Dec. 15, 2008
Sam Boyd Stadium Las Vegas, Nev.
Saturday, Dec. 20 5 p.m. (PST)
TV (National): ESPN (Commentators: Mike Patrick, Todd Blackledge, Holly Rowe)
Radio (National): Sports USA Radio Network
Radio (Arizona): IMG Sports (see page 2 for Arizona radio affiliates)
BYU-Arizona The Series
First Meeting: 1936 (Arizona 32 - BYU 6)
Last Meeting: 2007 (BYU 20 - Arizona 7)
All-Time Series: UA leads 11-9-1
UA-BYU The Series: In a series that dates back to 1936, Arizona owns an 11-9-1 advantage over BYU ... The Wildcats won the last meeting in Tucson (16-13, 2006), but dropped a 20-7 decision in Provo in 2007 ... The Cougars had won three of four prior contests in UA’s final days in the Western Athletic Conference in the late 1970s ... The Las Vegas Bowl showdown will mark the first game between the two school’s at a neautral site ... Arizona’s largest point total in a single game against BYU came in a 39-6 win in Tucson in 1964 ... BYU scored a high-water mark 37 points in a 37-13 win in Tucson in 1974 ... The average margin of victory for the winning squad has been 13.6 points with one tie (1957).
Versus the Cougars: Arizona has a few guys with game experience against BYU -- 25 to be exact. Junior tackle Eben Britton, senior QB Willie Tuitama, senior linebacker Ronnie Palmer and senior receiver Mike Thomas each have two starts against the Cougars. Others who have played against BYU twice include guard Joe Longacre (1 start), DTs Earl Mitchell (1 start as TE) and Donald Horton, safety Cam Nelson (1 start), CB Devin Ross, linebacker Adrian McCovy, special teams' Xavier Smith and Brandon Lopez, and linebacker Xavier Kelley. Tight end Rob Gronkowski and OL Colin Baxter started the '07 BYU game, and a couple of others also played -- safety Nate Ness, special teams' Brandon Tatum, DE Ricky Elmore, receiver Delashaun Dean, tight end A.J. Simmons and kickers Jason Bondzio and Keeyn Crier. Center Blaker Kerley, lost for this season earlier in the year, started in 2007 but will not play at Las Vegas. Stat-wise, a handful of Cats have some numbers. Tuitama has completed 35 of 72 throws for 402 yards and two scores against BYU in two games (one interception); Mike Thomas has 8-62 receiving, while Dean and Turner each had four catches in last year's game. Gronkowski had one. Defensively, Palmer had a combined 13 tackles against BYU, while Cam Nelson had eight and Donald Horton two last year. The interception suffered by Tuitama in 2006 was the lone pick in the two games.
Some Game Themes: The Wildcats return to the postseason after a hiatus of nine consecutive empty holidays... Two teams revisit a mature rivalry, having first met in 1936... The Cats and Cougars opened the 2006 season in Tucson and the 2007 season in Provo, trading victories for the home team... A match of offenses capable of moving the ball, with BYU rated 17th nationally in total offense (444 ypg) behind a No. 7 passing attack and Arizona checking in at 34th (401 ypg) behind a balanced attack... Both team can score, with UA (37 ppg) holding a slight edge over BYU (35 ppg)... Arizona's No. 20 defense could be helpful in its quest for a first bowl victory since 1998... Willie Tuitama of Arizona and Max Hall of BYU give their teams veteran quarterback leadership... Austin Collie of BYU, fourth nationally with 7.9 receptions per game against Mike Thomas, the FBS No. 3 active career receptions leader with 255 grabs... The Cats work to snap a three-game streak of losses to Mountain West Conference teams, starting with the one at Provo in September 2007 followed by losses to New Mexico in Tucson later that month and to the Lobos in September of this year... UA takes on a team familiar with the scene at Sam Boyd Stadium: it's the Cougars' fourth consecutive Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl appearance and quest for a third straight victory...
