attended Ohio University where he worked for the Ohio University Post (two years) and the African-American Affairs (4 years). Moran graduated in June of 1974 and started at the Arizona Daily Star in July of that year. He was the backup Arizona football writer that year while also covering junior colleges, and became the main beat writer the following year for Wildcat football. He also covered the Cleveland Indians in spring training. In 1980, the Star became one of the first papers in the country to open a sports bureau outside its main circulation area when it opened one in Phoenix. Moran moved to Phoenix that year to cover all Valley sports, concentrating on ASU. He was the backup writer for ASU football that first year and then he took over the following year. He joined the Tribune staff in 1986.
Sorry About That: A look back at what a simple decade of the Big Game can mean... For the past three seasons, Arizona State victories have knocked Arizona out of a bowl game, leaving it at home 6-6 in 2005, and 5-7 in each of the last two years. In 2004, Arizona's victory at No. 18 ASU spoiled the Devils' shot at a 10-victory season. In 2003, ASU's victory doomed Arizona to last place in the Pac-10 and its worst record in history -- but brought Mike Stoops to Tucson a few weeks later. In 2002, ASU's victory earned it a Holiday Bowl berth. In 2001, Arizona's victory punctuated ASU's worst season in then seven years. In 2000 the Sun Devils' victory cost UA a bowl game and possibly Dick Tomey his job, but didn't save Bruce Snyder's at 6-5. In 1999 ASU similarly kept UA at home at 6-6 while the Devils went bowling at 6-5. In 1998 Arizona capped its best season in history and knocked ASU from bowl contention. No matter what the records, someone looks back and says, "Ouch."
Vs. the Devils: Not many Arizona players have piles of statistics from Territorial Cup games. Senior quarterback Willie Tuitama has started the last three and has completed 49 for 83 (.590), for 457 yards, with three interceptions and four TDs. He was knocked out of the early fourth quarter (ribs) in the 2005 game at Tempe while working on a 15-for-21, 149-yard game in which UA had a 20-12 lead. Receiver Mike Thomas wore a cast in that game and did not get in the record book for anything other than participation. In two ASU games since, Thomas had 15 catches for 173 yards and a score. Last year Tuitama threw the ball 52 times and Thomas (10-109), Nic Grigsby (6-24, 1 TD), Terrell Turner (5-59), Delashaun Dean (3-25) and Rob Gronkowski (2-29, TD) had some of the receptions. Grigsby ran nine times for 22 yards while Thomas was UA's high man with one rush for 37 markers.
Power Spread: One thing Arizona's offense has become in its second year under coordinator Sonny Dykes is more of a power game. This year the Cats have been more patient and run the ball 436 times compared to 340 passes. A year ago it was 524 passes and 329 runs. The difference: just about a thousand more rushing yards this time around, with total offense boosted nearly by 100 per game to the current 402. Fewer passes has helped define a core of six primary players in the UA passing attack -- Mike Thomas (61), Delashaun Dean (40), Rob Gronkowski (37), Terrell Turner (37) and the running back, say Nic Grigsby (10). That also underscores Arizona's penchant to play its starters, as are those guys. Starting H-back Chris Gronkowski has emerged as a big-play receiving target in the past several games, with six catches for 155 yards. Fail to miss him coming out of the backfield and, oops, 25.8 yards per pop. On the other side, Arizona has five players with triple-digit season rushing led by Grigsby with 952. UA hasn't had that many 100-yard guys since Dick Tomey's final UA squad had six in 1999, led by school record-holder Trung Canidate with 1,602 yards alone. (Another one of those guys was a true freshman fullback named Lance Briggs, 25-163,, who quit doing that stuff the following year...)
Red Zone Notes: Arizona is among national leaders with 92 percent effectiveness in the Red Zone, with 49 scores in 52 trips. UA has 40 touchdowns in 52 trips for another nice rate of 77 percent. That success down in close has cut Jason Bondzio's chip-shot field goals by almost half, which is good for UA but not necessarily good for a guy good enough to be a Lou Groza Award semifinalist. Arizona could be the national leader at 98 percent RZ success but let the clock run out a couple of times with possession inside the opponents' 15 (against Washington and UCLA). The third miss also was avoidable -- an unconverted 4th-and-1 at the Bruins' 17 yard-line in the second quarter, leading 17-7... Certainly the year-to-year change here is a top improvement for Arizona football. The Cats scored only 74 percent of the time they reached the 20 yard-line last year, and only 18 TDs in 42 trips... Arizona had a couple of whoppers this year -- 9-for-9 with nine TDs against Idaho and 7-for-7 with seven TDs against the Huskies... Short-yardage running ability (2.9 yards per carry in 2007, 4.3 ypc this year) is a huge reason...
