Arizona 101: Cougs face speed and Stoops

WITH HIS JOB on the line this season, Mike Stoops' Cats are on the brink of becoming bowl eligible. But 'Zona has already paid homage to their history under Stoops by losing to New Mexico (now 4-6) earlier this season. And both Stanford and New Mexico offered the blueprint on how to beat UA. But can WSU execute that gameplan against a team on a roll and who has speed across the board?

THE WILDCATS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Willie Tuitama, QB: Tuitama is the cog that drives the 'Zona offense. He is completing a very efficient 63 percent of his passes with 15 TDs and only four picks. But he and UA do have a tendency to get too conservative against aggressive defenses.

Nic Grigsby, RB: Grigsby is Arizona's workhorse back. Very elusive, but with a smallish frame, he's averaging a robust 5.8 ypc. Still, Stoops benched him after just two offensive plays a couple weeks back and Keola Antolin went for 149 ground yards at Cal.

Mike Thomas, WR: Thomas leads the conference in receiving yards and catches, with just 48 receptions for 614 yards. A natural playmaker, he get the ball on reverses and end-arounds as well.

Rob Gronkowski , TE: The big tight end has been giving teams fits, save for one, this season. With size, speed, an innate ability to get open and great hands, he has the whole package. Overview
Arizona has quietly built one of the conference's more efficient passing offenses in 2008 -- they throw for 232 yards per game and rarely turn the ball over.

Strategy
Arizona's offense is predicated on timing and short-to-medium, secure passes. The defensive front seven of the Cougs will need to take Arizona out of their rhythm and WSU will either need to mount a pass rush or lock down the box to be effective against the Wildcats. Stanford is the only team that has been able to take Gronkowski out of the game and WSU will have to do the same -- the Cougar defense is certainly not great but they also are not nearly as bad as the scoreboard has shown. But the crimson stop corps is searching for a reason to believe in themselves and unless they find one Saturday, it could be another long afternoon. And it certainly wouldn't hurt to get some support from the offense, an NFL level defense couldn't have brought the Cougs victories of late the way the offense has been unable to mount a consistent charge, points or clock eating drives.

Cougars (1-8) vs Wildcats (5-3)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
2:00 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Martin Stadium (35,117)

TELEVISION:
None

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

THE LINE:
Arizona by 41

LAST MEETING:
2007 in Tucson, Arizona won 48-20.

THE SERIES:
UA leads the series 22-13

CF.C PREDICTION:
A Stoops sideline implosion here, a break there, and things will alllllll be going WSU's way. Cougars 57, Arizona 1

THE WILDCATS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Ronnie Palmer, MLB: Palmer leads a group that doesn't have a lot of big names, but doesn't have any glaring holes either. A tough, blue collar type player that Stoops loves.

Overview
Even though they lost to USC, the near miss demonstrates what the Arizona defense is capable of at times. The rank only behind the Trojans in total defense in the conference and are very stingy against the pass. They have, however, had their problems against the run at times.

Strategy
Indeed, Arizona is vulnerable against the run -- New Mexico proved it first, Stanford did so again. And since WSU has been unable to get much production at all out of their running backs, should that again prove to be the case Saturday, quarterbacks Kevin Lopina or J.T. Levenseller could be the way for the Cougs to make some hay on the ground. The Cougs need to not only be able to run, but to move the chains on the ground and find the end zone at the end of drives. They've done neither so far this season, and Saturday would be a fine time for the offense and backs to break through against a quick defense strong that is particularly adept against a passing game.

THE WILDCATS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Mike Thomas adds his big play ability to the return game. Jason Bondzio is 9-11 on field goals this year and perfect inside 40 yards. Punter Keenyn Crier averages an outstanding 44.7 yards per punt.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Washington State must run the ball and take Gronkowski out of the game -- exactly what Stanford did. But for the second week in a row, the Cougs face a team coming off a bye week and UA will be rested and restless. Arizona was on the verge of a very special season, but have found ways to lose close, winnable games, a hallmark of Stoops' UA career to date. At the same time, Arizona's three losses have been by a combined total of just 16 points, and they are still steaming over a narrow loss to USC. When Arizona wins, they win big, outscoring the competition 232-67. Don't expect the Wildcats to be gracious guests, if they have a chance to run up the score, they very well might. Washington State needs to use Arizona's speed against them and they need to take advantage of Arizona's overconfidence by coming strong out of the gate. UA has talked all week about remaining focused and not looking past the Cougars -- to such a large degree that it's usually a sign they could be doing just that. The Cougs need to smack UA in the mouth and they need to do so early on. Will they? Stay tuned.


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