The halftime score was 14-10.
That certainly was not expected but how the Arizona Wildcats got there was no surprise based on the question marks going into the 2011 football season.
As soon as one season ends speculation begins about the next season. How many players will be coming back and what did they do the previous year? Then it’s a matter of waiting until the season starts to see if the sum of the new parts matches the projections.
Arizona had a lot of question marks coming into the season and those question marks were all on display against Northern Arizona. The season opener emphasized what we already knew about the 2011 Wildcats:
The offensive line is inexperienced.
The five new starters became six with an unannounced pregame injury. There were two false starts and an illegal snap. Nick Foles was only sacked once but he was flushed from the pocket a handful of times. However, if you block well enough for your quarterback to complete 80% of his passes for 400 yards and five scores, you get a passing grade.
The QB situation is strange.
By the end of the game every starter was on the sideline…except the franchise quarterback. Not exactly textbook. Unless Bryson Beirne is going to be able to go this week (and every week after that) Stoops is going to have to decide if he’d rather redshirt senior Matt Scott or freshman Daxx Garman. Trying to save both by having Foles take every snap is just asking for trouble.
The secondary is missing two starters.
Adam Hall and Jonathan McKnight are out. If you factor in that Robert Golden was playing corner until Hall’s injury, only Marquis Flowers is playing his originally projected position within the secondary. McKnight’s replacement, Shaquille Richardson, quickly became NAU’s best friend.
The D-line can be controlled.
The defensive backs take the initial blame when the opposing quarterback completes 16 straight passes but the back side of that is the line failing to tip any passes or hurry the QB into bad throws. On NAU’s 7 ½ minute scoring drive the Lumberjacks converted three 3rd downs. There were no impose-your-will moments for the defensive front in the second quarter.
The running game is made up of short passes.
Keola Antolin had 41 yards rushing and 51 yards receiving. His touchdown flight (the most athletic play of his career) was on a swing pass. It’s the correct strategy. No sense in trying to establish the run when you’ve established you can’t run.
The receivers are plentiful.
The names we were supposed to hear behind Juron Criner were David Douglas and Dan Buckner. Instead fans were introduced to names like Gino Crump and Austin Hill. Foles did a great job of spreading it around.
The superstars are Criner and Foles.
An even distribution of wealth is all well and good but Criner quickly confirmed that his go-to status is firmly intact. There may be times this year when the Cats have to dust off the Mackovic playbook from when Jason Johnson threw to Bobby Wade on every down.
The kickers are not superstars.
It was a bad sign when Alex Zendejas couldn’t keep his job even though Jaime Salazar wasn’t able to make a field goal beyond 37 yards in scrimmages. They say if you have two quarterbacks you don’t have any. Well, if you have two kickers your fans don’t have any hair, fingernails or sanity left.
The kicking problems aren’t going away. It’s easy to say, “They need to get better!” but it’s not going to happen so the team just needs adjust. No complaining. PATs cannot be assumed. If the game comes down to a field goal attempt you didn’t do enough in the previous 59 minutes to win.
Mike Stoops appears to have accepted the fact he’s not going to have a running game this year. He needs to accept the fact he’s not going to have a kicking game either. (And he needs to correct it in the offseason.)
The scoreboard is big but quiet.
The debut of the monstrous video board mirrored the team’s debut: The highlights were exceptional but an incomplete performance took away from the “wow” factor. The audio was bad and nothing was shown on the board except replays and the occasional fan cam. Hopefully the scoreboard was using its vanilla playbook for the opener as well.
So the Jacks kept things close for a half and shone a light on the Wildcats’ deficiencies. Now that light is going to get really bright.
At Oklahoma State then Stanford and Oregon at home. All three teams with top-10 aspirations. All three games on ESPN. Then the schedule “eases up” with a trip to play USC.
There are two ways to look at the upcoming death march. You can either wallow in woe or get excited about the opportunity. The UA’s bowl road map says 2-4 at the bye week. It’s pretty safe to say the Oregon State game is now the most winnable in the bunch.
The next four weeks are freebies. Nothing to lose (assuming all anterior ligaments stay cruciated) and a ton to gain.
Throw the ball to Criner. Throw the ball to everyone else. Force the issue on defense to get off the field. And if you find yourself down three late in the game?
Throw it to Criner again.
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