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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    UA offense changes identity

    UA running back Keola Antolin tries to break free from Oregon State safety Greg Laybourn (44) during a 19-17 Beaver win Saturday night at Arizona Stadium. Antolin finished the night with 114 yards and one score on 25 carries.
    UA running back Keola Antolin tries to break free from Oregon State safety Greg Laybourn (44) during a 19-17 Beaver win Saturday night at Arizona Stadium. Antolin finished the night with 114 yards and one score on 25 carries.

    Game Analysis

    Year two of the “”Air-zona”” offense has been grounded, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.

    Arizona ran the ball time and time again in the loss to Oregon State Saturday night, ending with 41 rushing attempts to only 22 passing attempts. Not only has the ground game found success in its own way this season, but it has made quarterback Willie Tuitama’s job much easier.

    “”Just having (opposing defenses) play the run, we can do play action passes and trying to get the safeties to bite,”” Tuitama said.

    The fans’ anticipation of the pass-happy spread offense that offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes installed last year has been shot down. Instead, the offense has become a hard-nosed, balanced attack.

    Numbers show that while Tuitama may not throw for 300 yards every game, his capability cannot be discounted. Tuitama ranked 20th among the nation’s leaders in passing efficiency going into Saturday’s game.

    But when the offense finds itself in the red zone, the running game takes over. Arizona ranks second in the Pacific 10 Conference with 30 rushing touchdowns, behind No. 1 Oregon, who leads the league with a befuddling 39 touchdown runs. Stanford is in a distant third with 26 of its own.

    Critics believing the “”cutesy”” status that comes with other spread offenses has been quieted. Through 11 games, Arizona has scored at least one rushing touchdown per game, solidifying its identity as more than just another high-octane, system offense.

    Tuitama said the team’s young talent has brought a new dimension to Arizona football.

    “”That’s something we haven’t had in the past,”” Tuitama said of the team’s ability to run the ball. “”Now with Nic (Grigsby), and Keola (Antolin) and (Xavier) Smith coming in, that really helps us out.””

    In addition to the running backs, having a future first-round NFL draft pick on the offensive line doesn’t hurt. Eben Britton leads the line, and along with the Gronkowski brothers, this team’s run-blocking is superior to what it was in the past.

    With that said, OSU’s defense of the Wildcats’ run game may have been the deciding factor in the loss. Arizona managed just 3.4 yards per carry with the Beavers preventing any of the big-play passes that the running game could potentially open up.

    “”They’re hard to throw against; they don’t give you a lot of easy throws,”” Dykes said of the game plan. “”So for us, we were trying to control the ball and move the clock.””

    Dykes’ game plan proved true as Arizona’s first three offensive plays of the night came on Grigsby runs. At halftime, Arizona had run the ball nearly twice as many times as they had attempted to throw – a 20-12 margin – winning the time of possession by four minutes.

    The Wildcats came out of the locker room and after two failed Mike Thomas sweeps, part of a three-and-out, Arizona’s second possession of the half was marked by three straight Tuitama incompletions.

    Arizona went back to what has made it successful – a balanced run-to-pass ratio – when Antolin aided the passing attack on the next drive. The slippery running back touched the ball six times for 27 yards on the six-minute long drive, setting up Tuitama’s 16-yard toss to Rob Gronkowski for the score, tying the game at 10.

    But any way you look at it, the Wildcats’ offense failed to make the big play when it counted – but it did allow them to compete until the final seconds.

    “”One more huge play there would have been big,”” a somber Rob Gronkowski said of the last Wildcat possession. “”We would have won the game right there; we definitely could have used some big plays there in the game.””

    And where the Wildcats didn’t make the necessary play, the Beavers did.

    “”They’re smart about getting the ball to the guys who make plays,”” Dykes said. “”They just got behind somebody and made a play.””

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