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Notes on Wildcats: Preparing For Air Zona's Offensive Assault

In our first look at Arizona last night, we noted how Sonny Dykes, Wildcats’ OC had called out Willie Tuitama after his nightmarish game against New Mexico. A day later it looks Sonny walked back from his previous comments and took the responsibility (similar to Dewayne Walker mentioning how he had to take a good look at his own game scheme for BYU) for last weekend’s offensive malfunction:

"I didn't do a good job of calling the game when things didn't go well," Dykes said. "We got away from the game plan a little bit instead of staying with what we do and we got a little frantic."

Arizona will look to manage the game better against UCLA on Saturday. Kickoff is noon at the Rose Bowl.

That means if the Bruins get a quick lead, don't count on UA abandoning the run and focusing only on the pass.

"Willie had to throw some better passes, but it was definitely more me than him managing that game," Dykes said. "Against that defense, you have to stay balanced and run the ball more. We sort of played right into their hands and threw more than we should have. I didn't do a good job."

Tuitama completed 27 of 50 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns, but also had his first two interceptions of the season and two lost fumbles while staying in the pocket too long.

Well the matchup between Tutitama’s offense and the Bruin defense is going to very interesting to watch for couple of reasons:
  1. Which unit will bounce back after its humiliating outing from the previous weekend?
  2. How will Walker’s unit with serious questions re. its size and speed will be able to handle an explosive QB, who has a history of lighting it up against the Bruin defense.   

From the article linked above:

A more traditional defense will be faced this week, although the Bruins might try more blitzing than normal after seeing New Mexico's success.

Tuitama has had success against UCLA. The senior completed 21 of 35 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns a year ago in a 34-27 victory and he orchestrated a 52-14 triumph over the then No. 7-ranked Bruins in 2005 in Tucson.

To be fair the 2005 meltdown took place under Larry Kerr’s watch. Walkers defense did have an impressive performance against Zona two years ago at the Rose Bowl, when it knocked out Tutitama out of the game. Also that was the game when the Cats also knocked out Ben Olson with a cheap shot, which started the string of regular season injuries hobbling the Bruin QB for last two years.

Well the Bruin defense can expect a physical effort from the Zona offense, which will be led by Mike Thomas, the prolific senior WR who has lit up the score board early this season as he leads the conference receivers with 8.7 catches and 100.7 yards per game and is fourth with 138.7 yards of total offense per game. Ryan Finely from the Arizona Daily Star has more on Thomas’ early season success:

The key to Thomas' success, coaches said, is strength and balance. Thomas has added 25 pounds of muscle to his 5-foot-8-inch frame since coming to the UA in 2005. He has also worked with strength coach Corey Edmond on improving his balance.

And Thomas has switched positions, moving from the outside to slot receiver's spot for his senior season. The position switch allows Thomas to run through holes and maneuver as he gets upfield. His improved balance allows him to take hits as glancing blows.

Take Saturday's touchdown catch: Thomas caught a 2-yard pass from quarterback Willie Tuitama on the short side of the field.

Freshman Juron Criner provided a crushing block, giving Thomas a hole to run through. He split two defenders, juked UNM's DeAndre Wright at the 10-yard line and — after getting hit by the Lobos' Blake Ligon at the 5 — stumbled, spun and fell backside-first into the end zone.

"You're not going to knock him down, he's so physical," Stoops said.

Those notes should put Lockett, Moore, ATV, Norris and rest of the Bruin secondary on Def Con 4 mode. BYU receivers man handled and humiliated those kids last Saturday. I don’t buy the fact that it was due to some kind of lack of effort. I think last week these guys got blown away in a perfect storm which was a result of a combination of a pin point, relentless surgical Cougar attack, questionable defensive strategy (as Walker admitted himself) allowing BYU receivers to have room to operate with, and the experience edge receivers like Pitta and Collie had over the Bruin secondary.

Well, this week once again the Wildcats will have an edge in experience because they are going to bring in an offense that returns all but one starter. Also despite their stumble against New Mexico the Zona offense has put up very good numbers. Currently they are second in conference in scoring (46.3 pts/game), fourth in rushing (161.7 per game), and third in passing (292.0 yards per game). We have mentioned the impressive start of Michael Thomas above. QB Tuitama has also put up some good numbers as he is third in conference in passing yardage (792 yards), while RB Grigsby is leading the conference in rushing with 376 yards (avg. 6.6 yards per carry). I get that lot of those numbers were piled up against programs like Toledo and Idaha, but given our performance from the last week and the reality with our personnel issues, we'd be foolish to discount those stats. Plus there is that recent history referenced above.

So for the Bruin defense to step up, it will be imperative for Walker to figure out how to disrupt the Arizona offense making sure he can get his guys to bring some serious heat on Tuitama. Otherwise, if he gets the same amount of time as Max Hall did to make up his decisions, it will be another long Saturday for our defense. While we will need the Killer Bs to seal up the middle and not allow the Zona to get a running game going, the outside LBers and the DEs will have to help out Carter in making sure they don’t pile up chunks of yardage by rushing to the outside. This will be a good time for the Bruin defense to get back to the basics of solid tackling not allowing Zona backs and receivers any extra yards.

I haven’t seen the line for this game yet. But honestly given what these two teams have accomplished in recent years and the talent level on our offense, I see this game as a toss up as the Rose Bowl. If the Bruins want to start the Pac-10 season on a winning note they will have to bring the same intensity and focus they showed on defense against Tennessee. If they can combine that with composure on offense by cutting down on turnovers, they will have a chance to regain some lost momentum this Saturday.