More on the Series: Arizona State can tie its modern best of four consecutive victories over Arizona, last accomplished from 1975-78. Those were the days ASU owned Arizona, with a nine-game winning streak from 1965 to 1973 before Jim Young's UA club of 1974 won, 10-0, in Tucson. After that, the teams joined the Pac-10 (in 1978) and things changed. UA put up its own version, with 'The Streak' from 1982 to 1990, eight victories and one tie (1987)...
Strive for Five: Arizona can win five home games for the first time since 1998 with a victory against ASU. UA is 4-2 at home entering the contest. Since 1950, the Cats have won five games at home 15 times. Arizona was perfect at home twice in that span, 6-0 in 1961 and 6-0 in 1993.
Attendance Note: With the expected crowd of around 56,000 or more, Arizona will draw about 364,000 fans this year, its third-best total in history. The record is 390,589 in 2006. The per-game record is 56,562 by the 1994 club. The highest total was 387,737 fans for eight home games in 1988. Mike Stoops' teams each have drawn more than 50,000 per game, with the last four including this year above the 52,000 figure per game.
Taking Care of the Little Things: Often times, it is the "little things" and hidden statistics that make the difference between winning and losing instead of the glamorous offensive or defensive stats. Arizona can attribute its success in its first bowl season in 10 years to paying attention to details and playing disciplined football. Here's a look at how Arizona ranks nationally in some miscellaneous categories:
Category National Rank
Fewest Penalty Yards Per Game 29.73 t-3
Fewest Penalties Per Game 3.45 4
Red Zone Efficiency 94% t-3
Time of Possession 32:13 11
Turnovers Lost 15 16
Defensive Third Down Efficiency 33.1% 21
Willie Wrap-Up: Willie Tuitama is nearing the end of his Arizona career, one that has re-written the Arizona career passing record book. Here are some notes on Tuitama's career accomplishments.
- Arizona career leader in passing yards (8.602), passing touchdowns (63), passing attempts (1,204) and passing completions (737)
- His 2007 season broke the single season school records for passing yards (3,683), attempts (524), completions (327) and touchdown passes (28).
- Is UA's all-time leader for total offense with 8,127 yards.
- His pass efficiency rating of 142.8 to date in 2008 ranks No. 4 all-time at Arizona despite throwing more than 150 more passes than the top three individuals on the chart.
- Currently, his 2,479 passing yards in 2008 are the fourth-most in school history for a single season. Additionally, his 19 passing TD's in 2008 tie for third-best in school history.
- His 327 passing attempts in 2008 are the fourth most in a single season., while his 210 completions are third best.
- His 517 yards of total offense in a 48-41 win at Washington in 2007 were the most ever in a single game for a Wildcat and the third-most all-time in the Pac-10.
- Currently stands at No. 19 all-time in the Pac-10 in total offense (8,127).
- Checks in at No. 14 all-time in career passing yards (8,602) for a Pac-10 QB.
- Currently No. 13 in Pac-10 history for career passing touchdowns (63).
More Willie: Here's a look where Tuitama stands on the NCAA active career leaders charts:
Category NCAA Rank
Passing Attempts (1,204) 9
Passing Completions (737) 10
Passing Yards (8,602) 11
Passing Touchdowns (63) 13
Pass Yards Per Game (226) 17
Total Offense Yards (8,127) 17
TD's Responsible For (67) 16
Money Mike Cashing In: Like the other half of the TNT connection (Tuitama to Thomas), Mike Thomas is nearing the end of his outstanding career. Not to be overlooked, however, are some of the amazing accomplishments for his career:
- Arizona's all-time receptions leader with 246 and No. 3 at UA in receiving yards 3,127.
- Stands at No. 4 all-time at UA with 22 career receiving touchdowns.
- Single-season record holder for receiving touchdowns (11 in 2007) and receptions (83 in 2007), while he is No. 4 in single season receiving yards (1,038 in 2007).
