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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Stoops eager for season

Gordon Bates / Arizona Summer Wildcat
Gordon Bates
Gordon Bates / Arizona Summer Wildcat

To say the past month has been arduous for Arizona football would be an understatement. While the offense is merely dotting its i’s and crossing its t’s, the defense is in the midst of a massive redesign that, according to reports from both players and coaches, hasn’t gone well.

It’s amazing, however, how quickly the trials and tribulations of a training camp can disappear once game week arrives.

“”Obviously we’re very excited to get into game week,”” head coach Mike Stoops said during his first weekly press conference of the season yesterday. “”The guys have really gotten to the point where they need to play somebody other than ourselves.””

The oft-written about struggles of a defensive unit that needs to replace the core of last year’s 25th best overall defense in the country — both defensive tackles, all three linebackers and one safety graduated — did little to show any sign of improvement in the team’s Red and Blue scrimmage two weeks ago. Since then, however, the defense has played well.

“”That scrimmage, even though it was only 25 plays, we were terrible,”” Stoops said of the defense. “”They saw how bad we were, we were just terrible in a lot of our fundamentals and adjustments. They understood they needed to get better.””

Maybe it was the embarrassment in front of fans, the berating from the coaches or even just nature taking its course, but something clicked after that scrimmage and has, according to Stoops, propelled the defense to where it should be.

“”We have some new guys defensively, but I like what we’re doing,”” Stoops added. “”I think our defense is starting to come together. I think we’re playing more cohesive together, I think we’re starting to understand the discipline and the responsibility within our system, and that takes time.””

But while the improvement is nice, the finished product is still far away.

“”We still need to go out and get better,”” said Stoops.

 

A season-opening game against a non-BCS conference opponent might seem like a breeze to the average fan — especially after Arizona beat the Rockets 41-16 in 2008 — but Toledo is far from a walk in the park.

“”This is a kind of scary game, going on the road, for a lot of first-timers,”” Stoops said. “”We’ve got a young football team in some areas so it’ll be interesting to see how they react. Hopefully we’ll have a positive experience and grow from it.””

The Wildcats have identified wide receiver Eric Page as a player to key on this Friday. Page had a remarkable freshman season in 2009, leading all freshmen with 82 receptions and 1,159 receiving yards. He is figured to be prominent in what is expected to be an effective offense in 2010.

“”I think their strength has been their ability to move the football. They create a lot of different looks,”” Stoops said. “”They try to spread you and hopefully that plays into our favor. They’re a big shotgun-run team and they create some run game through that by getting into the wildcat (formation) and getting into (an) empty (set).””

The sense of urgency around the Wildcats’ matchup with Toledo is driven by what the Rockets did to the University of Colorado last season, and Stoops believes that such a dominant offensive output was no fluke.

“”They put 54 points up against Colorado (in 2009) and nobody really did that against Colorado last year,”” Stoops said. “”They got off to a fast start and their offense moved the ball exceptionally well.””

With an improving – but still shaky – defense, Arizona is working hard this week to tie up any loose ends.

“”We have three days to get to where we want to be,”” Stoops said.

 

While the defense searches for its identity, the offense is about finished putting on its makeup.

That’s what happens when a team can rely on an up-and-coming quarterback.

“”I think it gives us great confidence and our players feel that, and I think that permeates throughout the team,”” Stoops said about entering the 2010 season with quarterback Foles under center.

Starting a season with a sure thing at quarterback is quite a contrast from last year. If you recall, Stoops and his coaching staff didn’t announce a starting signal-caller until the team stepped on the field with Matt Scott at the helm.

Scott started the first three games of the season and yielded mediocre results, giving way to Foles midway through the 27-13 loss to Iowa.

Foles never looked back, guiding the team to the Holiday Bowl and throwing 19 touchdowns.

“”When you’ve got a quarterback like that I think it breathes confidence throughout your whole program,”” Stoops said.

Stoops was adamant in the press conference, however, that Scott is still in the mix. While he isn’t near the passer that Foles is, Scott does have superior athleticism for a quarterback and could enter the game in running situations.

Stoops said he wouldn’t be surprised if Scott entered the game, but nothing is guaranteed.

“”We’re not going to yank Nick (Foles). They know what the situation is,”” Stoops said.

 

After struggling with minor injuries throughout camp, the Wildcats seem to be as close to full strength as possible.

“”We’re healthy,”” Stoops said triumphantly.

Only H-back Taimi Tutogi (ankle) is questionable for the game, but Stoops hopes to see him play.

“”He’s getting closer to being 100 percent, so we’ll see how he progresses throughout the week,”” he said.

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