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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Pro/Con: Was this football season a success?

    Best season of the decade certainly successful

    Considering that the last time Arizona football won six games was all the way back in 1999, when the team had the likes of Dennis Northcutt, Trung Canidate and two impressive freshmen in Lance Briggs and Bobby Wade, Arizona’s season was surely successful.

    Add to that the fact that the Wildcats beat four teams ranked in the top 25 at some point in the year, faced an incredibly tough schedule with No. 2 USC and No. 5 Louisiana State on the slate and led the Pacific 10 Conference in the all-important turnover margin category.

    Granted, the expectations were high and Arizona’s bowl chances just slipped through the window, but the Wildcats had to work with a starting quarterback who was bounced around like a rag doll for most of the season.

    While the offense sputtered, the defense – most of which is coming back next year – carried the team on its back, keeping the Wildcats in every game but LSU and UCLA. Six Wildcats earned All-Pac-10 honors, the most since 2002, and Arizona’s special teams were solid behind kicker and punter Nick Folk and kick and punt returner Syndric Steptoe.

    In a three-game magical stretch when the Wildcats could do no wrong, the offense and defense came together and showed extended flashes of Arizona’s capabilities.

    Prior to the season, all UA head coach Mike Stoops and his players could talk about was learning how to win games and getting over the hump. Well, in close games against good teams, the Wildcats did as promised, beating then-No. 8 California 24-20 with a last stand by the defense, closing out then-No. 25 Washington State 27-17 on the road and holding off No. 20 Brigham Young 16-13.

    And through it all, one of the most important factors may be the development of Arizona’s talent. The Wildcats showcased two shutdown cornerbacks in Antoine Cason and Wilrey Fontenot, saw the emergence of sophomore safety Michael Klyce, who filled in for starter Michael Johnson, received great play from linebackers Spencer Larsen, Dane Krogstad and Ronnie Palmer, and started to see some semblance of a pass rush from newcomer Louis Holmes from his defensive end spot.

    Even on the offensive side of the ball, the much-maligned offensive line stepped up against Oregon, as running back Chris Henry ran over the ragged Duck defense.

    So Arizona may not have yet turned the corner, but reaching .500 means it has at least come to the intersection.

    And after only staring at mediocrity with wide eyes for the better part of this decade, when the Wildcats finally reach that level, it can only be determined that this year has been one of triumph.

    Roman Veytsman
    assistant sports editor


    Devil’s advocate: Offense still not up to par

    When a team has its best season in eight years, clearly you have to play devil’s advocate to play up its faults.

    That being said, Arizona’s offense took a step backward in 2006, and, the obvious reasons for that notwithstanding, the unit remains the program’s biggest question mark for the second straight offseason.

    The Wildcats scored 16.6 points per game this season, which ranked 105th out of 119 NCAA Division I-A teams. Arizona averaged nearly one fewer touchdown per contest than last year, when it went 3-8.

    The culprit for the team’s paltry attack this season was a lack of big plays and a lack of continuity at quarterback.

    Both factors followed directly from the intermittent presence behind center of sophomore Willie Tuitama, who suffered three concussions, the latest in Saturday’s 28-14 home loss to ASU.

    A history of concussions makes any quarterback’s long-term playing options tenuous, and over the next few months, it must be asked whether Tuitama will ever suit up for the Wildcats again.

    Arizona has to be guardedly optimistic even if he does. Opponents know they can simply knock him out of the game for the price of a 15-yard penalty or less.

    And the prospects behind Tuitama on the depth chart aren’t that pretty.

    Next year’s backup will likely be senior Kris Heavner, who first joined the team in 2003. Yet despite two full years under head coach Mike Stoops and a good chunk of playing time therein, he has yet to show he can carry the offense for any significant stretch.

    Freshman Tyler Lyon, who redshirted this season, would be an intriguing choice merely because of the mystery behind his abilities, but his inexperience probably won’t help the team if he has to come in and rescue it mid-game.

    Basically, short-term improvement is going to fall again on the shoulders of junior running back Chris Henry, who averaged nearly 30 carries during a three-game winning streak to start November. In that span, the team averaged 29.7 points per game.

    Those numbers highlight one Wildcat failure that could have prevented all the rest: the team’s inability to find balance in its offense.

    If Arizona had committed more to the running game, regardless of its young and learning offensive line, Tuitama would have taken less pressure and fans would be talking about a potential eight-win team next season.

    Instead, it’s perfectly reasonable to suspect the Wildcats will be on the postseason outskirts again in 2007.

    Tom Knauer
    senior writer

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