- No. 4 all-time at UA in all-purpose yardage, with 4,736 yards ( 352 plays, 388 rushing yards, 3,127 receiving yards, 324 punt return yards, 897 kickoff return yards). Scored 26 total touchdowns, including 22 via pass reception, three rushing, and one punt return.
- Currently ranks No. 22 in the NCAA in 2008 for punt return average (12.5).
- Currently No. 3 all-time in the Pac-10 for career receptions with 246. Trails only Troy Walters from Stanford (248) and Derek Hagan from Arizona State 258.
- Sits at No. 11 all-time in the Pac-10 for career receiving yards with 3,127, trailing Dwayne Jarrett of USC by only 11 yards for 10th place.
- His 22 receiving touchdowns are tied for No. 21 all-time in the Pac-10, and one more would move him into a tie for 18th.
More Mike: Here's a look where Thomas stands on the NCAA active career leaders charts:
Category NCAA Rank
Receptions (246) 4
Receiving Yards (3,127) 4
Receiving TD's (22) 13
Receptions Per Game (5.3) 14
All-Purpose Yards (4,736) 13
Century City and a Thousand Mark: Sophomore tight end Rob Gronkowski had his third career 100-yard game at Oregon on Nov. 15 (12-143, 1 TD), adding to a 5-109 evening against Washington earlier this year and a 4-115 game last year against Washington State. He hit the career 1,000-yard receiving list in Eugene with his big afternoon and now after adding to his totals against Oregon State has 65 catches for 1,075 yards and 15 touchdowns -- all Arizona career marks for a tight end. His 12 receptions at Oregon is the second-most (tied with many) single-game mark in UA history, too.
Single-Season Tight Ends Receiving
1. Rob Gronkowski 37-550, 9 TD, 2008 sophomore
2. Mark Keel 32-513, 2 TD 1982 senior
3. Rob Gronkowski 28-525, 6 TD 2007 freshman
4. Mark Keel 27-343, 4 TD 1981 junior
5. Steve Fleming 23-332, 2 TD 2004 senior
6. Brandon Manumaleuna 20-316, 2 TD 1999 junior
Arizona Career Tight Ends Receptions-Yds-TD
1. Rob Gronkowski, 65-1,075, 15 TD, 2007-
2. Mark Keel, 59-857, 6 TD - 1981-82
3. Steve Fleming, 50-584, 4 TD - 2001-04
4. Brandon Manumaleuna, 40-571, 3 TD - 1997-2000
5. Mike Metzler, 34-597, 6 TD, 1994-96
6. Bill Nettling, 29-451, 5 TD, 1977-80
Balance = Productivity: After throwing for over 300 yards per game in 2007, Arizona has found more balance with its running game in 2008. In doing so, Arizona has become more efficient and is scoring more points. Arizona's current average of 37.6 points per game is on track to finish second best in school history behind the 1998 club (38.5). The Wildcats are averaging 402.4 yards of offense per game (233 passing, 169), good enough for fifth best all time at UA to date. UA currently is outscoring opponents by a margin of 15.2 points per game, which checks in sixth-best all-time.
Bowling a 400 Game: If you score 400 you go to a bowl... The Wildcats have totaled 414 points on the season and have clinched a bowl berth. The last time that happened -- 1998. (That is the most common answer to every recent last-time question.) But in UA history, only J.F. "Pop" McKale's 1921 club also hit the 400 level with 418 points to 30 by opponents. The young football program that year -- when Warren G. Harding was president -- played a post-war schedule that included Bisbee Legion, Phoenix Indians and New Mexico Military Institute. Those 7-2 Cats of old did lose narrowly (17-14) to Texas A&M, beat UTEP 74-0, New Mexico State 31-0, New Mexico 24-0 and Whitter 7-0. They also made Arizona's first-ever bowl trip, playing in the East-West Christmas Classic in San Diego, losing to Centre (Ky.) College, 38-0.
First-and-10: Arizona has 242 first downs, an average of 22.0 per game, just off the school record of 22.4 set by the 1975 Wildcats with 246 in 11 games. It's not entirely new; last year UA had 239 in 12 contests (19.9). Those two figures in two years of a new offense show it has the capability to generate some moving chains. The 2007 club set the school mark with 12.2 passing first downs per game. This year's group has 125 through the air in 11 games.
Spread the Wealth: Arizona has had touchdowns scored by 15 different players, tied for seventh among FBS schools for the most participation in putting up six points.
