Criner Arizona’s most important player for rest of the seasonby Javier Morales on Sep. 04, 2010, under Sports
If Juron Criner does not to take the field next week at Arizona Stadium against what appears to be an inferior opponent in The Citadel, Arizona fans would be shortchanged for their ticket dollars.
That’s the only reason why Mike Stoops should play the potential Pac-10 offensive player of the year next week. Otherwise, I say preserve Criner, who endured a two-week absence from fall camp after suffering a concussion and lacerations in his mouth following a hard hit from safety Robert Golden.
The fact is Arizona needs Criner more than it needs any player on the team, as evidenced by his one-of-a-kind performance against host Toledo in the season-opening 41-2 victory Friday. Much of what happened against the undermanned Rockets leads the skeptics to question: Was Arizona’s overpowering performance on both sides of the ball because the UA is that good or Toledo is that bad?
Nobody can question the value of Criner’s big-play capabilities whether Arizona was playing Toledo, Texas or Tucson High School.
His one-handed reception while falling on his seat and his over-the-shoulder-Willie-Mays touchdown haul while sprawling to the turf could survive as two of the best individual plays for the rest of the season. On both occasions, Criner could not have been defended better.
Criner finished with 11 receptions for 187 yards against Toledo. Normally, UA quarterback Nick Foles likes to spread the wealth, and he did that to a certain degree Friday night. But Criner is his main target and will continue to be that way for the rest of the season.
Of the 37 receptions Arizona tallied from passes from Foles and Matt Scott, Criner caught 29.7 percent of them. The next targets were a running back — Keola Antolin — and a possession-receiver — David Douglas. They each had five, good for 13.5 percent of the distribution.
The one criticism you can make about Toledo is it did not have an answer for Criner and Arizona’s repeated attempts to get him the ball. Arizona can expect to see better coverage players and schemes starting in two weeks against Iowa.
On the flipside, those teams must prepare for how Criner will open Arizona’s offense by attracting more defenders, thereby making it easier for the dangerous Foles to find Antolin, Douglas, Bug Wright, Nic Grigsby, Trevor Cobb, David Roberts, Gino Crump, A.J. Simmons, and Terrence Miller — all of whom received at least one pass Friday.
Criner’s value with his golden hands rivals any receiver who has worn the Arizona uniform in recent years. Fleet-footed and elusive Mike Thomas was dangerous once he made the catch. Dennis Northcutt and Bobby Wade also had sure hands and big-play capability. Criner likewise is dangerous with his routes and ability to make a big gain after making the catch.
What can set him apart from Thomas, Wade and Northcutt by the time he exhausts his eligibility next season is his hands. Foles knows that if he passes in Criner’s direction that a completion will likely be made whether a defender closes in or not. When is the last time an Arizona quarterback had that kind of confidence in a receiver?
“I can’t wait to see what Juron does in the future,” Foles said in KCUB’s post-game radio show Friday night.
Neither can I, especially in Arizona’s first barometer game against Iowa in two weeks. If the Cats’ most important player is part of only one play against The Citadel, I wouldn’t care less. Save him.