OPPONENT NOTEBOOK: Foles is the catalyst

ARIZONA QUARTERBACK NICK Foles made his starting debut last season in a game at Oregon State. The Wildcats won 37-32. Arizona has now gone 10-4 under Foles. After having last weekend off, the 4-0 Wildcats wrap up a four-game homestand this Saturday against OSU, not only trying to improve to 2-0 in the Pac-10 but to inch closer to the national top 10.

INSIDE SLANT

Foles is third in the nation in completion percentage (74.5, 102 of 137) and ranks 26th in passing efficiency (149.84).

This season, his command of the offense and control of the huddle has showed up in late game-winning drives against Iowa and Cal. That's not only a factor of improved throwing mechanics under new quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo, it's a product of leading by example in the film room.

"He had a great offseason," Scelfo said of Foles' study habits. "It's like taking a test and knowing the answers."

Foles is playing with that kind of confidence, which was evident in the last game even as the offense sputtered — scoring only three points — for more than 57 minutes against Cal. Then Foles hooked up with receiver Juron Criner on a 51-yard pass and the game-winning 3-yard score to lead the Wildcats to a 10-9 victory.

"He's gutsy," co-offensive coordinator Seth Littrell said. "He's going to grind it out."

Foles' gutsiness could be the difference between this Arizona team and previous editions. Across the Pac-10 years, the Wildcats have rarely had a game-changing quarterback such as Foles.

Not that he wants to keep cutting it close, as the team did in the past two games.

"It definitely gives you confidence, but it is not something you want to do every week," Foles said of the late touchdown drives.

"You don't want to put yourself in a situation where it's fourth quarter, two minutes left, and you have to go on a game-winning drive. Your luck is going to run out, and the other team is going to execute."

 

NOTES, QUOTES
  • Arizona is averaging 3.6 yards per carry on first down, a figure that was a bit worse against Cal in the team's most recent game. One of the Wildcats' emphasis during their bye week was being more productive in their bigger power sets. "I think the big thing I took from it was how important getting yardage on first and second down was," quarterback Nick Foles said of the Cal game. "I have always known it, but that is what really killed us in that game."

  • Arizona moved into the AP top 10 on Sunday, rising five spots from No. 14 despite not playing. The No. 9 ranking is the program's best since being No. 4 in the 1999 preseason poll. The Wildcats also finished No. 4 in the final 1998 poll.

  • Arizona is one of two teams in the nation that has not allowed a rushing touchdown this season. The other is Iowa.

 

SERIES HISTORY: Arizona leads Oregon State 21-11-1 (last meeting, 2009, 37-32 Arizona).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Arizona has multiple sets on offense, able to spread defenses out but also able to line up in power sets and run downhill. It's that second part of the equation that has been slow to come around, but Arizona hopes that can be solved with the possible return this week of fullback Taimi Tutogi, who has been out or limited in three games this season because of ankle and knee injuries. Arizona is averaging 34.25 points per game, with WR Juron Criner being the big-play threat on the outside. Nick Foles is one of best quarterbacks in the West. He does attempt a bunch of quick throws and screens, which partially explains his high completion rate (102 of 137, 74.5 percent), but he has the arm to make all the tight throws through traffic and the deep throws downfield.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Arizona bottled up Oregon State RB Jacquizz Rodgers pretty well last season on the ground, allowing 85 yards on 16 carries, although he made an impact in the passing game with 13 receptions for 70 yards. He's a tough inside runner with quick feet, and Arizona has to wrap up before he gets into space. The Wildcats have been solid against the run, allowing 101.3 yards per game and keeping most everything contained. The play of an all-new linebacker corps has been the team's biggest relief. Even late in camp, coaches were expressing concern, but then the light came on for junior college transfers Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo, and sophomore Jake Fischer.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "That defense gets you to a championship." — CB Trevin Wade, when asked what he learned from the team's 10-9 win over Cal on Sept. 25.

 

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Oregon State at Arizona, Oct. 9 — The Wildcats should be refreshed after a bye week because coach Mike Stoops said the team was "spent" after its 10-9 win over Cal on Sept. 25. Arizona, at 4-0 overall and 1-0 Pac-10, is off to its best start since 1998 and figures to be favored in its next three games, which includes a trip to Washington State and a home game against Washington.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Arizona got a bit lucky and survived against Cal on a day when its offense did next to nothing. The Wildcats need to balance their spread offense with a stronger running threat and to take more shots down the field, so defenses don't cheat so much on all the quick screen passes Arizona likes to run.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

  • WR Juron Criner — He's one of the best big-play receivers in the West, a great leaper at 6-foot-4. Despite injuries — he didn't play in the second half of two games and was at about 80 percent for the Cal game — he has caught 19 passes for 352 yards this season.

  • DE Brooks Reed — The high-motor senior defensive end has teamed well with fellow end Ricky Elmore and DT Justin Washington to get a good push against opposing quarterbacks. They will try to rattle Oregon State sophomore Ryan Katz, who will be making his fifth career start.

  • RB Nic Grigsby — He might be looking for some personal redemption as his 2009 season was basically wrecked on his first carry of the game against Oregon State when he suffered a shoulder injury that lingered all year. He has 252 yards and five touchdowns on 45 carries this season, always a big-play threat but rather quiet in the past two games.

 

ROSTER REPORT:

  • FB Taimi Tutogi (sprained left knee) did not play against Cal. He should be able to return to practice early this week, coach Mike Stoops said. Tutogi, a fullback/H-back hybrid, is key to Arizona's power running game.

  • WR/KR Travis Cobb was out against Cal because of a foot injury. Bug Wright took over his duties as kick returner.

  • OG Vaughn Dotsy (back) left the Cal game in the second half. He missed most of fall camp while recovering from back surgery.

  • Backup DT Willie Mobley (knee) has missed the past two games.

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