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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Henry gives O another big boost as workhorse

    No, it wasn’t pretty. But for the second straight week against a national top-25 opponent, the Arizona football team went to junior running back Chris Henry to control the clock, and, stats be damned, it again led to a win.

    Henry finished with 25 carries for 57 yards and two touchdowns in the Wildcats’ 24-20 victory over then-No. 8 California on Saturday.

    All of Henry’s meaningful production came in the second half, after Arizona realized a pass-heavy strategy wasn’t putting up points against even the worst pass defense in the Pacific 10 Conference.

    “”We just decided we were just going to run it,”” Henry said. “”Eventually, it was going to work. We just kept plugging at it and kept plugging at it.””

    Henry carried a school-record 35 times for 94 yards and two scores in the Wildcats’ 27-17 win over then-No. 25 Washington State on Nov. 4.

    His ability to sustain offensive drives, despite a mediocre yards-per-carry average (2.7), helped the team against the Cougars in myriad ways.

    It kept Washington State’s explosive pass offense off the field, gave Arizona’s defense some rest and allowed quarterback Willie Tuitama to create big gains through the air.

    Henry’s steadiness did all that again against the Golden Bears, but the Wildcats nearly waited too long to give the junior the opportunity.

    Tuitama threw 25 times in the first half against a pass defense that entered giving up a Pac-10-worst 255.7 yards per game, but Arizona ended up with a mere three points.

    Henry carried only six times for seven yards, as the Wildcats never got into Cal’s red zone.

    “”We came into halftime, there wasn’t any panic,”” said UA co-offensive coordinator Mike Canales. “”We said, ‘This is what we need to take care of. These things are out there. If we go out and execute, we’re going to (win).””

    After the break, Arizona went to the ground nine times, eight on Henry rushes, in its first 12 plays.

    The philosophy switch paid off on the Wildcats’ second drive of the third quarter, when Henry’s 1-yard run cut Arizona’s deficit to 17-10.

    Tuitama set up the score with passes of 26 and 39 yards to wide receivers Syndric Steptoe and Mike Thomas, respectively.

    Such big plays weren’t seen from Arizona in the first half, as Tuitama began 2-of-10 and ended the half with 98 passing yards.

    “”(Running) opened up some play-actions and kind of kept them off-balance,”” Tuitama said. “”In the first half, you could tell they were playing the pass a little bit. We tried two play-actions, and they weren’t really biting on it, just because we didn’t run the ball.””

    With three minutes left in the third, the Wildcats got the ball back at midfield. Henry carried the ball five times in the ensuing eight-play drive, twice running for no gain.

    Still, his presence, combined with a pair of long Tuitama completions and a pass-interference call on Cal cornerback Daymeion Hughes, again got the Wildcats’ in a goal-line situation.

    Henry took a handoff on second down four yards upfield and about 10 to the left to tie the game.

    “”With the goal line, if you got me running sideways, no one’s going to keep up with me, so I ran sideways and got into the end zone,”” he said. “”The offensive line sealed everyone up and made it happen.””

    Thanks to Henry chewing up yards, Arizona kept the ball for nearly 10 minutes in the third.

    Its defense responded by forcing the Golden Bears, which came in tied for the best scoring average in the Pac-10 with 36.3 points per game, into three-and-outs on their only two possessions of the quarter.

    Fresh legs came in handy for cornerback Antoine Cason a minute into the fourth, when he took quarterback Nate Longshore’s pass 39 yards untouched for the game-winning score.

    The Wildcats started their final drive on their own 38-yard line with five minutes to go, and Henry’s last five carries drained the clock 1:36 and used up two Golden Bear timeouts.

    From there, Arizona’s defense stole the show, as sophomore linebacker Ronnie Palmer intercepted Longshore on the Wildcats’ 27 to effectively end the game.

    But protecting a lead wouldn’t have been possible without a return to Henry and the run game.

    “”We were going to balance it out a little bit, and that’s what we did in the second half,”” Tuitama said. “”It was a little more balance. Basically, we went out there and played and finished.””

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