Arizona Wildcats team preview

Click below for a preview of the next opponent on the USC schedule, the Arizona Wildcats

Wildcats on Offense

Quarterback – #7 Willie Tuitama

Willie Tuitama played in the final five games of the 2005 season as a true freshman and created a buzz with his performance. The 6-2, 212 pound quarterback led the Wildcats to two wins in those final games, throwing for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns. This season, Tuitama hasn't exactly gotten off to the kind of start the Wildcats had hoped for. In the season opener against BYU, he threw for fewer than 200 yards, completed just 48% of his passes, threw an interception and was sacked twice. Things didn't get any better for Tuitama in his next game, at LSU. After throwing two interceptions and completing just eight passes for 50 yards, he was knocked out of the game with a concussion. Wildcat fans received a glimpse of what they hope the future holds with their quarterback, however, when he entered last week's game against Stephen F. Austin and completed six of nine passes for 61 yards and a touchdown. While Tuitama certainly has the talent and ability to become a big-time player, at this point in time, he won't be one of the top quarterbacks that the Trojans face this season. LSU is the only solid defense he's faced and they absolutely destroyed the young signal caller both physically and mentally.

Running backs – #28 Chris Jennings, #19 Chris Henry, #38 Xavier Smith

The Wildcats are extremely pleased with the emergence of Chris Jennings, a junior college transfer from Arizona Western. Jennings walked onto the team this past fall, but, with his breakout performance last week against Stephen F. Austin, earned a scholarship. After chipping in with 53 yards on eight carries against LSU, Jennings dominated last week's game from start to finish. He had 201 yards on 26 carries with two touchdowns. At 5-10 and 225 pounds, Jennings has a great combination of size and speed. The Wildcats should look to establish a rhythm with Jennings early, as he is obviously capable of running the football 25-30 times. The Trojans' defense will provide a stiffer test than Steve's defense, so Jennings' 6.5 yards-per-carry average this season will likely take a hit.

After carrying the ball 13 times in the season opener, Chris Henry had just two yards against LSU and didn't even see action against Stephen F. Austin. If Henry sees time against the Trojans, he'll give the Wildcats a big back who can pound away at the front line.

Xavier Smith has been the beneficiary of Henry's shrinking playing time. After not seeing action against BYU, Smith ran ten times for 57 yards in the Wildcats' last game. He's a smaller, speed back and it looks like he's getting to be a larger part of Arizona's offensive game plan.

Wide Receivers – #1 Syndric Steptoe, #10 Mike Thomas, #9 Anthony Johnson

Syndric Steptoe is back for what seems to be his 12th year at Arizona. The short, speedy receiver has caught at least four passes in each game this season and is always a threat to run with the ball after the catch. Steptoe isn't going to win any jump balls over Trojan defenders, but the secondary must work to keep him from beating them deep and will need to limit his effectiveness with the ball in his hands. This season, Steptoe is leading the Wildcats' receivers with 14 catches for 145 yards.

Mike Thomas lines up opposite Steptoe, but he may as well be the same player. He's another small, speed guy who can burn a defense by running routes or receiving the ball hear or behind the line of scrimmage. This season, Thomas has nine catches for 80 yards.

Anthony Johnson works as a good number three receiver for the Wildcats because he's a departure from the number one and two guys. Johnson doesn't have the same speed, but he's taller and can work as a possession receiver. That's not to say that Johnson can't get deep, but this season, his 11 catches have gone for just 74 yards. He does, however, have both of the Wildcats' receiving touchdowns.

Tight End – #87 Brandyn McCall, #17 Brad Wood

Brandyn McCall and Brad Wood form a solid tight end duo. Neither tight end is all that physically imposing, but both have demonstrated a knack for getting open. McCall has five grabs this season for 44 yards, while Wood's three have gone for 37. These tight ends would probably cause a lot more concern for USC fans if the Trojans weren't fresh off a game where they shut down a group of four tight ends that included one of the best in the country. These two might pull in a few receptions, but the Trojan linebackers have been outstanding this season in covering the tight end.

