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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Arizona is now pronounced ‘Airzona’

    Quarterback Willie Tuitama rocks back in a 28-10 win against Stephen F. Austin on Sept. 16, 2006, at Arizona Stadium. In a season interrupted by multiple concussions, Tuitama threw for 1,355 yards and seven touchdowns in his sophomore season, but looks to have a much better year with a new pass-heavy offense.
    Quarterback Willie Tuitama rocks back in a 28-10 win against Stephen F. Austin on Sept. 16, 2006, at Arizona Stadium. In a season interrupted by multiple concussions, Tuitama threw for 1,355 yards and seven touchdowns in his sophomore season, but looks to have a much better year with a new pass-heavy offense.

    Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell threw for 4,555 yards and 38 touchdowns last year in his sophomore season.

    Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama threw for 1,335 yards and seven touchdowns last year in his sophomore season.

    The correlation between the two is Tuitama’s new quarterback coach and offensive coordinator just so happens to be the same guy who coached Harrell to the fourth-best sophomore season in NCAA history and third in passing in the country.

    Sonny Dykes won’t be asking Tuitama to put up numbers like Harrell, but it is on his shoulders to guide a newly installed pass-heavy spread offense.

    “”Anytime you have a new system you have some concerns about how guys are going to react and how well you’re going to execute, but I feel real good about where we’re at,”” Dykes said.

    Tuitama is coming off a year that started with enormous expectations. He was called things like ‘Savior’ and ‘Future’ after he appeared in five games as a true freshman. He went only 2-3 in that span, although he was credited for reinvigorating a fan base after leading the Wildcats to a 52-14 Homecoming pounding of UCLA.

    But 2006 was a whole different animal. Suffering three concussions, Tuitama was simply out of commission for a large chunk of last season, missing time in five separate games.

    “”This year is a whole lot different, especially with everything that happened to me last year,”” Tuitama said. “”Now I’m fully recovered and I’m back to perfect and everything.””

    The biggest question mark for Tuitama this season might not be if he can handle the new offense, but how he handles it.

    The biggest knock on Tuitama through 15 games is his inconsistency as a quarterback. He has stood out as a possible top-tier college passer in some games, and in others, he had trouble coming close to hitting open receivers.

    “”Everyone on the offense is looking at me,”” Tuitama said. “”I have a lot of experience now. I’ve been in a lot of games since my freshman year, so they’re all looking at me to step up and make plays and just lead them.””

    Through spring workouts and scrimmages, coaches and teammates only raved about Tuitama’s performance and his ability to adapt to the new system.

    “”He’s looking really good,”” said wide receiver Delashaun Dean. “”He’s really focused and he knows what he’s doing. This is the type of offense he can thrive in. I think Willie’s ready to go. He’s more focused than he’s ever been.””

    Tuitama can take solace in the fact that with Dykes and new offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh at the helm of Tech’s offense in 2005-2006, sack totals nearly halved, to 19 from 36.

    Arizona’s oft-beleaguered offensive line allowed 31 sacks last season.

    “”I think this system gives us a very unique way to protect our quarterback,”” said UA head coach Mike Stoops. “”If we can keep Willie healthy from start to finish this season, every game our chances of winning go up dramatically.””

    Fifth-year senior Kris Heavner and redshirt freshman Tyler Lyon round out the depth chart at quarterback.

    Heavner has a lot of game experience, being the former starter before a transfer to Baylor in 2005 and a backup at Arizona last season.

    Lyon was second on the depth chart in the spring but moved down a slot after Heavner recovered from a back injury. The knock on Lyon is that he needs to work on his quickness.

    For now, the job is all Tuitama’s.

    “”This new offense really helps me out,”” he said. “”I can just catch, throw and be the general of the field. The system helps me out because I have more say of what goes on every play.

    “”I’m real comfortable with it,”” he added. “”I think we had the entire thing locked in on the third or fourth day of spring. We’ve just been doing reps after reps after reps, so now everything is like second nature.””

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