UA’s offense more of a challenge for Pelini this time aroundby Javier Morales on Dec. 26, 2009, under Sports
I will be in attendance at the Holiday Bowl on Wednesday night in San Diego representing TucsonCitizen.com, along with Anthony Gimino and Steve Rivera. Please return here to read Holiday Bowl reports from me and our crack sports network staff that Anthony assembled. Also, please continue to visit WILDABOUTAZCATS.com as well for additional information.
A little background to the game within the game: Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes vs. Nebraska’s defense, charged by head coach Bo Pelini and his older brother Carl (the Cornhuskers’ defensive coordinator) …
The last time Arizona faced a Bo Pelini-coached defense in 2006, the Cats were in a world of hurt, literally. Watching the Laron Landry hit on Willie Tuitama is unsettling to this day. Tuitama suffered a concussion against LSU and Pelini, its defensive coordinator at the time.
The injury affected Tuitama’s NFL potential because teams are leery of players with a concussion history. The hit by Landry was considered a clean hit at the time. Since then, the NCAA has made it a violation if a player leads with his helmet while tackling. Don’t get me wrong, Pelini’s defenses play clean; they are simply damaging to the opposition. They play with an edge.
The Cats gained only 190 yards in total offense that day in Baton Rouge. If the UA does the same against Pelini’s Nebraska defense in the Holiday Bowl, it will be a long night in San Diego for the Cats.
Arizona was in transition in 2006. Tuitama, a sophomore that season, was in his first few games as a regular starter under then-offensive coordinator Mike Canales. UA coach Mike Stoops was so disgusted after the loss that he vowed to make the Wildcats’ non-conference slate less of a chore. Canales was not retained after season and Dykes was hired after coaching Texas Tech to a No. 3 ranking in passing and No. 6 in total offense in 2006.
No disrespect to Canales — a class act by all accounts — but the Cats appear to be better equipped to face a Pelini defense this time around with Dykes at the controls.
LSU defensive back Jonathan Zenon, who returned an interception 41 yards for a touchdown less than five minutes into the game in 2006, had a revealing quote afterward:
“I knew the formation the Arizona receivers were going to run … and I broke on it. Our coaches are giving us a great scheme defensively and we already know what is about to happen.”
Arizona had only 54 total yards through the first three quarters. The rest of the Wildcats’ yardage came after replacements had begun to take over and a boisterous crowd of 92,218 was half gone.
“I knew the formation the Arizona receivers were going to run.”
Will Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara, a junior from Glendale, be able to say the same thing Wednesday night? Dykes’ “Air Raid” spread offense is more diverse with quarterback Nick Foles making the quick drop and short pass with a variety of options: Keola Antolin releasing from the backfield, Juron Criner on a corner route, David Douglas or David Roberts across the middle, Delashaun Dean on a receiver screen, etc.
Arizona offense vs. Nebraska defense
|Statistic||UA offense||Nebraska defense|
|Points per game vs. PPG allowed||29.7||11.2|
|Rushing yards per game vs. allowed||168.3||95.5|
|Passing yards per game vs. allowed||238.6||189.1|
|Total offense yards per game vs. allowed||406.9||284.5|
|Sacks allowed vs. sacks||9||42|
Tuitama, believe it or not, was more mobile than Foles but he was often a sitting duck in the pocket (as Landry can attest). Foles has the better system for an immobile quarterback, one that can frustrate an aggressive defensive front such as the Cats will see in Nebraska. Don’t expect Foles to hold on to the ball more than three to five seconds after the snap. He will let it rip and test the Cornhuskers’ defense — when will they attack and when will they step back to fill a potential passing lane?
Reports out of Lincoln suggest Arizona’s offensive line will have a difficult time against the Cornhuskers’ defensive front, anchored by Ndamukong Suh, the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year. Dykes’ gameplan, however, is sophisticated enough to match Pelini’s aggressive defense.
The best similarity of the matchup is Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier. Arizona’s offense will be Ali: Crafty, cunning and calculating. Nebraska will be Frazier: Hard-charging, fearless and restless.
Arizona quarterbacks have only been sacked nine times this season. Nebraska has 42 sacks, led by Suh’s 12. Which way will the tide turn?
Foles’ ability to make the correct reads and the UA’s ability to run the ball will be significant against the Nebraska, which was lauded by Texas after its 13-12 win over Nebraska in the Big 12 championship. Suh had 4.5 of his sacks against Colt McCoy in that game.
“He’s the best defensive player we’ve played all year,” Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis told reporters after the game. “He and (Nebraska defensive tackle Jared) Crick are as good a pair as we’ve faced all year. They are so tough to handle because they really get after you.”