Schu Strings: Identity and Elizabethtown

If Arizona football was part of the Witness Protection Program, it would likely stay out of harm's way for the rest of its existence. This is the team without a face, a team still searching for an identity.

It's been a variation of Mike Stoops deja vu through two games this season. Like last year, Arizona finds itself 1-1 overall with reasons to feel good after showing some positive signs in a loss to Utah, and areas of concern after a less-than-stellar effort against overmanned NAU. To add to the comparison, a highly ranked Big Ten opponent makes its way to Tucson (last year it was Wisconsin, this year Purdue), and it's an opportunity for a Wildcat upset.

Should deja vu play itself through, Arizona will turn in a spirited performance, only to come up short. In the process, it will provide hope that better things are to come, but those feelings will be dashed after another heartbreaker against a Pac-10 opponent that then leads into something of a spiral for much of the rest of the season.

Naturally, the script never quite plays itself out exactly. Every year brings something different, but for Arizona it's too early to determine what this season's fate will be.

That Arizona is 1-1 is not a great shock. Utah was a winnable game certainly, but it's a team that will probably record in the neighborhood of eight victories before the smoke clears, not the national power it was a year ago, but good nonetheless.

And NAU, well, Arizona was clearly the better team, and at times it looked dominant, as it should. Then at other times, most notably throughout the course of the third quarter, it looked disinterested and made it a closer game than it should have. Worse, Arizona managed to move the football for the second straight week, but made crucial error after crucial error in the Red Zone, thus negating a series of scoring opportunities that would have put a better face on the final outcome.

Deja vu tells us we've been down this road before, and if that's the case then the UA is on the path toward another three-win campaign, certainly not the improvement curve this program seeks. At some stage, Arizona needs to capture a win of significance and build from it. Last year, many pointed to the ASU victory as that game, the encounter we'd reflect back upon as the foundation for the Stoops ascension. To date, that hasn't happened.

Right now it's hard to piece together what Arizona is. It should be a team with a hard-hitting, aggressive defensive style with players who fly all over the field trying to get to the ball. It looked like that was the Wildcat mantra in the early stages of the Utah game, where the UA appeared to be the superior team, but that display of aggression hasn't been seen since. Certainly it doesn't help that in the cruelest form of deja vu, injuries have decimated the Cat frontline yet again.

Offensively, nice seems to be the best description. Richard Kovalcheck is a nice quarterback. His numbers are solid, but he's shown a tendency early in the year to miss some receivers. Arizona has a nice corps of running backs. Mike Bell will probably surpass the 1,000-yard mark this year, barring nagging injuries, and those are nice numbers, but it seems apparent he's not a game-breaker week in and week out. Gilbert Harris and Chris Henry have nice potential, yet continue to struggle finding themselves in game situations. At receiver, Syndric Steptoe is the team's most consistent performer, and freshman Mike Thomas turned some heads with his effort in the Utah game, but the prototype pass-catchers on this roster (the 6-2 guys who are supposed to spread the field) have yet to deliver the big catches as advertised. The offensive line is doing a nice job opening some holes and protecting Kovalcheck.

Occasionally, as was the case in the early days of Virginia Tech's prominence, special teams can give a team a big boost. At Arizona, nothing terrible, nothing special. Nick Folk has done very well to date, while punter Danny Baugher appears to have improved with distance consistency, but his ability to pin teams inside the 20 when the opportunity presents itself still needs work. Coverage teams are fine; return teams decent.

So what is Arizona? Well, right now it's ok. But to get good, it has to excel in an area that generates excitement. Let's cruise the Pac-10 for some examples. At the moment, ASU is known for its electric passing game; Cal appears capable of losing quality players every week and finding a replacement who steps in and doesn't miss a beat; USC is the most feared team in the country because Pete Carroll has finally tapped into that vast talent pool; Oregon has a certain flash about it.

Perhaps in its quest to situate itself among the top teams in the league, Arizona can reverse the blueprint of this week's opponent. Joe Tiller has basically made Purdue the Big Ten's version of a Pac-10 style team. He loves the passing game, and it has garnered success in a conference known for its often weather-necessary grind-it-out style.

Since it relies heavily on talent from the Midwest, most notably Texas, maybe Arizona can build toward being the conference's most physical team. Basically, it's smashmouth football in the pass-happy Pac. Quality athletes can make it work. And it would be an approach that could separate it from the rest of the league, thus providing what Arizona needs most, second to wins, of course: an identity.

