Wildcats look to win final game

Arizona's final game of the season against Louisiana Lafayette. Read on for a closer look at the game and the players to keep an eye on.

Saturday's home game against Louisiana-Lafayette, the final game of the season for the Arizona Wildcats, is likely to be sparsely attended by the UA faithful. After all, the majority of the students will be have returned home for the Thanksgiving holiday, and even more fans have simply given up on football and switched their focus to the basketball season even after Arizona's dramatic win over Arizona State last weekend

But if you're on the fence about attending, hear me out.

Saturday's game may not matter in terms of bowl eligibility or conference championships, but it does count for a group of seniors that have, at the end of the day, really had successful careers at Arizona.

Three bowl appearances, a Las Vegas Bowl victory, the team's top finish in the Pac-10 in nearly a decade, a top-ten ranking, and three victories over Arizona State. One could certainly ask for more, but considering what they walked into when they came to Arizona as freshmen in 2008, UA's senior class has really accomplished quite a bit. And for that, Arizona's seniors deserve your support as they take the field at Arizona Stadium for the final time in their Wildcat career.

Still not convinced?

If not, let me remind you that Saturday also marks the final game for a number of program favorites and all-time greats.

When Nick Foles takes the field on Saturday to what surely will be a warm reception, he'll do so as Arizona's all-time leading passer, but he'll also be doing it for the final time.

Saturday's game will be the final time Foles dons the Cardinal and Navy as quarterback of the Arizona Wildcats, giving fans one last time to watch him lead his team on the field and throw the ball over and over again to teammates he may very well never play with again.

That includes Juron Criner, who despite an up-and-down senior season has provided more highlights over the past few seasons than any other Wildcat. Saturday is the last chance fans will have to watch Criner make breath-taking catches and make defenders miss on his way to touchdowns. He'll leave Arizona as one of the most decorated receivers in program history, and that is worth support and celebration.

After Saturday, there'll be no more steady and reliable David Douglas or David Roberts. Gone will be the flowing locks of Keola Antolin. In the secondary, Robert Golden and Trevin Wade will be trying for one final interception and return for a touchdown, and although they were late arrivers, Paul Vassallo and Derek Earls will be wrapping up successful two year stints with the program as well.

Frankly, 2011 was a failure of a season for the Arizona Wildcats. But with only one home game left on the schedule, it's time to put that all behind us, and show up for a group of seniors that have showed up on the gridiron week in and week out for four years now.

A great group of young men put it all on the line one final time as Wildcats on Saturday, and it would be a real shame if no one was around to see it.



Players to watch for Louisiana-Lafayette

Offense

1. #4, WR- Javone Lawson: Averaging nearly 16 yards per reception, Lawson has been the Ragin' Cajuns' go-to guy in the passing game for big plays. He's found the end zone on six occasions, and his speed makes him a handful in coverage. With the threat that Ladarius Green is in the middle of the field, Lawson will likely have plenty of opportunities at one-on-one coverage and will undoubtedly be looking for big plays all game long.

2. #17, QB- Blaine Gautier: A duel-threat quarterback, Gautier is the team's second leading rusher this year, but he's also excelled through the air. He's the Sun Belt's top rated quarterback and led the conference in touchdown passes. If the Wildcats don't effectively spy Gautier on every passing down, he'll certainly make them pay with his legs, but he has enough targets to have a big game throwing as well. How effective UA is at keeping him in the pocket will go a long ways in determining the outcome of Saturday's game.

3. #89, TE- Ladarius Green: For the second consecutive season, Green is one of eight semi-finalists for the John Mackey Award; given annually to the nation's top tight end. At 6-foot-6, Green is a big target for Gautier and he's the team top red zone threat with seven touchdowns on the year. He's number two in school history in touchdowns, and is also in the top five in receptions and yards amongst all-time Ragin' Cajuns. The linebackers and safeties have quite a task ahead of them in trying to stop arguably the top tight end they've faced this season.

Defense

1. #5, CB- Dwight Bentley: With 57 tackles, Bentley has shown a willingness to stick his nose in the middle of the pile in run support.

2. #21, LB- Lance Kelley: A former defensive back, Kelley has really taken a liking to playing linebacker. He's one of the top tacklers in the Sun Belt Conference, and his coverage skills have transferred quite effectively to his new position, as he's recorded three interceptions in his senior season. His first tackle against Arizona will be his 100th of the season, and factoring in his interception total, it's clear Kelley has a nose for the ball and will be a major factor in how well the Ragin' Cajuns can contain the Arizona offense.

3. #44, DE- Bernard Smith: The senior defensive end has made a living in opponents' backfields this season, as 12 of his 36 tackles this season have come for a loss. On top of that, he has the team lead with 5.5 sacks and five quarterback hurries. He has the athleticism and quickness to make life for Arizona's tackles very difficult, and a top priority should be containing him on passing downs. If given the chance, he'll be all over Foles for four quarters on Saturday.



Keys to the game

1. Pride: Simply put, if Arizona does not show up on Saturday, Louisiana-Lafayette will earn its ninth win of the season. UA would be best served to treat this like its own bowl game and make every effort to show that while it has lost the season, it is still holding on to its heart and determination.

2. Spy Gautier: As mentioned previously, Gautier is as good of a true duel-threat quarterback as there is, and if the defense turns its back on him for just a split second, he'll take off for a big gain. Arizona really has to develop a game plan that allows it to protect itself both on the ground and through the air and execute it effectively to keep Gautier from having a big game.

3. Protect Foles: If Arizona is going to win Saturday, it clearly will fall on the right arm of Foles to get the job done. Louisiana-Lafayette ranks in the top 25 in the country in sacks, and in order for its senior quarterback to deliver the victory, the Arizona offensive line will have to keep him on his feet and give him the time he needs to make effective throws.

4. Fond farewells: For Tim Kish and the majority of his staff, this is likely the last game they will coach in Arizona Stadium for the Wildcats. The coaches and their players have been through a lot in 2011, and while a victory over Louisiana-Lafayette won't make the season a successful one, it will close the book on relationships that have been years in the making as UA moves in a new direction in 2012. No better way to close that book with a hard fought effort that leads to a victory to show gratitude for all of the influence the staff has had on the players.

5. Send seniors out right: The most successful group of seniors in a decade, the 2011 season will certainly be one that Foles and company wish they could get back. There's no shot at a re-do, but perhaps a victory in their final game will give the seniors some perspective and help them to understand just how much they have accomplished in their previous three seasons and what their contributions meant to this program. After a win over ASU, a two-game winning streak to end the season is just about all the seniors can hope for at this point.


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