Maybe This is The Week: Arizona has not returned a kickoff for a touchdown in 127 games, dating to the opening kickoff at Hawaii in 1998 when All-American cornerback Chris McAlister took it back 100 yards for a score. This year, Mike Thomas (52 yards) and Keola Antolin (41) have taken it to the final level of defense, but not gotten past the last-call tackler. The Cats have had 36 returns for scores since McAlister's field-length race at Aloha Stadium, just not on a kickoff. Since that one the Cats have been pretty even -- takingn 12 punts back, 12 interceptions for scores and returning 12 fumbles for scores.
Nic Antolin and Keola Smith? Every team can often do it to find some good numbers -- look at production from a position as a combined affair. In the case of UA's running back -- either 11-game starter Nic Grigsby (172-952) or backup Keola Antolin (108-517) -- the combined dude has 280 carries for 1,464 yards (5.2 ypc). They've scored 21 touchdowns including Antolin's highwater mark of four at Oregon, tying a school record. Throw in No. 3 back Xavier Smith (40-153) and his five scores, and you have one position providing 320 rushes for 1,617 yards and 26 touchdowns. These guys never play on the field at the same time in UA's system, so it's a realistic exercise to jot that down as RB production.
'Gronkowsk-td': The Wildcats' sibling duo -- tight end Rob Gronkowski and hybrid back Chris Gronkowski have shown a proclibity to score when the ball gets to them. Sophomore Rob has nine scoring catches in 37 grabs -- 24 percent of the time he snares a pass. Elder statesman Chris has two scores on three catches. They lead the way in yards per catch, too, with Chris at 25.8 and Rob at 14.9. UA has developed the motion-back blocking role that Chris plays into a dangerous open-space threat, and he has the hands and foot speed for a big guy to make it go. Big Rob simply can physically overmatch almost any coverage and is not a one-man tackle objective. It takes a few dudes to stop him. His 12-catch day against Oregon was a prime example. Both of their efforts in the running game are key, as well, one reason Chris has started sevengames including the last four consecutive.
Still Searching for No. 7: Arizona plays to win a seventh game for the second time in the last three seasons. The 2006 squad fell short at ASU, finishing 6-6. The UA last won seven games in 1998 when it went 12-1. In the past 25 years Arizona has won seven or more games 10 times. The two heralded years in there are the '98 Holiday and 1993 (10-2) Fiesta bowls winners. Make no mistake, Arizona isn't striving to win only seven games this year; that just happens to be the next opportunity.
Point of Fact: Arizona has scored 414oints in its 37.6 points-per-game effort this year, more than the season total five of the last six years and on pace to challenge the school record of 38.5 in 1954 when Warren Woodson's UA club put up 385 in 10 games during a 7-3 season. That club had Art "The Cactus Comet" Luppino, UA's halfback of national all-purpose renown and a guy who personally posted 166 points on 24 touchdowns and some 2-pointers. The Cats are on pace, as well, to challenge the school record of 439 points in a season -- scored by the 1998 team en route to its school-best 12-1 season. The 2007 Wildcats posted 28 points per game and 336 total to kick-start a serious scoring focus.
Sometimes The Stats Lie: As you will see in the subsequent notes, stats aren't always the best predictors of how a game will play out. Arizona scored 45 points at Oregon last on Nov. 15, which marked only the fourth time in school history that Arizona lost a game in which it scored 40 points or more. The last time UA lost when posting 40 or more? Also against Oregon in a 44-41 loss to the Ducks in Tucson on Oct. 23, 1999. And for 30-point games, the loss was a first for head coach Mike Stoops at Arizona.
30 Is (Usually) The Magic Number: So, despite the OU slip-up, here it is ... Football is a pretty simple game in that the team that scores the most points wins. For Arizona, 30 points is usually enough to do just that. Since joining the Pac-10 in 1978, the Wildcats have played 103 games in which they have scored 30 or more points. Their record in those games? An astounding 93-9-1. That record included a streak of 18 consecutive victories when scoring at least 30 points, including a 14-1 mark under Mike Stoops. For the record, Arizona is 6-1 in such games this season.
If Not 30, Try 40: And again ... If Arizona's .910 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 108-4 when scoring 40 or more points in a game, something it has done in four home games this season. As you might expect, Arizona is 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.
