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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Wildcats open season with bang

    They say the biggest growth a football team experiences in a short period of time usually occurs between the first and second game.

    But for the Arizona football team, after its 70-0 season-opening blowout win over Idaho on Saturday, it seems as if there is only one way to go – down.

    After all, the Wildcats appeared to do everything right by scoring the most points an Arizona team has put up in almost 90 years and posting its first shutout since 1996.

    In UA head coach Mike Stoops’ fifth year at the helm, everything finally came together, at least in the first game. After perhaps the most encouraging season-opening win in recent memory, the Wildcats remain poised to take a run at the team’s first bowl berth since 1998.

    The win had players animated as they poured out of the locker room, seemingly more confident than ever.

    Just ask senior wide receiver Mike Thomas.

    “”We would have put a Benjamin Franklin on them,”” said Thomas of his prediction on what Arizona could have done to Idaho had the starters played the entire game. “”That’s a hundred dollars. We could have put a 100 on them.””

    Relevant or not, Stoops was encouraged after the game by what he saw from the entire squad.

    “”It was obviously a great way to start. I thought our kids were well-prepared,”” Stoops said. “”I thought we played very physical, I thought our tackling was excellent, and I was really pleased with the effort of all of our players.

    “”We had the opportunity to play virtually everyone on the team that was eligible to play if we weren’t redshirting them,”” Stoops added. “”I think every kid played and that was obviously another very positive aspect to the game.””

    Perhaps the most special part of Arizona’s explosion on the scoreboard came in the way they got it. Of the Wildcats’ 10 touchdowns, nine different Wildcats got into the endzone, both on defense and offense.

    Arizona came out strong after a 64-minute rain delay to score on its first possession, moving the ball 80 yards for the eventual touchdown.

    After last year’s struggles in the season opener against BYU in Provo, Utah, the Wildcats were motivated to get off to a strong start.

    With the majority of starters playing the entire first half, Arizona put up a school-record 49 points, the most a Wildcat team has ever put up in that time frame.

    “”We wanted to let everyone know what we are for real,”” said UA running back Nic Grigsby, who rushed 19 times for a 169 yards and two scores in the first half. “”We are not going to back down.””

    The source of consistency from a year ago surfaced immediately for the Wildcats in the form of quarterback Willie Tuitama.

    The senior connected on 17 of 21 throws for 179 yards and three touchdowns, enough touchdown throws to surpass Tom Tunnicliffe as the school’s all-time leader in passing touchdowns.

    While Tuitama certainly enjoys the honor of holding yet another Arizona record, he was more encouraged by his team’s entire performance and the prospect of a very successful season.

    “”Of course it is nice, but I would rather have victories,”” said Tuitama about breaking the touchdown record. “”W’s, W’s, W’s. That’s what I care about.””

    With Tuitama out by halftime, it gave freshman quarterback Matt Scott a chance to get his feet wet.

    Scott, who specializes in a zone-read type offense, led the Arizona offense for the majority of the second half and went 6-for-10 for 77 yards and a touchdown and ran for 54 yards and a rushing score.

    The dual-threat quarterback did show signs of rookie mistakes, but the coaching staff was encouraged by Scott’s maturation to the Division I level.

    “”I wasn’t expecting to get that many (touches),”” Scott said. “”I just worked on getting the tempo and went out and played my game. We just need to stay focused on what we need to do and keep it up next week.””

    The 70 spot Arizona put up on the scoreboard will surely grab most of the attention, but the question mark entering the season was the defense. And for their first night, the defense responded.

    The Wildcats shutout an Idaho squad that returned 11 starters from a year ago and held them to just 76 yards.

    “”We made them earn their yards, which is what we are really trying to do,”” said UA defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. “”What we were trying to improve on was not beating ourselves is making them earn every yard and that’s what we were able to do.””

    As of now, there still isn’t a way to measure whether Arizona was that dominant, or if Idaho was that bad. But the Wildcats will surely take it heading into their second non-conference game against Toledo on Saturday at Arizona Stadium.

    “”Idaho is struggling with their personnel right now,”” Mike Stoops said. “”I think what (people) will see is a team that has a chance to be pretty good.””

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