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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Lighter schedule may ease woes

    Junior running back Chris Jennings looks for open space as he carries the ball in the first quarter of Arizonaa 21-10 loss to Washington on Saturday at Arizona Stadium. The Wildcats havent found much open space so far this year, ranking 113th in the country in rushing yards per game.
    Junior running back Chris Jennings looks for open space as he carries the ball in the first quarter of Arizona’a 21-10 loss to Washington on Saturday at Arizona Stadium. The Wildcats haven’t found much open space so far this year, ranking 113th in the country in rushing yards per game.

    The Arizona football team fell below .500 with its 21-10 home loss to Washington on Saturday, but more importantly, it seemed to blow a must-win game in its quest for a bowl-game berth.

    Yet at 2-3 and with a relatively light slate remaining, the Wildcats are still in position to seize their first postseason appearance since 1998, so long as they start correcting their myriad of on-field issues Saturday at UCLA.

    “”There’s disappointment, but it’s something that we have to find a way to overcome,”” UA head coach Mike Stoops said. “”Obviously, that’s my greatest task as the head coach.””

    If players, coaches and fans can take solace in anything from Arizona’s listless performance against the Huskies, it’s that the team’s hardest times have likely passed.

    Where the Wildcats’ first five opponents carried a .800 winning percentage (12-3), tied for the third-highest mark in the nation, Arizona’s next seven foes have a combined record of 16-13 (.551), which is ranked 54th.

    “”It seems like we’re so distant, but we’re not that far away,”” Stoops said. “”As a head coach, I know fans and the media don’t see all the things that we see.””

    What they have seen so far, nearly halfway through the season, has been enough to raise hopes, but for about a long as a typical offensive drive.

    Pretty good, but don’t rest on your laurels

    Thanks in part to the team’s offensive woes (12.0 points per game this season), the Wildcats’ special teams have been the team’s most noteworthy unit.

    Kicker Nick Folk is sixth in the nation in punting (45.6 yards per kick) and 32nd in field goals per game (1.2), while wide receiver Syndric Steptoe is 34th in kickoff returns (24.1-yard average).

    Steptoe said it’s been frustrating to have a good return followed immediately by a stalled drive.

    He said the offense just has to do a better job of moving the ball in key situations, especially inside the opponents’ 35-yard line.

    “”We know we’ve shot ourselves in the foot a lot of times this year, and we got to make the big plays,”” Steptoe said. “”We just got to make the plays when they come.””

    Arizona’s top two wide receivers, Steptoe and Mike Thomas, have demonstrated good hands and the ability to make difficult catches all over the field.

    The rest of the team’s pass catchers, however, have been either inconsistent (receiver Anthony Johnson; tight ends Brandyn McCall and Brad Wood) or not yet up to speed (freshman receivers Terrell Turner and Terrell Reese).

    “”It’s always good to have the other receivers step up, because then (opponents), they can’t just kill one or two of us,”” Steptoe said. “”They have to play the whole field.””

    Needs improvement, but not far off

    Quarterback Willie Tuitama had a good game (career-high 24 completions for season-high 308 yards) against the Huskies but generally hasn’t seemed to have the time he needs in the pocket to develop a rhythm.

    As a result, his overall numbers (467 yards, two touchdowns, four interceptions) have been lackluster coming off an impressive five-game stretch (1,105 yards, nine touchdowns, five interceptions) to end last season.

    Steptoe said he expects Tuitama’s stats to improve as he develops better timing with each of his receivers.

    “”We’ve been out here at practice working and getting our motions down, and that’s been the main thing we’ve been missing in the passing game, just knowing each other better,”” Steptoe said.

    Keep these guys after practice

    Arizona’s overall lack of experience – the team is starting only four seniors – has taken the biggest toll on the offense, exemplified by its young, thin offensive line.

    Five players in the six-man rotation have less than a season’s worth of starting experience, as left tackle Peter Graniello (21 of the group’s 28 combined career starts) is by far the most seasoned Wildcat.

    No surprise, perhaps, that the line has allowed 11 sacks in the past two contests.

    “”It snowballs a little bit,”” guard Joe Longacre said. “”It’s probably something we need to work on because when you have a bad play, you need to be able to put it behind you and make the next play count.””

    An unseasoned running game – starter Chris Jennings walked on to the team in fall camp, and backup Chris Henry entered the year with no starting experience in two-plus seasons – has been woefully ineffective at convincing defenses to take pressure off Tuitama after the snap.

    The rushing offense is ranked 113rd nationally, averaging just over 68 yards a game.

    Stoops called it his biggest disappointment of the season to date.

    “”That’s something we have to keep developing,”” he said. “”We’re playing a lot of young players. They just need to get better, but there are some older guys who aren’t holding their weight, too.

    “”They need to play better.””

    Wildcats by the numbers

    The Arizona football team has been poor in many areas statistically this season, with only performances by a couple individual players standing out. (Statistics out of 119 teams in NCAA Division I-A; Pacific 10 Conference rank)

    The Good: punting:
    Nick Folk
    45.64 yards per punt (sixth; second)
    1.2 field goals per game (32nd; fourth)
    kickoff returns
    Syndric Steptoe
    kickoff returns: 24.1 yards per return (34th; second)
    penalties: 5.6 per game (t-47th; fourth)
    The Bad: coring defense: 21.8 points per game (68th; sixth)
    total defense: (86th; seventh)
    The Ugly: Time of possession: 28:17 (95th; ninth)
    Sacks allowed: 3.20 per game (105th; ninth)
    Total offense (yards per game): 253.4 (t-109th; 10th)
    Scoring offense (points per game): 12.0 (112th; 10th)
    Rushing offense: 68.4 yards per game (113th; 10th)
    Third-down conversions: (116th;10th)

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