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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Like Alamo Bowl, lack of run game dooms UA

Like+Alamo+Bowl%2C+lack+of+run+game+dooms+UA
Emily Nielsen

STILLWATER, Okla. — Head coach Mike Stoops sat in the Alamo Dome media room after an embarrassing loss to Oklahoma State, harping on the Wildcats’ need to run the ball in order to be successful.

Oklahoma State had just embarrassed the Wildcats 36-10 in a game in which Arizona gained only 90 yards on 38 carries, an average of 2.4 yards per carry.

That was last December.

Nine months and nine days have passed, and Arizona is still plagued by that very same issue. Stoops’ hopes for Arizona to become a more complete football team have yet to come to fruition, and the Wildcats were once again doomed by their lack of a running game as they rushed for only 49 yards on 21 carries in Thursday night’s 37-14 loss.

“Our inability to run the ball offensively leads to kind of a seven on seven game,” Stoops said on Thursday. “We move the ball, we get yards but we can’t be a complete football team. We only scored 14 points so we’ve got to find a way to run the football better.”

Arizona moved the ball through the air with ease, as Nick Foles threw for 398 yards. But those massive passing numbers meant nothing without a running game to keep the Cowboys honest and punch it in around the goal line.

Case and point, the Wildcats put together one of their best drives of the game midway through the second quarter. Down 21-0, they had a chance to get within two scores before halftime. Foles went 7-for-8 to start the drive and brought the Wildcats from their own 20 to Oklahoma State’s 8-yard-line.

On both second and third down, Arizona opted to hand it to Keola Antolin, who rushed for only 24 yards on 13 carries on the night. Antolin gained only three total yards on the two plays, leaving Arizona with a 4th-and-3 in which the Cowboys knew Foles would take a shot at the end zone.

With OSU playing the pass, Foles’ ball to wide receiver David Douglas was broken up and Arizona lost its chance to gain ground. Failed drives like that were one of the main reasons Arizona scored touchdowns in the red zone only 56 percent of the time in 2010.

The running game, yet again, was nonexistent thanks to an inexperienced offensive line and middle-of-the-road running backs, and Arizona will continue to struggle against top-tier opponents until it becomes multidimensional.

“I’d be an idiot to say we have to throw it all the time,” Foles said. “We’ve got to be able to run the ball. We have running backs capable. We’re very capable of running the ball. We’re going to figure it out. This was a good test.

“We need to get the ball in their hands and that will open up the pass game even more. We’ve just got to get that running game going and we will.”

Receivers Austin Hill (8 catches for 128 yards) and Dan Buckner (10 catches for 142 yards and a score) both agreed that becoming more balanced will help the receivers and Arizona’s offense as a whole.

“It makes it a little more difficult (without a run game) because (the defense) is playing so deep and off,” Hill said. “They’re running a lot of cloud on us and, when the run game isn’t working out, it’s just really tough to get open because they can just play the pass.”

Until Arizona finds a rhythm on the ground, teams will continue to play the pass and the Wildcats will continue to struggle. Stoops said he’ll stick with Antolin as the Wildcats’ No. 1 back, noting that the offensive line has to “block for him.”

With No. 6 Stanford, No. 13 Oregon and USC all coming up, Arizona will try to find that balance. If not, the Wildcats could very well be 1-4 after five games.

“Until we run the football better,” Stoops said, “it’s going to be hard to move the football the way we want to.”

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