Third Down, Last Down: The Arizona defense has shown marked improvement in third down situations in 2008. A year ago, UA allowed opponents to convert 43 percent (86-199) on third down plays. This season, the Wildcats have held the opposition to a 33 percent success rate (50-151). The Cats showed their ability to buckle down in key situations against Cal, holding the Bears to only 2-15 on third down. Looking deeper at that stat, the Bears converted their first two third down plays of the game, meaning Arizona limited them to zero third down conversions the rest of the game, including 0-8 in the second half.
More Third Down Facts: The main reason why UA"s defense has shown marked improvement in stopping teams in third down situations is because it is winning the battle for tough yards. In third-and-short situations (four yards to gain or less), UA is limiting teams to a 35% success rate (18-51) - or nearly on par with its total third down defense number. On the other hand, Arizona's offense has been having success in those same situations, converting 70% (35-50) third-and-short situations.
98 Snaps: After a season- and Mike Stoops-high 98 plays at Oregon and 63 against OSU the Cats have 776 for the year. Thus, this year's club will likely fall short of the 904 snaps the Arizona offense took in 1977 in 12 games. The most per game is 79.6 by the 1974 club with 876 in 11 contests. The latter was a Jim Young multiple-approach squad with the "1-2-3" backfield (jersey numbers for QB Bruce Hill and running backs Willie Hamilton and Jim Upchurch), plus receivers Theo Bell and Scott Piper. The '77 club, Tony Mason's second at Arizona, was a pound-it veer-ish group that rushed 663 times in 12 games to cap Arizona's Western Athletic Conference affiliation.
Streaking: Mike Thomas has caught a pass in 35 consecutive games. Had he not played the ASU game as a freshman in 2005 with an injured hand (and a cast), he'd have a streak of 44 consecutive games with a catch, which would rate him third nationally behind Jarett Dillard of Rice (48) and Casey Flair of UNLV (48. Juaquin Iglesias of Oklahoma (44) is next. Mike's on the chart with 35 consecutive games with a catch, tied at 11th... Sophomore receiver Delashaun Dean is building his own streak. He has a catch in each of the 22 games he's played, the next best consecutive mark among UA receivers. Sophomore tight end Rob Gronkowski is next at 13 such games since not grabbing one at Oregon State a year ago.
What a Difference a Year Makes: In 2007, the Wildcats rushed for an average of 2.9 yards per carry. One year later - with four of five starters back (Eben Britton, Colin Baxter, Joe Longacre and Blake Kerley), UA's offensive line has helped pave the way for a 1.5 ypc improvement to this year's current average of 4.4 yards per carry. The Wildcats lost Kerley to a knee injury earlier in the year, and first-year starter Adam Grant missed a few starts due to a thumb injury. Depth has helped keep the Cats rolling, as James Tretheway has filled in for Grant, while Mike Diaz has stepped in at guard for Baxter who has replaced Kerley under center.
YPA: No, it's not a disco song. Willie Tuitama's outstanding 14.3 yards-per-attempt passing at Washington State helped give him a 201.84 pass efficiency rating for the game, the second time this year he's passed the 200 level. He hit 205.30 against Washington with that one fueld by three touchdown throws and an 81 percent completion rate. His next best was a 199.70 mark in the season opener against Idaho. All three games have the same thing in common -- high percentage passing, not high volume passing. Willie's current PER of 142.8 would be the fourth-best in school history if it held up. It's clear that his personal physical arsenal includes all the routes and throws, but his mental game and choices have been quite good this year. You don't have to know much about football to realize that if you can run the ball, everything else becomes much easier. Tuitama's three best pass efficiency games were supported by the Wildcats doing this: rushing a combined 157 times for 838 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Just Run It: Arizona ran the ball 57 times at Washington State, the most this year and the most in Mike Stoops' tenure in Tucson. Most previously before that, UA ran the ball 60 times at Washington State in 1999. The school record is 80 rushes against Oregon in 1993. In that game UA passed the ball once, incomplete. Ontiwaun Carter (28-127) and running back Chuck Levy (27-126), starting at QB in place of injured Dan White, led the way on 55 plays. The Cats ran for 389 yards in the game and won. 31-10. Of course, the Cats also had the full might of a young Desert Swarm, at the time tops in the nation in rushing and total defense.
