NAU Lumberjacks (0-0) vs. Arizona Wildcats (0-0)
Tucson, Ariz. • Arizona Stadium
Saturday, Sept. 4, • 7:07 p.m. (MST/PDT)
Radio: KCUB (Brian Jefferies, Lamont Lovett)
Television: Fox Sports Net Arizona (Dave Sitton/Larry Smith)
NAU AT A GLANCE
Coach: Jerome Souers 7th year (36-34 overall)
Defense: 4-3 Flex
Record: 9-4 (Lost in quarterfinals of Division I-AA playoffs)
Site: Flagstaff, AZ Series Record: Arizona leads the series 6-1. They beat the Lumberjacks 37-3 in the 2002 season opener.
LAST TIME OUT: This is the season opener for both teams.
WHEN NAU HAS THE BALL: NAU has a high powered offense and can put points on the board…at least on the D-IAA level. They will face a stiff test against the Wildcats, but put did some damage a year ago against ASU.
Jason Murietta returns to anchor the QB slot. As a freshman, Murietta threw for just under 3,500 yards and 29 touchdowns, I-AA freshman records.
"(Murietta) is as good a quarterback as you will see," Mike Stoops said. "He has a quality arm, great strength. He can make all the throws that you want."
Murietta will throw against a very inexperienced set of corner backs. Five of the Wildcats' top six corners have never taken a D-I snap. The Cats will also have Darrell Brooks in the line-up, but the junior safety has missed a lot of time due to a thigh injury and will not be 100%.
On the downside the Lumberjacks lose their top four receivers from last season, but the incoming performers might have more upside. Included in that group is ASU transfer Daryl Lightfoot.
The running game is solid. Roger Robinson is a 1,000-yard rusher and does a lot of nice things. His back up is former Sunnyside product Philo Sanchez.
The line is suspect and needs some rehauling. The Wildcat defensive line will have a chance to exploit the new starters and that could help build their confidence. Arizona will likely use two true freshmen on the defensive line and they will get a trial by fire.
Arizona's linebacking corps is inexperienced and will be thinned out a bit as Randy Sims is not expected to play with an injured toe. Two seniors are in the mix, but expect redshirt freshman Dane Krogstad and converted fullback Sean Jones to play a lot.
WHEN ARIZONA HAS THE BALL
Arizona will debut their new offense. Although there will be a lot of short passing, Mike Bell will get a lot of the work. Expect Bell to get a ton of carries and be used as a receiver out of the backfield. "We know that mike Bell is a tremendous talent for that football team and a guy who is going to be featured," said Souers.
Quarterback Kris Heavner will be a key. He has to eliminate errors and make safe plays. When the Wildcats do decide to stretch the field he has to be able to make the throws. Interceptions were a problem last year but the new offensive staff has worked hard to eliminate those mistakes.
The Cats will be without Biren Ealy and need the other receivers to step up and make plays. Syndric Steptoe made a lot of plays in fall camp, and Anthony Johnson looks like a big play guy. Last year Heavner looked a lot to Ricky Williams, while Mike Jefferson looked great in the spring.
NAU runs a variation of the Double Eagle Flex, a defense the UA players have seen more than the coaches.
"They run the flex, so a lot of us are pretty familiar with the defense," said Pedro Limon.
The Lumberjacks will use a lot of zone-blitzes in an effort to create a lot of havoc. The schemes allow linebackers to blitz, while defensive ends drop back into pass coverage.
"It is designed to create confusion," Stoops said. "It is a 3-3 stack. The zone blitz, that can create some protection problems for you. That will be a key. We need to be able to contain the line stunts need be able to run the ball and still protect the quarterback when we have to throw the ball."
NAU has questions on the defensive front as well, where three newcomers will have to produce, but Bruce Branch and Ian Gunderman lock down the linebacker slot. Three starters return in the defensive backfield.
OUTLOOK: This is no slam-dunk for the Wildcats, but they should win. NAU is a quality opponent, but they just don't have the talent the Wildcats do. The Wildcats will be fired up to play their first game under Stoops, but will that translate to production on the field?
Prediction: Arizona 37, NAU 14