Saturday, November 11, 2006

Arizona Daily Star: Don't count on rushing field

Dear Mr. Football: How did the UA possibly beat No. 7 UCLA last year and can it beat No. 8 Cal today?

A. You don't want to hear this, but the '05 Bruins were one-dimensional, a fraud of a top-10 team, finishing dead last in Pac-10 scoring defense and No. 9 in total defense.  Arizona beat the Bruins because it scored on a punt return, a fumble return and on an end-around reverse. UCLA's run defense (worst in the Pac-10, allowing 5.4 yards per rush) was so inadequate that it allowed UA fullback Gilbert Harris to run for 113 yards. That was almost half of Harris' yearly net (274 yards) on one afternoon.

This isn't meant to diminish Arizona's rousing 52-14 victory, but it has no bearing today. Cal is much more balanced defensively than UCLA was in 2005.  The Bruins did not place a single player on the all-conference defensive team. Cal has possibly the Pac-10's two leading contenders for defensive player of the year: defensive tackle Brandon Mebane and cornerback Daymeion Hughes.

Dear Mr. Football: Why didn't Arizona recruit Hughes and Cal's other leading players?

A. Believe it or not, John Mackovic persuaded Hughes to visit Arizona in December 2002, a month after the UA's player rebellion. Arizona offered a scholarship to Cal quarterback Nate Longshore, who at this point is the likely Pac-10 offensive player of the year.

Hughes is so good — think Antoine Cason with another year's polish — that he has already intercepted eight passes this season. That puts him in select company with Arizona's Chuck Cecil, nine in 1987, and USC's Ronnie Lott, eight in 1979.

Dear Mr. Football: How long has it been since Arizona sold out a homecoming game?

A. It was 1999. By no coincidence, it was the last time Arizona's football program generated more revenue ($12.4 million) than Lute Olson's basketball program ($9.9 million that season). At midafternoon Friday, 2,800 tickets remained for today's game.  Even though UA students had a three-day weekend for Veteran's Day, the 11,000 Zona Zoo seats, which are so important to game-day atmosphere at Arizona Stadium, are expected to be full.

"It's homecoming,'' said James Francis, the UA's assistant athletic director for marketing and tickets. "The students generally stay for this game more than most.''

Dear Mr. Football: Did you realize Cal has been favored over Arizona, from 2002 to now, by double figures in each of five seasons? Is that a record?

A. Sadly, yes. USC has been a double-figure favorite over Arizona the last four years (22, 38, 35, 28, and before that 6 and 7).

In order, from 2002, the Cal-Arizona game-day odds: 10, 17, 22, 16 and 13 1/2 today. What makes it absurd is that Cal was 1-10 as recently as 2001.  This doesn't mean Cal has nothing to worry about. Upsets in this series are not uncommon. An 8-1 Arizona team lost at 5-4 Cal in 1993, and, with it, lost a Rose Bowl bid. And a 6-2 Dick Tomey team in 1989 lost at a 2-6 Cal team.

Dear Mr. Football: How good is Marshawn Lynch?

A. Cal's tailback is averaging 6.5 yards a carry. That is more than double Chris Henry's 3.1. In fact, Lynch is such a big-play runner that his 6.5 average is greater than that of USC's O.J. Simpson, 5.3, as a senior, and superior to that of USC's Marcus Allen, 5.8, as a senior.  Arizona's Trung Canidate averaged 7.3 yards a carry in 1998, the league's top number from 1948 to 2004, until USC's Reggie Bush ran for an incandescent 8.7 per carry average last year.  On form and reputation, Lynch is the best player on the field today, a game-breaker that Arizona so sorely lacks.

Dear Mr. Football: Isn't Willie Tuitama due for some good fortune?

A. Mr. Franchise 2005, may have used up his good fortune last Sunday. He lost his wallet on the UA's return flight from Washington State.

He returned to the Tucson airport on Sunday afternoon and — this only happens in the movies — someone had found his wallet and delivered it to authorities. No maddening trip to the MVD for a duplicate license.  The Tuitama-to-the-rescue theme had a one-season warranty.

This year, Mike Stoops' attempt at some midseason salvation came when he appointed heretofore anonymous tight ends coach Dana Dimel to call Arizona's offensive plays.  Dana Dimel in Cinderella slippers? It doesn't have the same ring to it.

Dear Mr. Football: So who wins?

A. For Arizona to win, Henry will have to produce the game of his life — run for 100 yards or more — and the UA defense/kicking teams will have to score once or twice.  Realistically, the UA will be fortunate to gain 50 net yards rushing. Don't count on rushing the field at game's end.


No comments: