For the fourth straight year, Mike Stoops stumbles out of the box–the Wildcats have started their 2004-07 campaigns a combined 6-23 (half of those wins coming against Northern Arizona). For the fourth straight year, Mike Stoops saves his hide with an absurd upset in the desert and crawls his way back to mediocre respectability (3-8, 3-8, 6-6, 5-7).
And it looks like the pattern will repeat itself for at least one more year. Stoops is coming back, to the disgust of almost everyone in the Pac-10 who has to play them next November (just at a glance…Cal, USC, OSU, and ASU are their last four home opponents. That will be pain for one of those sides.)
Final record: 5-7. Typical ignominy.
The wins: The annual upset, this time against Dennis Dixon’s broken leg and Ryan Leaf’s baby bro (talk about a kiss of death). Also knocked off UCLA, signalling the death knell of Karl Dorrell. Blew out Wazzu and came back on Washington. And of course, the annual big win against the juggernaut that is Northern Arizona.
The losses: Other than Cal, they hung around with a shellshocked “we just lost to fricking Stanford” USC squad for four quarters, then proceeded to lose to that same Stanford team at home. They were also shellacked by Oregon State, but to their credit never really were blown apart by any of their opponents this year. Also fell to good Mountain West squads in New Mexico and BYU.
Pass. PASS. PASS! You won’t be mistaking this team for the Arkansas Razorbacks. This team lives and dies with the pass. The junior Willie Tuitama, who should be the starting QB again next year, had an excellent October and November, sans bad performances against the Beavers and Stanford. The Wildcats finished 10th in passing offense and 35th in passing efficency throughout the nation. What else would you expect from an offensive coordinator from Texas Tech?
On the flip side, as you expect with a guy like Stoops, Arizona again was anemic toward the run, finishing fifth to last. Interestingly, this lack of a running game did not hurt the Wildcats later in the season as Tuitama started to reorient himself to throwing 40-50 times a game. The downside is that Wildcats games start getting that much longer from all the incomplete passes and punts and what not–the Oregon-Arizona game ran longer than The Ten Commandments, plus the intermission.
Additionally, Arizona’s offensive line needs some upgrading to protect the weak run and the strong arm–Tuitama was sacked an average of 2.5 times a game this year.
Name you’ll be hearing again: Antoine Cason is looking like one of the top NFL prospects, a fantastic corner who played a huge factor in the last two upsets against Oregon and Cal (three big TDs on punt returns and interceptions). He especially covered his old buddy DeSean well this year–Jackson struggled against Arizona this year with only 3 catches for 39 yards, and Cason also bagged another pick on Longshore.
On the other hand, Stoops’s development of NFL talent is lacking. I looked at the list of All-Americans under his tutelage who were drafted–don’t recognize a single name who panned out.
Interestingly enough, Arizona’s defense was surprisingly solid this year (47th in rushing D, 33rd in pass efficiency D)–but Stoops’s pedigree has always been as a defensive man (hence the sterling development of many defensive players under his reign). It’d be a frisky team if someone in Tucson realized that they need to develop the running game, but alas, that probably won’t happen while Stoops is here.
Wild card: Cason might be NFL bound, but the Wildcats have the other side of special teams covered. Keenyn Crier had the best punting average in the Pac-10. He’ll probably have to keep it up next year though.
You know your team is in trouble though when one of the big highlights of your season is an 83 yard punt.
What our game against them showed us. We stormed to an early lead, and then let them pass around for three quarters to nibble at an almost insurmountable deficit. Credit to Tuitama for making the final margin respectable, but it’s hard to assess a game with no flow at all. Cal had short fields early, took advantage of mistakes. Pretty much the difference here. Being up by double digits for the last 57 minutes doesn’t hurt either–inspires a little apathy and relaxing, but not enough from a Tedford team to blow it (that is an interesting question–how has Tedford done with double digit leads?).
There is one thing it did expose–our difficulty handling an efficient quarterbacks, a trend that would be blown open against USC and Arizona State.
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