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Saturday, November 11, 2006
SF Chronicle: Cal can't look past uprising Arizona
Other than Arizona's Mike Stoops, Jeff Tedford was probably the happiest coach in the nation to hear that the Wildcats beat WashingtonState last week. It gave the Cal coach one more example of his team's need to stay focused with the highly anticipated USC meeting just a week away. "To go to Pullman and beat a WashingtonState team like they did was very impressive," Tedford said, just like he had already told his team. "Those are little reminders of what can happen if you're not ready to play." The No. 8 Bears (8-1, 6-0 Pac-10) have done a solid job of staying focused week-to-week, but they got their biggest scare in a "trap game" against Washington, which took Cal into overtime the week before a much-needed bye. Arizona (4-5, 2-4) could play trapper No. 2 if the Bears look past the Wildcats. There aren't many statistics that make you believe Arizona belongs on the same field as Cal, but the Huskies didn't have stunning offensive numbers before they played Cal, either. Plus, the Wildcats have a new-found confidence that could be scary in front of their home crowd on homecoming. "The guys have a lot of confidence in their quarterback," Stoops said. "They really believe they can win."
Willie Tuitama gave his teammates reason to believe, returning last week and leading Arizona to the upset victory. He had missed two games with a concussion, but his recovery appeared complete as the Wildcats scored 20 first-half points, the most they have put up in a half this season. "Willie seems very comfortable when he's in there," Tedford said. "He really came on strong last year, and having him back really makes their offense a lot more potent. We feel like he really brings an added dimension to their team." A lot of the credit to the offensive turnaround has also been given to Arizona's run game. The Wildcats' 116 rushing yards on 44 carries against WashingtonState may not seem like much until you consider that the Bears' defense allowed 516 total yards to UCLA last week. "I know we have to step up our game up a little bit," safety Bernard Hicks said. "A real dominant team will take advantage of (those yards) and put points on the board. "From the D-line to the linebackers to the secondary, we have some great ballplayers, and coach Bob Gregory puts us in a position to make plays, so we should be able to shut offenses down." While Cal is looking for answers from its defense, Arizona has found quite a few already. The Wildcats are allowing 309.3 yards a game after surrendering 408.8 last year, but playing the Bears' powerful offense isn't exactly the way to continue that trend. Tailback Marshawn Lynch leads the conference in rushing, all-purpose yards and scoring, and quarterback Nate Longshore adapted to a new defensive scheme last week to pick apart the UCLA secondary for 20-of-24 passing, 266 yards and three touchdowns. He hadn't thrown a touchdown in the two previous games as defenses appear to be taking away the deep ball, so Longshore dinked and dunked his way to the third-best completion percentage day in Cal history.