Pointing the Way: The Cats have a pair of players in UA's all-time career scoring chart - kicker Jason Bondzio (8th) and receiver Mike Thomas (11th). Bondzio's ability as a place kicker put him in the mix in just two years, while Thomas has been a four-year fixture in UA's offense (26 TD), adding punt returns (1 TD) this year. Bondzio supplanted Dennis Northcutt in the Top 10 this year. Historically several on the chart played on the same UA teams -- kicker Max Zendejas and Vance Johnson, Lee Pistor and T. Bell, Sean Keel and Dennis Northcutt. If Thomas can get a score against ASU he'll join that group, pairing with Bondzio in the Top 10.
Arizona Career Scoring
1. 360 Max Zendejas PK, 1982-85
2. 337 Art Luppino RB/KR, 1953-56
3. 283 Steve McLaughlin PK, 1991-94
4. 262 Gary Coston PK, 1986-90
5. 246 Lee Pistor PK, 1974-77
6. 192 Vance Johnson RB, 1981-84
7. 186 Theo Bell WR/KR, 1972-75
8. 183 Jason Bondzio, PK, 2007-08
9. 182 Sean Keel, PK, 1999-02
10. 169 Nick Folk, PK, 2003-06
11. 162 Mike Thomas, WR/KR, 2005-08
11. 162 Dennis Northcutt., WR/KR, 1996-99
Keen on Kicking: Arizona opened the season with a freak two-yard punt against Idaho by Keenyn Crier in his first boot in live action after missing much of fall camp after off-season back problems. Since, Crier's been climbing back kick after kick and the squad now boasts an average of 44.0 yards per punt. The school record for a team season total is 44.9 behind the leg of All-American Danny Baugher (1st team Pro Football Weekly, 3rd team AP) in 2005. Baugher's individual mark of 47.5 that year was a school record. Crier hit the UA chart at No. 5 last year with an individual mark of 43.7 and UA had a team mark of 43.6. This year he's shown a broader arsenal -- sky, rugby, boomers, pooches -- and has kept improving each week. The team's net punting figure of 37.1 is rated No. 24 in the FBS, while Cirer checks in at No. 13 with an average of 44.0 on the season. Arizona's special teams were revamped some in the offseason with the hiring of former Wildcat player and coach Jeff Hammerschmidt as special teams coordinator. Nearly all of UA's kicking units are doing well, continuing the effort led by coordinator Joe Robinson for the preceding four years before him.
Conversion Surge: Arizona has a third-down conversion rate of 44 percent. It's considerably better than last year's 35 percent rate. Look at it this way: over the course of the season if the 2007 team had been making 43 percent of its third down tries, it would have meant another 15 conversions -- equating to another 45 plays and more opportunities to keep moving the ball. The better conversion rate this year has done one thing --reduced punts. The Cats had 62 punts last year. After 11 games this year UA has 42 punts. UA also has over to more minutes of possession per game this year than last No. 11 in the nation). Arizona also has reached the red zone one more time per game than last year's club. And down there, the Cats are vastly improved (No. 3 in the nation).
The Second Brigade: The Wildcats have scored 146 points in the second quarter this year. Arizona had 102 in the frame a year ago. Those two are the most in that or any period since the 1998 squad put up 137 second-quarter points. The UA's minimum scoring period this year is the opening stanza, with 78- still a touchdown per game. On the flip side, Arizona has allowed only 50 fourth-quarter points this year, including a stubborn whitewash against USC this year when both teams were scratching for something in a scoreless fourth of a seven-point game.
Special K: Backup running back Keola Antolin's 149-yard rushing effort (21 totes) against California was the fifth-best effort by a true freshman in UA history. His three scores matched three by true frosh Ontiwaun Carter in 1991. It came a year after Nic Grigsby tied the UA mark with 186 yards against Washington State. Former Philadelphia Eagle power back Hubert "Hubie" Oliver carried 29 times for 186 yards against UTEP in 1977 a week after he broke on the scene with a 141-yard day against New Mexico. Here are a half-dozen outings by true freshmen Wildcats, plus one more from the last time Arizona beat USC:
True Freshman Wildcats' Top Rushing Games
1. Hubie Oliver UTEP, 1977 29-186, TD
2. Nic Grigsby WSU, 2007 30-186 (receving TD)
3. Vance Johnson Fresno State, 1981 24-183
4. Ontiwaun Carter Oregon State, 1991 15-160, 3 TD
5. Keola Antolin California, 2008 21-149, 3 TD
6. Hubie Oliver New Mexico, 1977 21-141
7. Clarence Farmer USC, 2000 22-134, TD
Four Bills: Arizona's improved running game and more precision- rather than bombs-away passing attack has helped the team complete nine games with an average of 402.4 yards in total offense. The Wildcats of 1999 (QB Keith Smith, RB Trung Canidate, WR Dennis Northcutt, QB Ortege Jenkins, TE Brandon Manumaleuna and a young WR Bobby Wade) set the school record of 471.9 per game. This year the Cats have been balanced, with more rushes (395) than passes (318) UA has good quick-strike capability in the passing game but the guts to saddle up for some punch-it-out drives on the ground. The offense plays well enough to keep the defense off the field, and the defense plays well enough to get the ball back for the offense. It's a pretty good deal.