UA’s Last Time Out: Arizona closed its 2008 regular season in solid fashion with a 31-10 victory over Arizona State to take the 1899 Territorial Cup trophy, state bragging rights, a winning record and a bowl invitation from Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl representatives on hand in the aroused Wildcat locker room. UA scored 24 unaswered points in the third and fourth period to make it decisive. The Wildcat defense held the Sun Devils to 162 net yards in offense, while Arizona's offense held the ball for nearly a full-quarter's edge in possession (37 minutes to 23). Game MVP Mike Thomas caught nine passes for 75 yards to continue his assault on the Pac-10's career receptions record, plus took back a punt 52 yards for a score on the third of the third-quarter touchdowns. The first half was sloppy for UA, with four penalties, a Willie Tuitama pass intercepted in the end zone and a couple of lapses that helped ASU take a 10-7 lead at the break. Two short-field drives by the Devils helped them, one earned with a 46-yard kickoff return by Kyle Williams to set up a field goal. The other came when UA punter Keenyn Crier kneeled to retrieve a low snap and thereby gave ASU the ball at UA's 19 yard-line. Rudy Carpenter answered with a touchdown pass a short moment later. But the second half was Tuitama's turn, and he built a 284 yard evening, finishing with 25 completions on 37 throws with two scores. UA running back Nic Grigsby's 114 yards on 22 carries helped him finish the regular season with 1,066 yards, the first Arizona back to do so since Clarence Farmer had 1,229 in 2001. Wildcat tight end Rob Gronkowski opened the evening's scoring with a 17-yard TD grab and had 95 yards on six catches. Delashaun Dean chipped in 6-86 and a score to go with Thomas' 9-75 evening. The latter, with 255 career receptions, moved to within three of the Pac-10 record of 258 held by former Sun Devil Derek Hagan (2002-05). But his career-best punt return for a score was a definitive moment in the game, signaling an end to ASU's three-year reign in the series and helping thwart ASU's chances for a bowl appearance (5-7). Arizona, meantime, at 7-5, posted its first winning season since 1998.
Sonny Days: It was only two years ago that the Arizona offense averaged 16.6 points per game and 252.8 total yards per game. Following that 2006 season, Mike Stoops hired former Texas Tech passing game specialist Sonny Dykes to take control of the Arizona offense and implement the multiple spread offense in order to put more points on the board. A key part of the change was that UA needed to better utilize the talented Willie Tuitama at quarterback. Dykes and his staff wasted no time in 2007 showing marked improvement in the offensive numbers, and a similar jump has taken place in 2008, resulting in a dramatic two-year turnaround. Here’s a look at the Wildcats’ offensive numbers over the last three seasons with NCAA rank indicated in parentheses.
Year Points Per Game Yards Per Game Rushing Passing
2006 16.6 (105) 252.8 (115) 84.2 (110) 168.7 (94)
2007 28.0 (56) 385.3 (67) 76.75 (114) 308.5 (10)
2008 37.1 (16) 401.3 (34) 164.0 (48) 237.3 (40)
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 476 times compared to 377 passes. A year ago it was 524 passes and 329 runs. The difference: over a thousand more rushing yards this time around, with total offense boosted nearly by 100 per game to the current 401. Fewer passes has helped define a core of six primary players in the UA passing attack -- Mike Thomas (70), Delashaun Dean (46), Rob Gronkowski (43), Terrell Turner (39) and the running back, say Nic Grigsby (12). 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 at least triple-digit season rushing led by Grigsby with 1,066. 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...).
High Scoring: Arizona has scored 445 points in 12 games this season, the best season total in school history. Additionally, its 37.1 points-per-game effort this year 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 previous best for total points was 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.
Red Zone Notes: Arizona is among national leaders with 93 percent effectiveness in the Red Zone, with 52 scores in 56 trips. UA has 43 touchdowns in 56 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 few of times with possession inside the opponents' 15 (against Washington, UCLA and most recently against ASU on the final possession of the game). 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...
Five is Alive: Arizona won five home games for the first time since 1998 with a victory against ASU on Dec. 6. UA finished 5-2 at home in 2008 after posting a 4-2 mark in 2007. 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 sixth-largest crowd in Arizona Stadium history (58,704) to see the ASU game, Arizona drew 367,080 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 33.58 5
Fewest Penalties Per Game 3.83 t-4
Red Zone Efficiency 93% t-5
Time of Possession 32:36 9
Turnovers Lost 16 20
Defensive Third Down Efficiency 32.5% 19
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 and ASU has 71 catches for 1,170 yards and 16 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 Year
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 Year
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
Pointing the Way: The Cats have a pair of players in UA's all-time career scoring chart - kicker Jason Bondzio (7th) 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 (2 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. 190 Jason Bondzio, PK, 2007-08
8. 186 Theo Bell WR/KR, 1972-75
9. 182 Sean Keel, PK, 1999-02
10. 169 Nick Folk, PK, 2003-06
11. 168 Mike Thomas, WR/KR, 2005-08
11. 162 Dennis Northcutt., WR/KR, 1996-99
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 37.1 points per game is on track to finish second best in school history behind the 1998 club (38.5). The Wildcats are averaging 401.2 yards of offense per game (237 passing, 164), good enough for fifth best all time at UA to date. UA currently is outscoring opponents by a margin of 15.8 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 445 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.
Move the Chains: Arizona has 267 first downs, an average of 22.25 per game, narrowly behind 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 144 through the air in 12 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 128 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 37 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 -- taking 13 punts back, 12 interceptions for scores and returning 12 fumbles for scores.
