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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Cats welcome Cal for Homecoming

    Sophomore quarterback Willie Tuitama drops back to throw in a 21-10 loss to Washington at Arizona Stadium on Sept. 30. Tuitama faces the Pacific 10 Conferences worst passing defense when the Wildcats take on California Saturday in Arizona Stadium.
    Sophomore quarterback Willie Tuitama drops back to throw in a 21-10 loss to Washington at Arizona Stadium on Sept. 30. Tuitama faces the Pacific 10 Conference’s worst passing defense when the Wildcats take on California Saturday in Arizona Stadium.

    How do you defeat a team you haven’t scored against in three years, in a near must-win situation?

    The Arizona football team, two wins from a possible bowl berth, already has its plan picked out as it readies to face No. 8 California in its Homecoming game tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. at Arizona Stadium. The game will be televised regionally on ABC.

    “”If we can just make four or five big plays a game and convert some third downs, I think it makes a big difference in your production,”” said Arizona head coach Mike Stoops. “”That was key offensively (Saturday against Washington State).””

    The Wildcats (4-5, 2-4 Pacific 10 Conference) enter this contest with re-born confidence coming off a 27-17 upset of then-No. 25 Washington State in Pullman, Wash.

    Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama threw a 78-yard touchdown to wide receiver Anthony Johnson two minutes into the first quarter, and running back Chris Henry carried the load from there, finishing with a school-record 35 rushes for 94 yards and two touchdowns.

    The Wildcats converted 9-of-18 third-down attempts while holding the ball 35 minutes. That kept Washington State’s strong passing game on the sideline and out of sync, as evidenced by quarterback Alex Brink’s four sacks and two fumbles.

    Arizona longs for another complete performance against the Golden Bears (8-1, 6-0), who have shut out the Wildcats by a combined score of 66-0 in Stoops’ first two seasons.

    “”We’re going to need to handle the game well, shorten it with our running game, try to limit their possessions,”” he said. “”You can’t play a one-sided game. We’ll have to play offense, defense, special teams in this game. And we’ve shown we can do that, so we’re going to need another team effort to get a win.””

    Two wins in their final three games will put Arizona in position for its first postseason trip since 1998. A visit to No. 21 Oregon’s raucous Autzen Stadium comes next on the bill, followed by the Wildcats’ annual Territorial Cup game against ASU.

    Linebacker Ronnie Palmer has set his bar high after a defeat of then-No. 7 UCLA during Homecoming last November.

    “”Our goal is to win out,”” he said. “”We all want to reach a bowl game and do it for the team, make a name for ourselves.””

    Last season’s victory over the Bruins came on the heels of a road win: 29-27 against Oregon State. Arizona intercepted six passes, and Tuitama threw for a career-high 335 yards.

    Stoops said he didn’t have to tell his players anything special as they prepared for a UCLA team that had already dropped then-No. 10 California 47-40 and came in averaging 42.6 points per game.

    In kind, his words were few Saturday before Arizona gave Stoops his first conference victory away from Tucson.

    “”We went up there expecting to play well,”” he said. “”That was our mindset going into the game. We knew we could match up, and our kids went in there and played well. That was a great thing, obviously.””

    Stoops called Cal the most balanced team the Wildcats will play this season, even in light of then-No. 8 Louisiana State’s 45-3 victory on Sept. 9.

    The Golden Bears are tied with the Ducks for the Pac-10 lead with a scoring average of 36.3 points per game and allow only 19.7, tied for third in the conference with Arizona.

    By all accounts, Cal should make life difficult for Arizona once again. How well it fights back will likely depend on the production of Tuitama.

    He returned from his second concussion of the season, suffered Oct. 7 against the Bruins, to spark a series of long gains against the Cougars.

    Besides the score to Johnson, Tuitama found wideouts Mike Thomas and Syndric Steptoe for 16 and 21 yards, respectively, on a drive that Henry pounded home for a touchdown to give Arizona its decisive 10-point lead.

    Good things could happen against a Cal pass defense ranked ninth in the Pac-10 (255.7 yards per game).

    “”Obviously having him back there now really makes their offense a lot more potent,”” said Cal head coach Jeff Tedford on Tuesday. “”They have very good receivers that he can get the ball to. He really brings an added dimension to their team.””

    How do you score against a team you haven’t scored against in three years?

    Keep the right attitude.

    “”It’s all about confidence on the offensive side of the ball,”” Steptoe said. “”If you play with confidence, you feel like you can take on anybody. It’s one of the things we didn’t have at the beginning of the year and that we feel we’re gaining back now.””

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