PREVIEW: LSU vs. Zona set for Saturday clash

Looking to build off their dominant win over the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns to open the season, LSU will host the University of Arizona Wildcats on Saturday as their second stop along the road to what the Tiger faithful hope will be another championship year.

Arizona is also coming off a big season opener against BYU, where a successful field goal attempt with one second left on the clock pushed the Wildcats past the Cougars 16-13.


Neither Arizona or BYU were overly successful on the ground during the game, but the lack of rushing did open the door for each teams' passer to get some early season work, as both quarterback threw over 35 times on the night.


Another potential point of concern in the contest was mental mistakes, as BYU committed 10 penalties for 76 yards, while Arizona had eight for 61.


LSU and Arizona last met during the Tigers' 2003 National Championship run, where LSU dispatched of the Wildcats easily, winning by a score of 59-13 in Tucson. The Tigers are 2-0 lifetime against Arizona.


The 2006 Wildcat squad, however, will be one greatly improved from two years ago, or last season's 3-8 team, as Arizona boasts the return of seven offensive starters, including an experienced and talented front line. The defense will bring nine starters back to the field, giving Wildcat fans reason to be optimistic about their third season under head coach Mike Stoops.


Leading the Wildcat offense will be sophomore quarterback Willie Tuitama, who first came onto the scene in the second half of last season, throwing for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns in just five games as a true freshman.


Tuitama completed 19 of 39 passes for a total of 186 yards, with one touchdown and one interception while leading the team to the win over BYU. The game also showed the quarterback's ability to perform in the clutch, as he was the spark of the Wildcat's late drive that ended with the game-winning field goal.


Helping Tuitama on the other end of the passing game will be sophomore wide out Mike Thomas, who was named Pac 10 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year and Freshman All-American for his 771 yards and five touchdowns in 2005. Also returning to the receiving corps from last season are Syndric Steptoe and Anthony Johnson, who were the team leaders behind Thomas.


Steptoe and Johnson led the squad against the Cougars, hauling in six catches each. Johnson finished with 40 yards and one touchdown, while Steptoe ended up with 93 yards. Thomas had just one catch for 14 yards.


The ground game looks to be spear headed by junior Chris Henry, who has shown potential, but is fairly inexperienced; rushing for just 119 yards as the backup to now Denver Bronco Mike Bell.

Against BYU, Henry ran 13 times for 63 yards, though most of those came on a 54 yard carry. He also hauled in four catches for 25 yards in the game. Arizona as a team finished with just 67 net rushing yards in the opener.


The offensive front, which allowed 21 sacks in 2005, welcomes the return of tackles Peter Graniello and Tanner Bell, guards Joe Longacre and Adam Hawes and center Erick Levitre. Graniello, Bell and Levitre were all regular starters last season, while Longacre started in four games and Hawes in three. With added depth this season, however, the line could see some new faces in the starting roles, as freshman center Blake Kerley, junior guard James Tretheway and freshman tackle Eben Britton started against BYU.


At tight end, the Wildcats will likely feature Brad Wood as the starter, with Brandyn McCall likely to receive significant playing time as well.  Wood was the most productive tight end last year, with 304 yards and six touchdowns, and was the only tight end to make a catch against BYU, bring in one reception for 12 yards.


On the defensive side of the ball, Arizona brings back a wealth of experience from last season, and could be a strength of the program if they can stay healthy. Against BYU, the defense allowed 313 yards of total offense, though just 24 of those were on the ground.


Arizona's secondary welcomes the return of strong safety Michael Johnson and veteran cornerbacks Antoine Cason and Wilrey Fontenot.


Last season, Johnson recorded 60 tackles and a team high four interceptions, and came out strong again to open this season, tallying nine tackles and one pass deflection in the opener. Fontenot finished just behind him with seven tackles and two passes broken up.


New to the defensive backfield are free safety Dominic Patrick, and nickel back Marcus Hollingsworth, who combined for nine tackles last week. The Wildcat secondary allowed a total of 289 passing yards against the Cougars.


Arizona has been plagued by injuries at linebacker in the past, but could have a strong corps this season if everyone remains healthy. Leading the linebacker unit are Ronnie Palmer, Spencer Larsen and Dane Krogstad, each of whom missed portions of last season due to injury.


Larsen led the team last week with 12 tackles, one sack and one fumble recovery, with Spencer contributing with six tackles of his own. Krogstad's time was limited due to the use of the nickel back, finishing the contest with two tackles.


The Wildcat defensive front returns in full from last season, featuring tackles Yaniv Barnett and Lionel Dotson and ends Marcus Smith and Jonathan Turner. Dotson was the chief contributor on the line last week with four tackles. Also making an impact and possibly squeezing into a starting role will be defensive end Louis Holmes who had three tackles, including two sacks against BYU.


On special teams, Nick Folk returns as the Wildcats starting kicker. Folk was not used much last season, attempting just 11 field goals, but was the hero last week by making 3-4 field goals, including the game-winning 48 yard attempt with one second on the clock. He also split time at punter, where he showed his power by connecting with a 75 yard kick.


Punter Kyle McQuown also showed promise against BYU, but may end up surrendering the job to Folk.

In the return department, Steptoe continues to be Arizona's go-to returner, picking up one touchdown off of returns last season.

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