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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Last in Pac-10 fight for first win

    Arizona linebacker Marcus Hollingsworth wraps his arms around Stanford quarterback Trent Edwards during last years 20-16 loss to the Cardinal on Oct. 15, 2005. Edwards has thrown for one touchdown and five interceptions in the last four games, but threw for two touchdowns against Arizona last year. The Cardinal have won the last three meetings against the Wildcats.
    Arizona linebacker Marcus Hollingsworth wraps his arms around Stanford quarterback Trent Edwards during last year’s 20-16 loss to the Cardinal on Oct. 15, 2005. Edwards has thrown for one touchdown and five interceptions in the last four games, but threw for two touchdowns against Arizona last year. The Cardinal have won the last three meetings against the Wildcats.

    The Arizona football team is ranked next to last in the nation in rushing offense.

    After a 2-1 start, the Wildcats (2-4, 0-3 Pacific 10 Conference) have lost three straight games, all in conference play.

    The prospect of another sub-par season is emerging, and Arizona’s 2 p.m. matchup tomorrow at winless Stanford (0-6, 0-3) gives the team one of its last, best opportunities to right its first-half wrongs in hopes of making the postseason.

    “”I think it comes to a point where you have to have positive plays to complement the positive attitude,”” running back Chris Henry said. “”From an offensive standpoint, they’re not getting the positive play right now.””

    The effect of that reality on the Wildcats is that their season-long inefficiency in moving the ball, particularly on the ground, may be starting to hold back the team’s defense and special teams, recently to their detriments.

    After Arizona held No. 3 USC to its lowest point total in four years in their its loss on Sept. 23, its vaunted secondary got burned for three touchdowns in six minutes against Washington the next week.

    In a 27-7 defeat at UCLA on Saturday, the Wildcats had no answer for backup quarterback Patrick Cowan, who had never thrown a pass in his two-year career yet completed 20-of-29 attempts for 209 yards and two touchdowns.

    And kicker Nick Folk, who used his powerful right leg to boot a 48-yard, game-winning field goal in the Wildcats’ season opener against Brigham Young, has seemed to lose range as his punt attempts rise.

    Folk punted a season-high nine times in a 21-10 loss to Washington on Sept. 30 and had seven more kicks against the Bruins, averaging 44.3 yards per attempt in that contest.

    He also was short on a 48-yard field goal attempt late in the second quarter, with Arizona down 14-7.

    “”I’m sure (players) have lost confidence in some of the things we do, and it’s my job to get it back,”” UA head coach Mike Stoops said. “”We need to work hard at establishing an identity, and we will. I think we have an identity defensively at times. Offensively, we don’t have the right identity.””

    Regaining some confidence in the team’s run game could do wonders. Arizona ranks 118th out of 119 NCAA Division I-A teams in rushing yards per game (54.8).

    Since junior running back Chris Jennings ran for 201 yards against Stephen F. Austin on Sept. 16, the Wildcats have finished in negative yardage in each of the last three contests, something Stoops said he has never seen in his 21 years of coaching.

    Consequently, he announced Monday that tight ends coach Dana Dimel will be the team’s new co-offensive coordinator alongside Mike Canales. Dimel will handle run calls, while Canales will stick to the passing game.

    So far, the one-sided nature of Arizona’s offense, which ranks 113th in scoring, has resulted in opposing teams ignoring play-action fakes and may have led to quarterback Willie Tuitama suffering his second concussion in less than a month.

    Tuitama was hit under the chin Saturday by UCLA’s Bruce Davis after the defensive end ran right by Jennings with nary a break in step.

    “”We’re letting people get away with a lot, and it’s hindering our passing game,”” Stoops said. “”With Willie, they don’t even respect our run fake – they go up and hit our quarterback. That’s where it hurts you, you know what I’m saying? We run the ball better, (Tuitama is) out of the gate, because (Davis) doesn’t squeeze and play his technique the right way.””

    Stanford offers as good a salve as any for the Wildcats’ running woes, as the Cardinal rank dead last in rushing defense, allowing 269.7 yards per game.

    “”We definitely see it as an opportunity, but we have to capitalize on it,”” Henry said. “”We’ve been presented with opportunities throughout the season, and we haven’t seized them. We have to go in, and our offense has to try to seize the opportunity.””

    With Tuitama, who received his first concussion against Louisiana State on Sept. 9, out for at least this week’s game, the leadership role again falls to quarterback Adam Austin, a former walk-on whose only other career start came Sept. 16 against Stephen F. Austin.

    Austin led Arizona to only two touchdowns against the Lumberjacks, a Division I-AA team, before yielding to Tuitama in the fourth quarter.

    Against the Bruins, Austin threw an interception that cornerback Alterraun Verner returned 89 yards for a touchdown on the Wildcats’ penultimate drive of the game.

    Still, he demonstrated good poise in the first half, completing 7-of-10 passes for 92 yards and his first career touchdown.

    Now he’s got a shot at his first career conference win.

    “”We have a really good game plan going this week,”” he said. “”We just need, like every single week, to go out and execute it.””

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