Citizen Staff Writer
ARIZONA WILDCATS FOOTBALL
Arizona tailback Nic Grigsby’s fumble a couple of weeks ago might have been the best thing to happen to the Wildcats.
Since Keola Antolin replaced Grigsby after that first play of the game against California, ball security has been at a premium for the team.
“It sent a message to the team that we are not going to tolerate turning the ball over,” UA offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes said. “Our guys are a lot more concerned with it and have focused more.”
Grigsby has responded well, rushing for 258 yards on 42 carries without a fumble in the two games since.
The Wildcats will try to protect the ball again Saturday when they visit Oregon at 4:30 p.m.
The Ducks are having problems with turnovers. Oregon defeated Stanford 35-28 last week despite four fumbles and a snap going over quarterback Jeremiah Masoli’s head, which resulted in a safety.
“We made enough mistakes in this game to go beyond the whole season,” Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said.
Arizona (6-3, 4-2) has turned the ball over 12 times. The Ducks (7-3, 5-2) have 23.
The Wildcats have a plus-8 turnover margin. Oregon is at minus 1.
“We’ve got to handle the football better,” Bellotti said. “We’ve got to catch the ball. We’ve got to get aligned correctly. We cannot give up 50-yard kickoff returns. We cannot fumble the kickoff. We can’t snap the ball over the quarterback’s head. Have I covered them all yet?”
Arizona has won the turnover battle in back-to-back victories over the Ducks.
Antoine Cason turned the tide in last year’s 34-24 victory over then-No. 2 Oregon with a 42-yard interception return for a touchdown. It was one of three picks and a fumble recovery for UA.
Michael Klyce had two interceptions among the six turnovers UA forced in the Wildcats’ 37-10 victory at Autzen Stadium in 2006.
Oregon’s seven turnovers inside the red zone this year have compounded its problems. Arizona does not have a turnover inside the 20.
“We are moving the ball without a lot of high risks,” Dykes said.
Quarterback Willie Tuitama’s decision-making has been solid. He has been intercepted once every 52 passes this year. Two of his five interceptions came in a loss at New Mexico in September.
Arizona has controlled the ball better than Oregon in the past two victories over the Ducks. Turnovers by each team in those games:
Fumbles Int Total
UA (2006) 0 0 0
Oregon (2006) 2 4 6
UA (2007) 1 1 2
Oregon (2007) 1 3 4