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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Jennings Runs wild

    Running back Chris Jennings stiff arms a defender on his way to a 201-yard, two-touchdown game, Arizonas first 200-yard rusher since former back Mike Bell did it 2003, during the Wildcats 28-10 win over Stephen F. Austin Saturday at Arizona Stadium. The walk-on junior earned a scholarship from Arizona in the week leading up to the game.
    Running back Chris Jennings stiff arms a defender on his way to a 201-yard, two-touchdown game, Arizona’s first 200-yard rusher since former back Mike Bell did it 2003, during the Wildcats’ 28-10 win over Stephen F. Austin Saturday at Arizona Stadium. The walk-on junior earned a scholarship from Arizona in the week leading up to the game.

    The Arizona football team chose to emphasize the run Saturday night in readying its offense for No. 4 USC.

    First-time starter Chris Jennings was more than happy to oblige.

    Jennings ran for 201 yards on 26 carries, as the Wildcats defeated Stephen F. Austin 28-10 in front of 47,402 at Arizona Stadium.

    The junior got the call in place of starter Chris Henry, who was suspended for Saturday’s game for an unspecified violation of team rules.

    Jennings finished as Arizona’s first 200-yard rusher since Mike Bell had 221 in a 27-22 win over Washington in 2003.

    “”I’m grateful and happy that I’m given a chance and an opportunity,”” said Jennings, a junior-college transfer who walked on to the team for fall camp in August. “”This is here for me, and I just have to take advantage of it and run with it.””

    After gaining 102 yards in their first two games, the Wildcats (2-1) exploited the Lumberjacks’ defense for 263 yards on the ground, including 57 on 10 carries by redshirt freshman Xavier Smith.

    UA head coach Mike Stoops said creating confidence on the ground after two straight mediocre performances was the team’s biggest priority against SFA (0-3). The Wildcats had 41 runs to 25 passes.

    “”I know the talent level wasn’t what it was the two previous weeks or what we’re going to see in the (Pacific 10 Conference), but still, it was good to see us execute some things better,”” Stoops said.

    Quarterback Willie Tuitama relieved first-time starter Adam Austin to begin the fourth quarter, the sophomore’s first game action since he suffered a concussion in Arizona’s 45-3 loss to then-No. 8 Louisiana State on Sept. 9.

    With the Wildcats up 14-10, Tuitama led the Wildcats to touchdowns on each of his two drives, the first on a 10-yard run by Jennings and the second on a three-yard touchdown pass to receiver Anthony Johnson.

    Despite not practicing until two days before the game, Tuitama went 6-of-9 for 61 yards in relief of Austin, who finished 11-of-16 for 83 yards and an interception.

    “”I owe it all to my O-line,”” Tuitama said. “”Jennings and Smith had some really great runs, and that helped open up the passing game. I feel really comfortable when the run is working.””

    Tuitama’s efforts created the distance Arizona needed against the Lumberjacks, who stayed in the game thanks to foiled Wildcat scoring opportunities and the elusiveness of quarterback Danny Southall (seven carries, 50 yards).

    Arizona nearly gave up the lead six minutes into the third quarter when an Austin pass was tipped at the Arizona 11 and intercepted by linebacker Damian Perkins.

    The Wildcats held the Lumberjacks to two yards on the next three plays, all runs, then benefited from a 10-yard holding penalty on SFA, which led to kicker Cory Long’s miss from 37 yards.

    Also, Arizona squandered a number of opportunities inside the red zone, including a chance after linebacker Dane Krogstad recovered a fumble on the SFA 20 with 1:31 remaining in the first half. Two plays later, wide receiver Syndric Steptoe fumbled and lost possession.

    “”Sometimes, you play to the level of your competition, and we did not bring our ‘A’ game tonight,”” Stoops said. “”Next week, we need to come out and bring our ‘A’-plus game against USC.””

    Although the game wasn’t quite the blowout the Wildcats were expected to have against a Division I-AA team, the team saw a few encouraging positives.

    Wide receiver Mike Thomas led Arizona with five receptions for 47 yards, after tallying only four catches in his first two games.

    Tight end Brandyn McCall benefited from being Austin’s primary target, as he finished with a career-high four receptions and 35 yards.

    And with the win, Arizona is 2-1 for the first time since 2002, marking the latest the team has had a winning record under Stoops.

    Much of the credit for that achievement, however, should go to Jennings, who entered the game knowing he had a shiny new scholarship to live up to.

    “”He earned it,”” Stoops said. “”I told him this week we were going to do it anyhow, but he put a little exclamation point on it.””

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