If you’re a fan of passing offenses, the Arizona spring football game was the place to be.
If you’re a fan of the 2011 Wildcats, passing is exactly what you want to see if you want the team to have a chance at success in the fall.
Ideally you want your offense to be balanced. In 2008 under Sonny Dykes, Arizona had a record-breaking passer, a 1,000-yard rusher, 33 rushing touchdowns and 24 passing touchdowns.
But life’s a lot easier when you have a future NFL starter at left tackle in Eben Britton and a future NFL starter at tight end in GRONK! Throw in NFL fullback Chris Gronk and you’ve got yourself a running game.
Last year’s offensive line had five seniors but no blue-chippers. Only Colin Baxter and Adam Grant are draft prospects and neither is projected to be drafted until the final round.
The run game suffered as a result. The Cats finished 8th in the Pac-10 in both rushing yards per game and yards per carry last year. And yet, Mike Stoops and his staff never seemed to let go of the dream of churning out first downs on the ground.
Keola Antolin carried the ball 25 times and the Wildcats attempted 43 total rushes in the frustrating-on-so-many-levels loss to Arizona State. It didn’t make sense.
There’s no reason to try and establish the run when you’ve established you can’t run.
Arizona is breaking in five new offensive linemen. The long-term potential is high for this next generation of hogs but they aren’t going to steamroll people out of the gate.
It also doesn’t help that, with Greg Nwoko’s injury, there isn’t a big bruising back on the two-deep. If the size requirements were 5-10 or 200 pounds, neither of the Cats’ top two running backs could go on the ride.
It adds up to three things: Throw, throw and throw.
And on Saturday, throw they did. The team ran 60 plays from scrimmage. Forty-two were passing plays, 13 were running plays, and the remaining five were passing plays that turned into quarterback runs. So 78% of the time the play-caller said, “Let’s put this thing in the air.”
It’s the right thing to do, and this time around Stoops knows it. He admits this year’s team is going to have to pass to set up the run. He’s more comfortable with the fact that the strength of his squad is its quarterback and wide receivers.
Texas transfer Dan Bucker was the guy most Cat fans wanted to see but the pass-catching star in the scrimmage was Richard Morrison. The former quarterback was last seen grabbing six passes in the Alamo Bowl and it looks like he’s ready to be the little speedy guy the UA has been looking for since Mike Thomas left.
What the Wildcats may be looking for next is anybody who can play defense. With linebacker Jake Fischer going down at the very end of the scrimmage the Cats appear to have lost a second starter on a unit that was already trying to plug some holes. Yet another reason to get used to having to throw the ball a bunch of times.
Nobody is calling for a return to the days of 46 pass attempts and only one touchdown like during the Mackovic era. But if you don’t have stars at every position you have to put the stars you have in the best position to succeed.
For the 2011 Arizona Wildcats that means Nick Foles going up-tempo out of the shotgun, Juron Criner on one side, Bucker on the other, and a combination of Morrison, David Roberts, Terrence Miller, David Douglas and Garic Wharton on the inside.
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