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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Can’t touch this

Cant touch this

People across the nation have taken notice of the Arizona football program, as the Wildcats’ play has been good enough to earn them a top-25 ranking in multiple national polls. However, one aspect of the squad hasn’t been noticed nearly as much: the offensive line.

But that’s a good thing for the Wildcats, because offensive linemen seem to only get attention when they allow sacks. That’s not the case for the UA o-line as the unit has only allowed four sacks through the first seven games of the year and kept starting quarterback Nick Foles’ jersey completely clean during the past two games.

Even with a slew of injuries forcing Arizona to play a mix-and-match combination of offensive linemen, the group keeps performing at a high level.

“”You’ve just got to take it one play at a time,”” said UA starting center Colin Baxter. “”Different guys move around, but we all know pretty much every position, so guys just fill in and step up and do their job. It’s just that sometimes it’s at a different position.””

Baxter, Phillip Garcia, Mike Diaz, Vaughn Dotsy, Adam Grant, Conan Amituanai and Herman Hall have been the main contributors to the line this season and each seem to take after offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh. While Bedenbaugh was being interviewed for this story, defensive coordinator Mark Stoops strolled by with a smirk on his face and whispered in his direction, “”The o-line can’t block anybody.”” Bedenbaugh didn’t miss a beat while he explained why his unit has been so successful.

Like Bedenbaugh, nothing seems to faze this group of offensive linemen. Whether it’s dealing with injuries or weekly adjustments to different gameplans, they’ve prepared too long and too hard to let things like that affect their play.

“”We got together four or five times a week (during the summer) to do blitz pickups, we came out here and did o-line drills and stuff like that,”” Baxter said. “”It doesn’t just happen, you know? It’s something that we’ve been working pretty hard at.””

That hard work is showing up on the stat sheet. Arizona has only allowed one sack during four games of Pacific 10 Conference play, and the team finds itself in second place in the league. With the brunt of the Wildcats’ schedule on the way, they want to keep that stellar mark intact, and they have the attitude to keep it up.

“”We’re not the most physically imposing group, but our guys are tough enough, and they understand their assignments and their technique,”” Bedenbaugh said. “”But more importantly, they’re doing it and they work hard and they give great effort. You’ve got to be tough enough to do it mentally for 60 minutes, and most of our guys physically can do it. Mentally is the most important thing to me.””

The o-line’s mentality is helping out Foles’ psyche as well. In a win against Stanford, Foles threw 51 passes and never found himself lying on his back. He attempted 34 passes and stayed upright the entire game. With plenty of time to survey the field, Foles was able to stand back in the pocket and pick apart the opposing defense, thanks to the protection the line provided.

Foles said he’s already taken out the linemen for food once this season, but if he continues to have a clean jersey at the end of the games he might have to reach into his wallet again at the end of the season to treat his protectors to another much-deserved meal.

“”They love going out for wings, and I already took them out once before, so I might have to take them out one time at the end of the year and just pig out,”” Foles said.

With the way the offensive line has performed so far this season, they could work up quite an appetite before then. With the unit’s average at 6-foot-4 and 320 pounds, could Foles afford a bill for such a large group of hungry guys?

“”Yeah, I might have to keep a little bit of my scholarship check for them,”” Foles joked, “”but yeah, I’ll be all right I think.””

But it doesn’t matter what reward the offensive linemen get at the end of the season. A big bowl game, a big bowl of wings or just more national recognition — all these players and coaches care about is continuing to play well and getting better.

“”They just know what they’re doing. They’ve got experience, they don’t bust and they’ve done a good job of not turning guys loose,”” said UA offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes. “”When you do that then you’ve got a chance to get rid of the ball and not take sacks.””

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