Continuity on the Line: Arizona has played the season with basically two offensive line substitutions, Mike Diaz at guard and James Tretheway at tackle. LT Eben Britton and RG Joe Longacre have started and played each game. Center Blake Kerley injured a knee in the UCLA game and was replaced by LG Colin Baxter, who has seven center starts to go with his four guard starts. Diaz took over at guard. RT Tretheway has started the last six games in favor of Adam Grant, whose hand injury against the Huskies has limited him since. The relative steadiness in this unit has been one reason for Arizona's success on offense.
Tossing at Ross: Sophomore cornerback Devin Ross is getting tested more and more as Pac-10 teams unleash their goods. He shut things down on the boundary in the first three or four games, and then has had interceptions against Washington, Stanford and at Washington State. While Oregon got some yards through the air, Ross was able to record a career-high 10 tackles. He ranks No. 8 in the nation in passes defended.
Getting Picky: The Cats have 14 interceptions through 11 games, one shy of 2007's total. The Cats are in good position to continue their year-by-year trend of increasing interceptions under the Stoops defense if they can get one or two more. Sophomore corner Devin Ross had his second career INT against Washington on Oct. 4 and then returned his third for a TD against Cal, while Nate Ness returned his seventh career interception 75-yards for his first score at Stanford. Redshirt freshman Trevin Wade leads with four, including one against Cal in the fourth quarter.
Quarter Scores: Arizona has played 40 quarters of football in 2008 and has scored at least a field goal in 33 of those quarters. Here's a look at how Arizona has spread its points around by quarter:
1 2 3 4 Total
Arizona 78 146 93 97 414
Opponents 62 87 47 50 246
Double D: Sophomore receiver Delashaun Dean posted his first career 100-yard receiving game with a 6-106 effort and a score at Albuquerque in September. His previous high for yards was his debut game at BYU last year with four snares for 88 markers. His single-game high for catches is an 8-for-51 game against Stanford a year ago. He has a reception in each of his 22 career games.
2 X 100: Receivers Mike Thomas (136 yds) and Delashaun Dean (106 yds) each surpassed the 100-yard receiving mark against New Mexico, becoming the first UA receiving duo to accomplish the feat in 2008. The last time two Cats went over the 100-yd mark in the same game came against, interestingly, New Mexico in 2007, when three players tallied 100 yards or more (Mike Thomas 7-137, Terrell Turner 7-109, and Anthony Johnson 3-117).
Close Calls: Arizona had had a tough run of late winning close games. Under Mike Stoops, Arizona is 6-17 in games decided by one score or less, and has won only won game when scoring fewer than 20 points (16-13 over BYU in 2006). This year, Arizona has lost to New Mexico by eight points, Stanford by one point, USc by seven points and Oregon State by two points. That is four losses by a combined 18 points. UA's other loss was a 10-point loss at Oregon, a game in which it trailed 48-17 in the second half, but rallied back to trail only 48-45 before giving up a late score.
The Graduates: Two Arizona players already have received degrees, placekicker Jason Bondzio in finance and offensive lineman James Tretheway in mathematics. J.B.'s working on a master's degree, while Tretheway is taking an additional bachelor's degree program in economics. Three other letterwinning Wildcats are anticipated to graduate in December -- H-back Brandon Lopez, offensive guard Joe Longacre and offensive lineman Bill Wacholz.
Records Check: As one might expect in a 70-0 romp, Arizona broke several school records for offensive scoring output against Idaho. The first record to fall was the 28 year old record for most points scored in a single half (42 points against Pacific in 1980 and against UTEP in 1976) as the Wildcats tallied 49 first-half points.In doing so, UA posted 35 second quarter points, breaking the previous high mark set in 1954 when the Cats scored 29 in the third quarter against New Mexico State.