Arizona 101: Mr. Stoops' Wild Ride

ARIZONA'S DREAM SEASON came crashing down last week, giving rise to the common notion they might be up for a letdown this Saturday. The Cougs, meanwhile, are in an ascendant mood following a spirited battle with Oregon. The clash of disparate emotions starts Saturday at 4:30 p.m -- so what might happen in the three-plus hours following the kickoff?

Cougars (1-5) vs Wildcats (5-1)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
4:30 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Martin Stadium (35,117)

TELEVISION:
Versus Network

RADIO:
The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers much of the West. Click here for listings.

THE LINE:
Arizona by 24

LAST MEETING:
Arizona won in Tucson last year 48-7.

THE SERIES:
Arizona Leads 24-13.

CF.C PREDICTION:
Wildcats 30, Cougars 27

THE WILDCATS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Nick Foles, QB: One of the most underrated passers in the country. Foles has a strong accurate arm and throws an outstanding deep ball – but Arizona with Foles is usually all about the short passing game. That's a big part of why he has completed an astounding 75 percent of his throws on the year. He led a passing clinic up and down the field against Oregon State last week in throwing for 440 yards – but Arizona didn't turn those passing yards into enough points, losing 29-27, and the final score probably should have been 29-20.
Juron Criner, WR: He caught 12 balls for 179 yards and three touchdowns last week. Nic Grigsby, RB: Slashing, north-south runner. He hits the holes between the tackles with surprising force for a 190 pound back. Averaging a solid 5.6 yards per carry.

Overview
Very competent and explosive, the Wildcats are the classic spread 'em and shred 'em passing offense. Foles is the centerpiece of the whole system but Grigsby is a solid running option. Arizona played pick and choose last week in both their running game and how often they went deep. Neither was omnipresent against Oregon State but when they went to it, it worked.

Strategy
The Wildcats ran over WSU to the tune of 300 yards last year, but the Cougs can't get overly focused on stopping just the run. Foles' passing keys Arizona's entire offense. Keep him on a long field, give him lots of opportunities for mistakes and hope he makes some of them. Arizona's precision short passing game can be a killer. OSU survived it by bending, but not breaking at critical times. WSU will have to have some key third down stops, or interceptions, or missed field goals, or all of the above, if they can't get pressure on Foles. If WSU is in a gambling mood on Saturday, then the blitzers must get there or Foles will put up some monster passing yards akin to last week's.

THE WILDCATS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
CB Trevin Wade: He's one of the top cover corners in the Pac-10 but missed most of last week's game with a bruised thigh and practiced for the first time this week on Wednesday. If he can't go Saturday, look for Shaquille Richardson, a freshman, to take his place.

DE's Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore: Big and fast, they're a handful. Both check in at 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds. Elmore has 17 tackles and 1.5 sacks, Reed has 16 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

Overview
The Wildcat defense was ranked No. 2 in the nation before last week's stunner, when OSU lit them up for 393 passing yards. That game is likely more aberration than trend – Arizona plays amped and aggressively and they're not going to change. Blitzing is common.

Strategy
Jeff Tuel's development will again be tested on Saturday. And so will the WSU receivers, who must get open quickly and help their QB. The Wildcats have a great pass rush and an aggressive secondary. They put tons of pressure on the QB to hit his receivers quickly and accurately. But amidst all that aggression, seams do open up. Use plenty of play action even if the running game isn't working, focus on mistakes by the linebackers and a rolling pocket away from the overloaded side of the front. Above all, avoid devastating sacks and turnovers. An issue that has been there all year for the Cougs is Tuel's internal clock not going off on time. Against Arizona, he simply will not have as much time for read progression – and he'll have to manufacture plays at times, break out of the pocket and make something out of nothing with his feet. If he doesn't, Arizona will tally some big sack numbers. But if Tuel and the WSU offense execute properly some key things, WSU can move the ball on this defense and score points.

THE WILDCATS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Alex Zendejas hails from one of America's premier kicking families but had a terrible game last week, missing an extra point and a 37 yard field goal in a two point loss.

Something has to give -- WSU leads the nation in kickoff returns defense (15.7), but Arizona ranks No. 3 in kickoff returns (29.7). Return man Travis Cobb leads the Pac-10 and ranks No. 9 in the land at 31.4 yards per return.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Mike Stoops was on camera in UA's game against California almost as much as his players, the coach was berating officials so often and with such, ahem, enthusiasm. But against Oregon State last week, he was darned near comatose in comparison. Whether the Pac-10 issued a warning after Cal or he's just trying to act more composed on the sideline, if this one stays close it's hard not to see the old Stoops coming out. And that could inspire his troops. Or it could (finally) draw another flag. And if that were to occur, could it come in a key situation? There is precedent -- Arizona's 29-27 loss at home to New Mexico in 2007, when a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Stoops for his behavior on the sideline led directly to a New Mexico touchdown.

After an undefeated team suffers a loss this far into the season, it is common to follow up with a letdown game. The Wildcats are also making their first road trip since opening day. WSU must have an answer for Arizona's short passing game but it's a given the Wildcats are going to try and run more --they're facing a Washington State defense that has given up some crooked numbers on the ground. On offense for WSU, time will be shorter for Tuel and quicker decisions will be required. The WSU ground game has to find more daylight than they have in order to take some of the pressure off of Tuel and the receivers to try and do it all.


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