Half Over: Arizona is no team to consider any game “in the bag”, but typically a halftime lead for the Wildcats is a good thing because of its efficient play in the second half of games. On the season, the Wildcats are outscoring opponents by a score of 214-97 in the second half of games. That opponent total of 97 points matches what UA foes have notched in the second quarter of games this season. But, second quarters are also UA’s highest scoring when it has the ball (146 points).
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 12-game starter Nic Grigsby (194-1,066) or backup Keola Antolin (117-525) -- the combined dude has 311 carries for 1,591yards (5.1 ypc). They've scored 22 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 351 rushes for 1,744 yards and 27 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 proclivity to score when the ball gets to them. Sophomore Rob has 10 scoring catches in 43 grabs -- 23 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 15.0. 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 seven games including four of the last five.
Cats Hope Eight Will Be Great: Arizona won its seventh game for the first time since 1998, when it won 12 games. The 2006 squad fell short of winning seven games against ASU, finishing 6-6. 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 satisfied with just getting to lucky No. 7 – now it wants No. 8 to be great.
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 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 104 games in which they have scored 30 or more points. Their record in those games? An astounding 94-9-1. That record included a streak of 18 consecutive victories prior to the Oregon game, and UA is now 15-1 under Mike Stoops. For the record, Arizona is 7-1 in such games this season.
If Not 30, Try 40: 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 did in four home games this season. As you might expect, Arizona was 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.
Still Pretty Impressive: Despite improved rushing numbers, The Tuitama-led passing attack could check in among Arizona's Top 10. The team average of 237 yards per game would stack up at No. 7 in Arizona history. The Cats need about 150 passing yards in the bowl game to hit the UA chart at least in the No. 10 spot...
Game Management: Willie's smarter throwing, limiting himself and the team to a total of eight intercepted passes, is a reason for the above success. The eight picks would be the fewest for a season since Arizona's Dan White gave up seven INTs (296 attempts) in 1994. Since, the club has been in double figures including 12 by Tuitama last year and a high in the span of 23 by the 2003 club.
Yes, These Stats Count! Arizona's season statistics finally will include bowl games, as the last postseason appearance came when the 11-1 mark at the end of the regular season was it as far as stats. The NCAA since has included bowl games in its seasons statistics, so UA will have to wait until January to see where it stacks up. In recent years it's had to wait until January, but the UA figures didn’t' change after the ASU game...
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 (53-163). The Cats showed their ability to buckle down in key situations against then No. 25 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 36.5% success rate (19-52) - 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% (38-54) third-and-short situations.
Tossing at Ross: Sophomore cornerback Devin Ross, who was named to the All-Pac-10 Second Team, got tested throughout the Pac-10 season. It didn’t bother him. He shut things down on the boundary in the first three or four games, and then 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. 7 in the nation in passes defended with 13 on the season entering the bowl game.
Blackjack 21: The Wildcats would love nothing more than to hit 21 this week in Vegas – football style at least. On the season, UA has scored 21 or more points in a quarter five times, including in the third quarter of UA’s 31-10 win over ASU.
Getting Picky: The Cats have 15 interceptions through 12 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 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 48 quarters of football in 2008 and has scored at least a field goal in 39 of those quarters. Here's a look at how Arizona has spread its points around by quarter:
1 2 3 4 Total
Arizona 85 146 114 100 445
Opponents 62 97 47 50 256
98 Snaps: Paced by a Mike Stoops era high 98 plays at Oregon on Nov. 15, the Cats have 853 for the year. Thus, this year's club needs 51 more snaps to hit 904 for the season, which is the school record set 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 36 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 36 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 23 games he's played, the next best consecutive mark among UA receivers. Sophomore tight end Rob Gronkowski is next at 14 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 1.2 ypc improvement to this year's current average of 4.1 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.
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. 14 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 45 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 45 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 12 games this year UA has 47 punts. UA also has over to more minutes of possession per game this year than last (No. 9 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. 5 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 85- 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 401.2 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 (476) than passes (377) 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.
Double Dipping: Arizona's Mike Thomas' double as first-team All-Pac-10 receiver and punt returner is the most recent Pac-10 double in those categories since California's DeSean Jackson pulled if off two short years ago in 2008. The conference added one other first-team double-dippers this year in Oregon safety Patrick Chung picking up Special Teams honors. Over the years since the league began naming a return man in 1979 there have been 10 other doubles, and the names are pretty good. The first was Washington defensive back Mark Lee as a return specialist in 1979; cornerback Darryl Henley of UCLA was first-team CB and return specialist in 1988; DB Chris Oldham of Oregon as the RS in 1989; USC receiver Curtis Conway as the RS in 1992; Oregon RB Ricky Whittle as the AP back in 1995; ASU running back J.R. Redmond as the RS in 1998; California corner Deltha O'Neal as the RS in 1999; Oregon receiver Keenan Howry as the Punt Returner in 2001; Oregon safety Keith Lewis as the Special Teams pick in 2003; and USC back Reggie Bush as the PR in 2004.
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.