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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Put the originality back in offense

    Roman Veytsmanassistant sports editor
    Roman Veytsman
    assistant sports editor

    Fourth down-and-19 at Arizona’s own 25-yard line.

    The Wildcats are on life support, down 21-10 with 1:55 to go, and though a comeback at this point may have been beyond the realm of imagination, crazier things can happen if a team takes its shots down the field.

    Instead, quarterback Willie Tuitama drops back and throws a 6-yard dump pass to running back Chris Henry, who dances to the 37-yard line for a 12-yard gain.

    Turnover on downs. Exits are toward the back of the stadium, please drive home carefully. Game officially over.

    It’s like being down by a three with five seconds left in basketball and driving the lane for a layup, praying to get fouled.

    That play was a microcosm of Arizona’s inability to move the ball down the field effectively against Washington – and against every other opponent who steps onto the other side of the line of scrimmage against Arizona’s offense.

    Against Division I opponents, the Wildcats have a grand total of two touchdowns.

    “”Sure it’s frustrating,”” UA offensive coordinator Mike Canales said. “”I feel bad for the kids because I know what we’re capable of, and I know what we can do.””

    Granted, the offensive line is young and the running game is inept to say the least. But running back-to-back bubble screens and halfback dive after halfback dive isn’t exactly bringing the offense out of its rut.

    The play calling is so conservative, Pat Robertson is screaming for a trick play.

    “”If you’re executing plays, then you continue to put more plays in and growing the playbook, but right now we’re just trying to find ways to get the kids to execute,”” Canales said. “”Once they start executing, they’ll gain confidence, and with confidence comes bigger and better things.””

    The Wildcats have proved that they can be successful throwing the ball downfield. Tuitama’s cannon is more impressive than Richard Kovalchek’s water gun, and the sophomore started the third quarter with two throws that gained 62 yards. Two plays later, Arizona was at the 4-yard line.

    Then, hand off left to Chris Jennings for a loss of five yards. Washington’s defenders took down Jennings faster than police tackling the guy who ran onto the field Sept. 23 against No. 3 Southern California.

    It was like the scene in “”Water Boy”” when coach Red Beaulieu steals coach Klein’s playbook. The Huskies just saw it coming.

    Next play: Tuitama drops back and is sacked for 15 yards. Then the Wildcats miss a field goal and a golden opportunity.

    Canales defended the screen passes for which his offense has come to be known.

    “”It takes pressure off the offensive linemen, and when you have young guys, you get the ball outside and try to get the defensive line tired rushing up the field,”” he said. “”You get a chance to put the ball in some of your best players’ hands and guys who can make plays, and that’s what we’re trying to do with the screen plays.””

    With negative rushing yards in the last two games, the Wildcats are using screen plays as their running game.

    “”It’s supposed to help the running game too. The quick pass game is like a run play,”” Canales said. “”Until we can get that running game going and find some continuity up front and build off that, that’s what you have to use.””

    The lack of a running game has made the playbook seem smaller than the original John Madden football game. It’s Madden who, of course, always chides a player who throws underneath the first down marker on third down.

    Meanwhile, Tuitama’s efficiency rating is down 32 points and he’s thrown five interceptions, yet his talent alone has proved that he’s capable of more. After practice on Tuesday, Tuitama was gleaming with delight as he told the media that the Wildcats changed things up at practice.

    “”We’re doing some things a little differently, to disguise some things,”” he said. “”I don’t really want to say, I don’t wanna give it up. But it’s some real good stuff.””

    Canales said regardless of the game plan, the Wildcats’ key word is “”execute.””

    “”The plays are there, and they have to make plays,”” he said.

    Instead of execution, Arizona’s offense has had one breakdown after another.

    “”On offense, you can’t have breakdowns,”” Canales said. “”I see it every day. I see it on Sundays with some of the games that you watch. Guys make a mistake, and you go back and look at it. Is it scheme? What is it? It’s a breakdown, you have to limit your breakdowns.””

    Whether it’s execution or a lack of creativity in the offensive play calling, one thing is certain: Arizona must run the ball effectively.

    “”We’re not gonna give up hope that we can run the ball,”” Canales said. “”We believe we can run the ball. We’ve showed times that we can run it, and we just gotta stay out of bad situations, stay out of bad plays and not create negative plays.””

    UA head coach Mike Stoops has led an impressive defense, but cornerback Antoine Cason, linebacker Spencer Larsen and company have been on the field for an average of 3 1/2 more minutes than the offense.

    Stoops doesn’t call the offensive plays. Canales does.

    If the offense has any chance to get going, it will take a combination of execution and a more open playbook. At this point, the Wildcats’ offense doesn’t have much to lose.

    “”I know it’s there,”” Canales said. “”We’re not far off.””

    Roman Veytsman is a journalism senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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