TUCSON--Arizona head coach Mike Stoops is to meet with reporters shortly before noon Wednesday to give a preview, but the real goods will be examined in earnest later in the day when the Wildcats begin their fourth season under the UA mentor with the start of spring practice.
UA, bowl-eligible at 6-6 in 2006 but left home during the holidays after a disappointing loss to Arizona State in the season finale, thinks it can make that extra step in 2007, notably because of a new offensive attack that Stoops crafted in the offseason with the hiring of four new coaches on that side of the ball.
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Sonny Dykes came from high-powered Texas Tech, where the Red Raiders' spread offense he co-directed finished sixth nationally with 447 yards per game. TTU capped an 8-5 season with a 44-41 overtime victory over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl last December. Notable in that one was the Raiders' four-touchdown halftime deficit, and the way they roared back and won, eventually finishing with 548 yards in total offense.
That kind of ball-moving and scoring is what Arizona hopes for this season, to go with what is anticipated to be the team's core strength -- defense. UA was fourth in the league in total defense (326 ypg), and led the Pac-10 in turnover margin. With three key senior players back on each unit -- cornerback Antoine Cason, linebacker Spencer Larsen and defensive end Louis Holmes -- the Cats figure to have what it takes to give the offense a bigger share of the playing time.
Dykes' model at Tech, however, didn't exactly eat up the clock. The Red Raiders were No. 112 in time of possession in Division I-A, largely because of a bundle of quick-strike drives that helped the club rate 13th in scoring at 33 points per game. Since Arizona gave up an average of 19.5 points per game -- and returns 10 of the defensive starters that helped do it -- the obvious hope is to get some of that offense hooked up in Tucson. UA averaged 17 points per game with its 2006 offense.
Most of Arizona's spring workouts will be closed, and why not? The Cats' offense doesn't exist on film, at least in terms of UA's returning personnel. How will junior quarterback Willie Tuitama take to the system? Does UA have the requisite receivers that help make the offense go? How much of the running game -- beloved in the Pac-10 as a ball-control and see-if-you-can-stop this feature -- will Arizona infuse into the mix? Can a more experienced offensive line (with some really good players) learn some new tricks?
The 15 allotted spring practices will answer most of those questions. Insiders think all are clearly affirmative already. Willie says he likes the stuff because it's quick developing and more suited to his talents, the Cats have their best depth at receiver (albeit largely young) in the 2000s, the UA will not forsake power football and will have a running game, and the young line is full of young lions who should be fine.
(Weekdays 4-6 p.m., Saturdays 9-11 a.m. Schedule is subject to change.)
(15th practice TO ADD)
Wednesday, March 21
Friday, March 23
Saturday, March 24
Monday, March 26
Wednesday, March 28
(Thursday, March 29 ?- Coaches Clinic, no practice)
Friday, March 30 ?- Coaches Clinic
Saturday, March 31 ?- Coaches Clinic; scrimmage
Monday, April 2
Wednesday, April 4
Friday, April 6
Monday, April 9
Wednesday, April 11
Friday, April 13 ?- Football Alumni Weekend
Saturday, April 14 ?- Spring Game,
Practices are closed to the public and media with the exception of the Spring Game and Saturday scrimmages.
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Senior CB Antoine Cason - 2007 Thorpe/Lott Awards Candidate