2004 Statistics vs. 2005 Statistics
2004—170.5 yards per game
2005—230 yards per game
2004—10 touchdown passes thrown
2005—19 touchdown passes thrown
2004—11 interceptions thrown
2005—16 interceptions thrown
2004—Ranked 103rd nationally in pass efficiency offense (106.63 rating)
2005—Ranked 67th nationally in pass efficiency offense (123.21 rating)
2005 brought improvement in many areas of the Wildcat aerial attack. Wildcat receivers were getting themselves open with more regularity and that combined with their ability to, at least most of the time, actually make the catch provided both Arizona quarterbacks with more options than a year ago. The emergence of true freshman sensation ‘Money' Mike Thomas no doubt helped the receiving corps. His speed and game breaking abilities on the outside opened up the middle of the field for Steptoe, Anthony Johnson and most importantly tight end Brad Wood. Even before the mid season change behind center the aerial attack had improved. If JUCO transfer B.J. Vickers was eligible this year the passing game could have been even better.
Looking ahead to 2006 the Wildcats return literally everyone that had any semblance of an impact this past season. The explosive freshman combo of Willie Tuitama and Mike Thomas return off their breakout true freshmen campaigns. Also returning are the silent and steady Syndric Steptoe and the emerging threat of Anthony Johnson. The only real question mark is if senior to be tight end Brad Wood can make it back from his knee injury in the final game of 2005. Wood is a legitimate threat as a tight end or split end receiver and the emergence of red shirt freshman tight end Travis Bell late in the season helps bolster what was perceived as a weak spot in the Wildcat attack.
The only thing missing right now is a big go-to receiver. The coaching staff is planning on exercising that demon through recruiting and is hard after a few stellar prospects. Wide receivers Terrell Reese, Jamere Holland and Delashaun Dean are the top high school targets and the top JUCO targets are City College of San Francisco teammates Aaron Straiten and Maurice Purify. If the coaching staff can land even two of their top targets then the Wildcats will have immediate help to an already improving area.
2004—118 yards per game
2005—122 yards per game
2004—3.3 yards per carry
2005—3.5 yards per carry
2004—9 touchdowns scored
2005—11 touchdowns scored
2004—13 fumbles lost
2005—12 fumbles lost
Although the passing offense improved a lot from year one to year two, the rushing offense stayed pretty stagnant for the most part. There are legitimate reasons for some of the lack of rushing success and most of them start with the offensive line. There simply has not been much there for line coach Eric Wolford to work with. Combining moderate talent with on again off again injury problems only leads to an anemic rushing attack and that is what the Cats had at times in 2005. Believe it or not the most consistent play on the line was provided by former walk on starting center Erick Levitre. Senior Tanner Bell, Kili Lefotu and John Abramo all provided leadership but all suffered injuries of some kind throughout the year. The Cat coaches have recruited very well for the line the last couple of years but much of that talent is still learning the system and is forced to wait its turn.
The running backs did not help things from time to time either. Senior Mike Bell had another Mike Bell year. At times he looked like a first round NFL draft pick and at other times he looked like Fred Astaire he danced so much. Fellow senior Gilbert Harris was pretty solid and consistent all season long. Harris provided solid lead blocking skills and good ability running the ball. Sophomore Chris Henry had a serious case of fumbilitis early in the year but late in the season he started to get his confidence back and showed that he could be the guy in 2006.
Looking ahead to 2006 the running attack will be improved and could/should be much improved. The battle for the starting spot will be fun to watch in spring as Henry will battle red shirt freshmen Xavier Smith and Terry Longbons. The battle will only get more interesting as Derke Robinson, UA's high profile running back commitment from Texas will be in the mix and will push all of the returning guys for time. On the line look for red shirt freshman Eben Britton to show his stuff at either right tackle or left tackle or both. With Senior Tanner Bell likely to get another year of eligibility from the NCAA the tackle spot looks to be in solid hands next year between he and Britton and returning junior Pete Graniello. Inside the Cats will return Levitre and red shirt freshman Joe Longacre who both played well in 2005. Also in the mix up front will be dynamic red shirt freshmen Daniel Borg and Blake Kerley and sophomores Dillon Hansen and Eddie Rollmann. Not to fall behind again the Cat coaches have set their sights on two JUCO studs to play inside at guard. James Tretheway and Mike Gibson are the top two targets and the coaching staff would like nothing more than to have both of them come in and play the two guard spots. They have their work cut out for them however as both Tretheway and Gibson have a top two of Arizona and Cal.
If you thought the 2005 version of the Arizona offense was impressive wait until Mike Canales rolls out the 2006 version. Tuitama, Thomas, Johnson, Henry, Robinson, Smith, Steptoe, Wood and Bell are names UA fans should get used to hearing. Just among those returning players the Wildcat offense will be much improved yet again and if the Wildcat coaching staff can land their top targets on the offensive side of the ball then the offense should finally resemble a Pac-10 offense for the first time in five or six years. With the outside threats and a very skilled quarterback the opposition will no longer be able to stack the box with eight or nine guys. They will have to honor the aerial attack which will open up the run. The offense already improved by over 60 yards per game and the scoring went from a meager 14.9 to 22.9 a game in 2005.
With the emergence of Willie Tuitama and Mike Thomas the Wildcat offense took a step forward in 2005. In 2006 Mike Canales will look to push the offense toward a giant leap forward and he finally looks to have the pieces to do just that.