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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “Grigsby turns over new running style, not the ball”

    Arizona running back Nic Grigsby (center) is suffocated by Jerome Boyd (13) and Spencer Paysinger (35) in a 55-45 Ducks win at Oregon on Saturday. Grigsby has become more conscious about his ball-handling skills of late.
    Arizona running back Nic Grigsby (center) is suffocated by Jerome Boyd (13) and Spencer Paysinger (35) in a 55-45 Ducks win at Oregon on Saturday. Grigsby has become more conscious about his ball-handling skills of late.

    Winning the turnover battle is critical to winning games, as any coach, player or fan of college football can attest.

    Some Wildcat fans might think UA running back Nic Grigsby doesn’t agree, considering the frequency with which he’s been putting the ball on the turf this year, but they might be jumping to conclusions.

    “”He’s had a little bit of bad luck this year on a couple of (turnovers). The one that happened (against Oregon), a guy stuck his helmet right on the ball and that’s gonna happen from time to time,”” said offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes. “”You don’t ever want to fumble. One fumble is too many.””

    And that first fumble was a costly one. Grigsby coughed one up against New Mexico and that turnover set up a Lobo touchdown in a game Arizona lost

    36-28. Against UCLA the following week, the sophomore again lost a fumble inside the Wildcats’ redzone, but this time the loose ball was returned for a score in Arizona’s 31-10 win over the Bruins.

    But it wasn’t until he fumbled on his first touch of the game against California that his fumblitis landed him a spot on the bench. True freshman Keola Antolin pounced on the opportunity as he rushed for 149 yards and three scores in a 42-27 upset-win over the then-No. 25 Golden Bears.

    “”We don’t want our backs to be careless with the ball,”” said UA head coach Mike Stoops. “”They understand that part of their job is to secure the football and Nic certainly understands that.””

    Since the win over Cal, Keola has split time with Grigsby in every game, but the freshman sees the brunt – if not all – of the action following a Grigsby fumble. That, along with his desire to help the team, has forced him to focus even more on ball security.

    “”I play sometimes like I can’t make any mistakes, but I know that I’m gonna play hard every play so if I do make a mistake then I’ll make it running hard or playing hard,”” Grigsby said. “”It’s not that I’m not trying to make one. I don’t mean to make a mistake, it just happens.””

    Part of the problem, Dykes said, could be that Grigsby dwells too much on the mistake itself rather than focusing on how to correct the overall problem. Dykes said he and the rest of the coaching staff need to make sure that Grigsby “”has the right mentality to hold onto the ball.”” Fortunately, Dykes said the one area he’s possibly improved in the most is his mental toughness.

    “”The thing Nic’s got to do is learn that when he does fumble he’s got to be able to move on and not worry about it. That’s one thing that kind of has been a symptom of the past is when he does turn it over, then he’s not the same guy afterwards,”” Dykes said. “”That’s why we’ve made a change, not so much as a punishment thing – it’s just to make sure that he’s got the right mind-set.””

    This season he’s turned into more of a team player, even if that means rooting for others to do well in his stead, and that’s reaping dividends for the whole team.

    “”You have to encourage everybody. When Keola came off on the sidelines (against Oregon), I was telling him what to do. I was just acting like a coach to him,”” Grigsby said. “”That’s what I have to do because coach (Dana) Dimel is up in the box so I’m just trying to tell him to keep fresh because it was cold and how to hit the zones. … A year ago I wouldn’t even know the system. I didn’t know the zones. I just ran the ball when they gave it to me.””

    Because he’s shown his support during his personal struggles, the coaches have seen how Grigsby has matured over the course of the year. Antolin has blossomed in the past few games, thanks in part to the coaching help of Grigsby, and currently has nine touchdowns, just two behind Grigsby.

    It’s rare that something that starts out as bad can be turned into something good, but that is exactly what has happened. Not only did Arizona discover a hidden gem in Antolin, but it also discovered an unexpected team leader in Grigsby.

    “”When something happens, whether it’s when Keola gets nicked up like he did against USC and Nic really played a good game, or it’s like Keola coming in and doing a great job carrying the ball when Nic’s had some fumbles,”” Dykes said. “”Those two guys complement each other well. They’re both good players and they both have got a lot of things they need to work on and they’re both young guys. They’re still learning and developing and we feel good about it.””

    Gronkowski named top TE of the week

    UA tight end Rob Gronkowski was named the John Mackey Tight End of the Week by the Nassau County Sports Commission for his efforts in Saturday’s game against Oregon. The sophomore set career highs in both catches and yards with the 12 balls he hauled in for 143 yards and one touchdown in the 55-45 Arizona loss in Eugene, Ore.

    The career day not only caught national recognition, but Gronkowski also set several Arizona records during his performance. The Amherst, N.Y., native now owns the single-game record for catches and receiving yards for a tight end, single-season receptions record for a tight end (34), single-season yards for a tight end (500), career receptions (62), receiving yards (1,025) and career touchdowns (14) for a Wildcat tight end.

    Those numbers are likely to continue to climb during Arizona’s next two games, both at home, as the Wildcats take on Oregon State Saturday and Arizona State on Dec. 6.

    This is the second time this season Gronkowski has earned this distinction, as he received the honor after he caught five passes for three scores and 109 yards in a 48-14 win Oct. 4 against Washington. The other two-time winners of the weekly award during this season are BYU junior Dennis Pitta (Weeks 1 and 10) and Houston redshirt senior Mark Hafner (Weeks 3 and 11).

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