Furthermore, an identity doesn't hurt at the gate. It's something fans can get behind. Arizona experienced some of this during the Desert Swarm era; Washington State had similar rabid fan success during its brief Palouse Noose reign.

Who is Arizona? Right now nobody knows for sure…

…Moving on…

…It's week two of the Schu shiftiness file. I know, slippery slope. Last week I was lifting wireless internet access from the parking lot of a nearby coffee shop. This week, it gets worse. With the help of an accomplice, a friend of mine and I managed to sneak into a test screening.

Oh, I know. Intriguing edge-of-your-seat real-life craziness. Being that I'm a journalism professional and would never even consider hanging out said accomplice to dry, I will only say that this individual bears a striking resemblance to someone on the Wildcat Insider staff with the initials M.M. who happens to currently attend the UA. Said accomplice managed to land some test screening passes to the new Cameron Crowe movie Elizabethtown.

But there's a catch. The screening is only supposed to be open to a demographic no older than 29. So said accomplice says that's just how old my friend and I are. Now I vaguely remember 29. I think it happened during Clinton's first term. I have to say, some of us age better than others. For instance, my friend, who also snuck into the screening, is a whopping four months older than me, but she could easily pass for late 20s. Heck, maybe even mid-20s on a good day. Possibly 32 on a sucky day (jees, that's some of the worst kiss-upping ever).

Me, well, I might have boyish charms, but I have middle age wrinkles and Red Skelton's hairline. Still, we gave it the old college try. I mean, heck, it's a free flick, and this passes for excitement in my otherwise sorry existence. So as we arrive at the theater, we first encounter a gentleman who might as well be airport security: do you have any recording devices, cell phones with cameras, satellite dish hookups to internet download sites, metal eyes that can pick up colors not available in the normal human spectrum? You know, the usual interrogation. I proceed to lie about the eyes while my young-looking friend comes up with some BS about the cell phone thingie. As an addendum, cell phones have cameras why?

Well, now we're in line, and it's a long line, and in said long line it's pretty obvious that I'm a good decade older than anybody else. I don't think it's just obvious to me. Finally, another greeter approaches our group of four, looks skeptically at me (not so much my friend, she must have thought this was one of those autumn/spring fling things), and asks our age, to which we brilliantly reply: 29. Mark this down. Come up with the correct fabrication, and the world is your oyster, which might not be the best thing if you hold oysters in the same regard as I do.

Remarkably, this works. I barely noticed the greeter laughing. But the four of us got in, got terrible corner seats in the second row, and began engaging in our civic duty, that of watching a Cameron Crowe movie. Two and a half hours grueling hours later, I felt like I was up for the Purple Heart.

Well, it wasn't that bad, but it worked for Wedding Crashers. Anyway, the gist of a test screening, near as I can tell, is the movie studio ships out a rough cut of the film to unsuspecting saps with nothing better to do than lie about their age, then they give these saps sheets to provide feedback about what they thought.

So I'm breaking the rules and betraying the code of the test screening, and giving you a brief review of a version of the movie that will never actually play in theaters anyway. First, the M.M. review: "I really liked it."

As an aside, that's pretty much M. M.'s review for every movie ever made that doesn't star Russell Crowe. The qualities necessary for M. M. to like a movie are as a follows: it was something shot on film that plays in theaters. So his review of Elizabethtown was not too surprising.

For Brad Allis, who also snuck into the screening and lied about his age doing it, it was…hold on, I'm calling Brad now. Wow, first ring.

Schu: "Hello Brad Allis."

Brad: "Hello John Schuster."

Schu: "Brad Allis, what did you think of Elizabethtown?"

Brad Allis: "Good, needs an editor, um, you know, coming from anyone else it would be pretty good, coming from Cameron Crowe it's not his best work. What's this for?"

Schu: "Um, something."

Brad Allis: "Oh. Stacey (Brad's wife) wonders why I don't ask more questions. Where is Schu calling from, what is Schu calling about? I tell her if he wanted me to know, he'd tell me."

Schu: "Um, something."

Brad Allis: "OK."

Schu: "I'm still looking for the elusive Spencer Larsen tape."

Brad's reviews on this Schu Strings: "Good, needs an editor…"

Anyway, Elizabethtown annoyed me more after I had seen it, although my older-than-29 friend gave it quality marks because she thinks Orlando Bloom is dreamy. I guess that's something. If there's an editor out there, work is available.

In the meantime, I'll be sure to search for new and exciting ways to thumb my nose at the system. Maybe I'll sneak a salad from someone else's all-you-can-eat menu. Teetering on the precipice indeed.

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