Offensive Line – LT #76 Peter Graniello, LG #74 Adam Hawes, C #50 Blake Kerley, RG #75 Joe Longacre, RT #77 Eben Britton

Blake Kerley, Joe Longacre and Eben Britton are all underclassmen and Kerley and Britton are receiving playing time over more experienced players. Peter Graniello has the most experience on the line, in his third season as a starter. Overall, this line has allowed five sacks this season and shouldn't be able to come close to pushing around the Trojan defensive line. Even though the Trojans sacked Nebraska quarterback Zac Taylor just once, the defensive line was able to establish the line of scrimmage, and that will be important, as always, against the Wildcats.

Wildcats on Defense

Defensive Line – #97 Johnathan Turner, #96 Yaniv Barnett, #54 Lionel Dotson, #1 Louis Holmes

After a played-out recruiting battle, Louis Holmes finally made it into Arizona and has performed well in the season's first few games. He is leading the line with two sacks and has also forced a fumble. Lionel Dotson leads the line with 11 tackles. While Holmes and Turner are solid players, this defensive line isn't even close to the one the Huskers brought to the Coliseum. If the Trojans were able to hold Nebraska to one sack, it will take several blown assignments or players just falling asleep for Arizona to get much more than that.

Linebackers – #51 Spencer Larsen, #33 Ronnie Palmer, #39 Dane Krogstad

Spencer Larsen is the best tackler of the linebackers, leading the unit with 20, while picking up a sack and forcing a fumble. Ronnie Palmer is right behind Larsen, with 18 tackles, while Dane Krogstad has 11. Like the defensive line, these linebackers aren't as good as Nebraska's and they lack a true All-Conference performer or physical threat.

Cornerbacks – #5 Antoine Cason, #3 Wilrey Fontenot

The strength of the team is the cornerback position, but early in this season, teams have been throwing against them. Antoine Cason is an athletic cornerback who will probably draw the assignment of covering Dwayne Jarrett. Cason, 6-0, and Fontenot, 5-9, provide the Trojans' the same type of height and strength mismatch as Nebraska's cornerbacks, so the Wildcat cornerbacks must make open field tackles when the USC receivers get the ball at the line of scrimmage.

Safeties – #23 Michael Johnson, #8 Dominic Patrick

Michael Johnson is a leader for the Wildcat defense and paces the team with 20 tackles. He'll have a busy day with the Trojan running and passing attack and Dominic Patrick will need to assist him in every way possible. It'll be interesting to see how the Trojans react to such a difference in defensive strengths, moving from the solid front seven of the Huskers to the fearsome back four of the Wildcats.

Wildcats on Special Teams

Kicker/Punter – #12 Nick Folk

Nick Folk handled all three kicking duties for the Wildcats, performing kickoffs, place kicks and punts. Folk possesses a booming leg when he can let it loose, as his ten touchbacks on 12 kickoffs will attest to. As for field goals, Folk has converted a 48-yarder, as well as a 22-yarder twice and a 30-yarder, but has missed from 42 and 33 yards. When it comes to punting, Folk has been even more impressive, posting a 47.3 yard average on 12 punts, with a long of 75.

Kick/Punt Returner – #1 Syndric Steptoe

Syndric Steptoe is an explosive kick and punt returner. He is averaging almost 25-yards per kick return, but has yet to get a chance to return a punt.

Outlook

Before the season, this game was labeled as a "trap" game for the Trojans by some analysts. It still seems that some people don't understand that "trap" games don't exist for Pete Carroll coached teams. This year's USC team knows that they haven't done anything special and they're looking for absolutely every opportunity to do just that. This game at Arizona should do nothing but allow the Trojans to display yet again just how talented they are, and how far Arizona still has to go in the Pac-10. The Wildcats were a sleeper team in this conference for a lot of people, but after struggling in all three games this season, it appears as if they aren't quite to that point yet. Arkansas was a much tougher environment and Nebraska was a much better team, so going to Arizona shouldn't pose too many problems for a Trojan team eager to prove that they're even better than what they showed in an 18-point victory over a top-20 team.


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