All was well after the opening win over a solid BYU squad in Tucson. But the following week things started to unravel for the Cats when star sophomore quarterback Willie Tuitama was the subject of a cheap shot by an LSU defender on the opening snap of the game. Tuitama was not the same player in that game and was later pulled from the game and was diagnosed to have suffered a concussion.
The Cats went on to get throttled by LSU and returned to Tucson and put together a rather lackluster performance against lowly I-AA Stephen F. Austin with senior Adam Austin behind center for all but two series. Those two series belonged to Tuitama and both resulted in touchdowns for a struggling Wildcat offense.
The Cats then proceeded to hang in the following games only to lose to USC, Washington and UCLA. The UCLA game provided a new low as Tuitama suffered his second concussion of the year and was taken to a Los Angeles hospital for evaluation.
After the UCLA game Dan Dimel was promoted to co-offensvie coordinator and running game coordinator, sharing play calling duties with Mike Canales.
The Cats won at Stanford but lost Austin in the second quarter and had to turn to Kris Heavner at quarterback. The Cats returned home the following week only to lose to Oregon State 17-10 in a game that saw no offensive touchdowns for the Wildcats.
Heading into the bye week following the Oregon State loss, University of Arizona Director of Athletics Jim Livengood gave Mike Stoops a vote of confidence but it was other things that he said that are now starting to maybe look like maybe he had spoken too soon.
"There will be a time when things that need to be fixed will be fixed," said Livengood alluding to possible off season changes on the offensive coaching staff.
When Livengood made that statement the Wildcats were 3-5 overall and just 1-3 in conference. Now, three weeks later, the Cats are poised to possibly make their first bowl game since 1998. The Cats are now 5-5 overall and are 3-4 in Pac-10 play after back to back upsets of top 25 teams.
While the offense is still not great, some things have improved on that side of the ball which makes you wonder what has changed. Has the promotion of Dana Dimel sparked something in the Wildcat players or has there even been anything that has changed?
In reality some things have changed, all for the better of the program.
The most important change is that quarterback Willie Tuitama is healthy again. Even though he played in between his two concussions, even the most ignorant observer could tell you that he was still not the same guy. Now, he looks like the same old Willie again. His head is right again and his teammates respond to him, especially when they know he is healthy and is his old self.
The emergence and change in Chris Henry has also been a big factor in the turn around. Until the Stanford game a few weeks ago, Henry was not a running back, he was an athlete playing running back. He was always dancing and prancing behind the line and despite having the physique of a Greek god, it seemed as though he was afraid of taking a hit or delivering hit. Now Henry is running with his head down and is delivering hit after hit and getting what yards he can. He took it upon himself to turn into a running back and he is doing just that, and his timing could not have been better.
Another positive for the Wildcats has been the growth of an extremely young and green offensive line. With three redshirt freshmen, one sophomore and one junior in the starting lineup the line is starting to mesh some and they are playing like they belong at this level. They are not yet where they need to be but they are definitely going in the right direction and are showing progress on the field, where it counts.
Also among the changes that have occurred in the Wildcat offense is the overall execution of the unit as a whole. Fans always like to trash coaches for perceived poor play calling but the lack of quality and consistent execution has been the biggest issue for the Wildcat offense. It does not matter what plays are called and when they are called, what matters is if the players execute the play that is called.
You also can't ignore the fact that at this time there are no consistent game breakers. The Cal game showed just how important playmakers are. Players like Henry, Syndric Steptoe and Mike Thomas are all solid performers, but they don't have the gamebreaking ability of a DeSean Jackson or a Marshawn Lynch. The Cats have attracted good offensive talent, but to date none of the players have shown to be a threat to score every time they touch the ball.
Livengood and Stoops both have immense pressure to put a consistent winning football program on the field year in and year out. There is too much money at stake. When the statements were made by Livengood the pressure was perhaps at its pinnacle. Boosters and fans were uneasy, the media was questioning the team and even the program itself had to have it's first doubts. In the end the possible changes that were alluded to would, overall, have a negative effect on the program.
The Mike Stoops era of Arizona Football is still less than three years old and a change on the offensive side of the ball would be badly detrimental to the program. A change at the top of the Wildcat offense would almost assuredly set the program back as the new staff would have to implement their systems and strategies and the already young players would have to learn an entirely new playbook and offense.
With younger, more talented players in place, it is time to let the players grow within the system they are currently still learning. It is time to see how young talents like Delashaun Dean, Terrell Reese, Bobby McCoy and Terrell Turner can bolster the receiving corps. It is time to see how the young running backs can continue to develop. It is time to see what the line can become as they mature.
A change now would set the program back and that is the last thing that needs to happen, especially when things are now going the way everyone thought they would as the 2006 season approached. Tuitama is healthy, the young offensive line is learning and the team is starting to execute the system with much more consistency.
If Livengood, and for that matter Stoops, were smart they would take the kid gloves off and let the young offense grow with the coaching staff they came to Tucson to play for. An open offense that throws the ball more than it runs it, players flying around and having fun is Pac-10 football and that is what will happen if things are allowed to mature.
A change would be bad for Arizona Football, any change. Mike Canales, Kasey Dunn, Charlie Williams, Eric Wolford and Dana Dimel were all brought in to do a job and they need to be allowed to not only do it, but the do it the Pac-10 way.