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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Defense gets taste of spread in 1st scrimmage

    Arizona’s vaunted defense has something to think about the next two weeks.

    The Wildcats unveiled their pass-a-plenty attack in Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage at Arizona Stadium, and a mix of short passes and power running kept defenders off-balance for the better part of 90 minutes.

    “”They spread you out so well, it’s hard to keep track of your gap and set up right,”” said linebacker Spencer Larsen. “”We have to definitely get better at that the rest of the spring.””

    Arizona lined up four wide receivers on most snaps, and quarterbacks Willie Tuitama, Tyler Lyon and Kris Heavner seldom struggled to pick up first downs and extend drives.

    The constant threat of a pass benefited both candidates for the starting running back job, senior Chris Jennings and redshirt freshman Xavier Smith.

    Smith finished with 89 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries, along with four receptions for 29 yards. Jennings, the early No. 1 who started six games last season, ran for 64 yards on six carries.

    “”I wasn’t pleased with some of the run defense,”” said UA head coach Mike Stoops. “”I thought they ran the ball pretty effectively, and we have to make sure we don’t let it happen.””

    The Wildcats amassed 492 yards of offense. They ran 55 pass plays to 22 runs, verifying Stoops’ pre-spring pledge that Arizona will throw more often this season.

    Fourteen players had at least one reception, led by receiver Mike Thomas, who had six catches for 45 yards.

    Tuitama finished 22-of-31 for 155 yards, a touchdown and an interception Larsen returned 70 yards for a score.

    Kris Heavner went 5-of-8 for 84 yards and made the longest completion of the day, a 45-yard rainbow to redshirt freshman receiver Terrell Reese.

    Lyon, whom Stoops anointed the backup the first day of spring practice, received the majority of the snaps with the second team and prospered. He went 12-of-16 for 68 yards.

    “”You get into a rhythm,”” Lyon said of the new offense. “”You complete a couple passes, get your confidence up, and before you know it, you’re down the field.””

    The first-team offense struggled out of the gate with a slew of false-start penalties, and Tuitama and Lyon misfired often when they had the team inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.

    Things picked up in the second hour, as Tuitama found tight-end A.J. Simmons for a 6-yard touchdown and moved Arizona into position for Smith’s 6-yard scoring run.

    “”I think we’re just seeing a very infant stage of an offense come together,”” Stoops said. “”We just got to stay with it and keep working. It’s going to take some time, but overall, I’m pleased.

    “”The penalties really slowed us up early on, and that really hurt us finding a tempo, but overall I thought it was a good scrimmage,”” he said. “”Anything we get in close to 100 plays and nobody gets hurt, that’s always a positive thing.””

    The red-zone difficulties were compounded by placekicker Jason Bondzio’s spotty performance.

    The junior, who will compete with freshman Alex Zendejas in the fall, had his first attempt blocked from 22 yards out and was wide right on a 37-yard kick. He converted his last two attempts from 37 and 32 yards, respectively.

    Meanwhile, freshman punter Keenyn Crier demonstrated a potent leg reminiscent of last year’s starter, Nick Folk.

    The scrimmage paused halfway in for punting drills, and Crier averaged 48.5 yards on six attempts. His fifth kick went 65 yards in the air and garnered a round of applause from the 400 people in attendance.

    “”I did pretty good,”” Crier said. “”I was really proud of myself and excited coming into the day with the crowd and everything.””

    Arizona will next perform publicly in the annual Spring Game at Arizona Stadium on April 14. It begins at 1:30 p.m. and admission is free.

    Extra points

    Cornerback Devin Ross made his spring debut Wednesday after sitting out the team’s first four practices because of personal and disciplinary reasons. He lined up with the second-team defense Saturday. “”Devin has done some things to get himself back in good graces with us,”” Stoops said. “”Hopefully, he’ll continue to do that. … He’s got a lot of work to do, (he’s) very rusty. But at least he’s out here.”” … The first-team defense was missing three starters: cornerbacks Antoine Cason and Wilrey Fontenot and defensive tackle Lionel Dotson. Fontenot and Dotson were nursing injuries, while Cason saved his energy for a track and field meet Saturday afternoon. “”He doesn’t need to play,”” Stoops said of Cason, with a chuckle. “”We have a lot of guys who don’t need a lot (of repetitions this spring).””

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