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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Analysis: Offensive woes continue as bowl hopes diminish

    One step forward, two steps back.

    It was the story of the Arizona offense Saturday night, which moved the ball down the field with a big gain and then shot itself in the foot a play later.

    “”We just kind of hurt ourselves,”” UA head coach Mike Stoops said.

    On seven different occasions – starting in the first quarter – the Arizona offense followed gains of at least 10 yards with momentum-killing penalties, fumbles and sacks.

    Whether it was Syndric Steptoe’s 20-yard grab that put Arizona in Washington territory for the first time in the first quarter, Mike Thomas’ second-quarter 31-yard catch down to the Husky 34-yard line or Thomas’ 18-yard reception to midfield early in the fourth, scoring chances – and field possession – just slipped right through Arizona’s hands on the ensuing plays – a fumble, a sack and a penalty, respectively.

    “”Any time you make a stride down the field where you’re pushing the ball down the field, and you have a penalty steadily clipping you and clipping your offense, and bringing you back when you make a good catch or make a good run,”” Thomas said, “”of course it’s frustrating.””

    It even happened twice on one drive in the second quarter.

    After back-to-back receptions by Anthony Johnson put Arizona at its own 46-yard line late in the half, Arizona was flagged for holding. Running back Chris Henry tore off a 12-yard gain a play later, but on the ensuing play, quarterback Willie Tuitama was dropped for a 9-yard loss, forcing kicker/punter Nick Folk’s sixth punt of the half.

    But the biggest – and worst – example came on Arizona’s first drive of the second half, when first-and-goal at the Washington 4-yard line turned into a missed 41-yard field goal.

    Four-straight Tuitama completions – including two for more than 25 yards – set the Wildcats up inside the 5-yard line, but the play-calling turned conservative, with running back Chris Jennings losing four yards up the middle on first down.

    Tuitama was sacked a play later, pushing Arizona out of the red zone to the Washington 24, and the young quarterback’s pass was dropped by Steptoe in the end zone on third down, forcing Folk’s attempt, which sailed left of the goal posts.

    “”We hurt ourselves with the penalties, the holdings and everything that brought back a couple of big plays,”” Tuitama said.

    Arizona was held to negative rushing yards for the second consecutive week after not having done so in nearly four years, and a large share of the blame lands on the shoulders of the young offensive line, which was also flagged three times for holding and allowed six sacks.

    “”We all want it to work so badly,”” right tackle Eben Britton said. “”(But) you’re not going to get it done with zero rushing.

    “”Maybe it’s because we’re young. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because we don’t understand the scheme. I don’t know. I don’t know what it is.””

    Added center Blake Kerley of the sacks: “”It’s just a shot right to the heart. Tonight, they rushed three guys and got to Willie late in the fourth quarter. That just hurts.””

    Asked what was missing from the offensive line, Britton mentioned emotion.

    “”It’s there, but it’s just not there through the whole game,”” he said. “”You’ve got to come out, you’ve got to hit them in the mouth right from the get-go and let them know what you’re all about. … That’s what playing with emotion’s all about, coming out fired up and wanting to have fun, wanting to drive the field and scream when we score a touchdown.””

    If anything, the offensive line that starts three underclassmen – and has a fourth that sees a significant amount of playing time – is still working on exactly how to do that.

    “”There has to be one side screaming, and there has to be one side calming you down and getting you ready to play,”” Kerley said. “”We’re still refining that. I mean, I don’t know, it’s hard.””

    Even when Tuitama picked up his performance in the second half (14-of-25, 186 yards, a touchdown and a pick), the sluggish offense struggled to get going.

    “”It’s always a struggle on offense, I think, just because offense is a lot harder to execute,”” Thomas said. “”If one guy messes up, it can kill a play.””

    Added Britton: “”I’m only one guy. Blake’s only one guy. Willie’s only one guy. You need those 11 guys on the field. On offense, everybody has to do the right thing every single play to make it work.””

    Meanwhile, Washington’s offense made the big plays when it needed to, scoring all of its points in a six-minute span to close out the first half.

    “”We gave up big plays in the second quarter,”” safety Michael Johnson said. “”That’s why we lost the game.””

    “”They just picked our defense apart,”” added defensive end Louis Holmes.

    The late-second-quarter drives were aided by missed tackles, with the Arizona defense diving at Huskies and coming up with air on a number of plays.

    “”The missed tackles are – yeah, they’re a problem,”” Stoops said. “”It’s about positioning. … When you get out of position against somebody decent, it’s hard to make a play out in space. They’re getting us out in space, and those are hard against good athletes when you have a bunch of green grass.””

    But in the end, Saturday night’s loss came down to one thing, and Stoops hit it right on the head.

    “”We’re just not playing good enough,”” he said.

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