Grigsby stars as Toledo worries about air attack
New Mexico’s defense may prepare for a pass-first offense, but the Lobos better have a contingency plan.
Arizona will head to Albuquerque on Saturday with every intention of throwing the ball 30 or 40 times, but more than ready to hand off to tailback Nic Grigsby.
The Wildcats are daring teams to drop back more defenders to stop the pass – and Toledo did.
The Rockets paid for that strategy in a 41-16 loss to Arizona on Saturday. Grigsby rushed for 135 yards, including three first-half scores.
“The goal offensively is to be able to throw it when they allow you to throw it, and run it when they allow you to run it,” UA offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes said. “Instead of . . . not being able to run it very well and forcing the passing game (last year), we’re a better football team and that gives us an opportunity to do both.”
The Wildcats’ spread offense has a reputation for being only about the pass, but now the Cats have added diversity.
Grigsby’s back-to-back 100-yard plus rushing games should have defenses on their toes, and coaches up late at night figuring ways to defend the Wildcats.
New Mexico (0-2) gets the next chance at 5 p.m. Saturday, with UA out to avenge a 29-27 loss last year to the Lobos.
“We take it as a gift,” Grigsby said of teams dropping back to defend the pass first. “Give me the ball – I will take it every play.”
Grigsby ranks eighth nationally in rushing with 152 yards per game.
The sophomore from Whittier, Calif., made Toledo’s defense look foolish with 7:57 left in the second quarter, when he ran through the lane to the left side of the field, stopped, and then cut back around the corner and into the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown to give the Wildcats a 17-3 lead.
“You hand it to him and tell him to kind of head this way and see what happens,” Dykes said. “That’s the biggest thing with running backs; you can’t overcoach those guys. You have to tell them kind of where to go, and let them make decisions. He’s a very instinctive runner and he does a great job of making big plays.”
When Grigsby is not showing off his speed and cutback skills, he uses his power. He burst 7 yards for a TD with 30 seconds left in the first quarter to put UA up 10-0. Just before the half, he was stopped for a 3-yard loss, only to turn the next play into an 11-yard TD to make it 24-6.
Grigsby, with five touchdowns already, is not supposed to be the focal point of this offense. And he isn’t.
Quarterback Willie Tuitama is still directing the flow, completing 78 percent of his passes. Grigsby has helped Tuitama keep teams honest while they try to cover receivers Mike Thomas, Delashaun Dean, Terrell Turner and Juron Criner.
“(Toledo) only had five guys in the box,” Tuitama said, “and tried to cover everything up on the outside. We went inside.”
So far this season, it has been. The Wildcats have the nation’s third best scoring offense at 55.5 points per game.
Tuitama is ranked 12th nationally in passing efficiency after completing 25 of 33 throws for 292 yards against Toledo.
The Cats have scored 111 points in back-to-back games, the first time they reached the century mark in combined games since 1954. They also scored 40 or more points in straight games for the first time since 1982.
Toledo believed rushing three players was enough. The Rockets were wrong.
“That goes back to taking the run when they give it to us. I was really proud of Willie because we called a lot of pass plays and he got to the line of scrimmage and checked off to a lot of runs,” Dykes said. “Sometimes that’s hard for a quarterback to do because he wants to drop back and throw it. That’s the thing as an offense that we have to learn, to be methodical.”
Dykes helped develop this type of spread offense as an assistant at Texas Tech, where he saw other teams use extreme defenses. “Heck, we use to see one rusher,” Dykes said. “For us, it all begins with us being able to throw it well enough to force people to cover the pass.”
And that, in turn, has left running room.
Arizona (2-0) at New Mexico (0-2), 5 p.m. Saturday. TV: CSTV. Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM
BALANCED ATTACK: UA AVERAGES PER GAME
National rank: 27
Total: 555 yards
National rank: 25
Total: 418 yards
National rank: 22
National rank: 3
UA AT NEW MEXICO
Series: UA leads 43-19-3
Last meeting: New Mexico won at UA last year 29-27, passing for 327 yards against UA’s prized secondary.
Lobo bits: Quarterback Donovan Porterie, who was 29 of 41 against UA in 2007, is turnover-plagued this year. The Lobos (0-2) have had seven total turnovers in losses to Texas A&M on Saturday 28-22 and to TCU 26-3 the week before.
EVERY DRIVE COUNTS
Arizona, after scoring 10 touchdowns on 12 possessions against Idaho, went back to work against Toledo. The Wildcats scored on 7 of 11 possessions on the Rockets:
Drive Plays/yards Result
1 3/-(8) Punt
2 9-69 Field goal
3 8/67 Touchdown
4 3/53 Touchdown
5 8/56 Touchdown
6 11/43 Field goal
7 8/68 Touchdown
8 2/6 Fumble
9 8/45 Missed FG
10 7/58 Touchdown
11 3/11 End of game
UA SEASON STATISTICS
Category UA OPP
Points 111 16
Points/game 55.5 8.0
First downs 55 19
Rushing/game 209.0 69.0
Passing/game 277.5 109.0
Total Yards/game 486.5 178.0
Turnovers 1 5
Penalties/game 48.0 43.0
Possession/game 34:31 25:29
Red-zone TDs 13-15 1-3
Field goals 2-3 3-4
Punting average 29.0 45.5
Attendance/game 49,225 -
Name Att yards TD Avg Long
Grigsby 39 304 5 7.8 55
Scott 8 54 1 6.0 16
Antolin 13 34 1 2.5 6
Name Com-Att yards TD-INT
Tuitama 42-54 471 5-0
Scott 7-11 84 1-0
Name Rec yards TD Avg Long
Thomas 14 166 2 11.9 27
Dean 10 114 1 11.4 22
Turner 8 82 1 10.2 23
Criner 4 45 0 11.2 18