Keys to victory for Arizona: Locking Locker, Great Scott! and first-down gainsby Javier Morales on Oct. 22, 2010, under Sports
In Arizona’s lone loss this season, Oregon State sophomore quarterback Ryan Katz ran for only seven net yards on eight carries. No big deal, right? Well, this is one case where the net yards don’t tell the story.
Katz often rolled out of the pocket and threw effectively on the run. He also had a 17-yard run on a third-down-and-10 play in the second quarter, exemplifying how he frustrated the UA defense. The Wildcats, usually strong against the run, have allowed alarming long gains of more than 15 yards to four of the six starting quarterbacks they’ve faced this year.
How will this come into play when the most mobile quarterback Arizona will face — Washington’s Jake Locker — takes the field Saturday night? Make that a well-rested Locker: Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian has purposely kept Locker from most drills this week to keep him fresh heading into the second half of the season.
Locker is the Huskies’ second-leading rusher with 276 yards on 62 carries. That’s only 64 yards fewer than what Arizona’s leading rusher Nic Grigsby has gained.
Defending Locker is similar to preparing against a prolific scorer in basketball: You know that player will get his points; you just can’t let those points beat you. In other words, Arizona’s defense knows Locker will run (he averages more than 10 carries a game), it just can’t let any of those 10 or more carries beat the Wildcats.
How can those runs beat Arizona? Long gains on first down, setting up big-play attempts on second- and third-down situations in which Locker can throw off the run. Demoralizing scrambles in which Locker seems locked up but gets a first down on a third-down play. And of course, those dreaded runs of 10 yards or more, especially those resulting in a touchdown. Locker has rushed for three touchdowns and thrown for 13.
This is a tall order for Arizona’s normally stout defense, which will be without freshman starting defensive tackle Justin Washington (sprained knee suffered last week). His consistent strong interior push has played a big part in the defense ranking eighth nationally against the run, allowing only 89.7 yards a game.
Locker and Washington’s leading rusher Chris Polk combine to average 141.2 yards per game on the ground. If the Cats lock up Locker and Polk to somewhere in the middle (115 yards combined or less), they should be in good shape.
Great Scott! Speaking of running quarterbacks, UA junior quarterback Matt Scott offers the Wildcat offense a different dimension from pocket-passer Nick Foles. Foles can pick apart a defense on quick reads to maintain a high percentage of completions. Scott can be effective by deciding to make a pass out of a running play, or vice versa.
The biggest question heading into only the fourth start in Scott’s career: Can he make those decisions adequately without undue pressure? For Scott to evolve into an effective quarterback, Arizona’s coaching staff, players and fans must be patient with him. Let Scott be Scott. In other words, give him some freedom.
Sarkisian gives Locker the green light on free-lancing, not only because he’s a senior, but because he’s a running quarterback.
During the NFL scouting combine early this year, Florida coach Urban Meyer received criticism for how he did not spend enough time on the details of Tim Tebow‘s passing game. People said Meyer did not work on Tebow’s throwing motion enough.
My opinion is Meyer could not have coached Tebow any smarter. Tebow won a Heisman Trophy and Meyer a national championship by allowing the scrambling quarterback to do his thing — create havoc for the defense by freely using his feet as much as his hands. The same should hold true with Stoops’ handling of Scott.
First-down gains means less pains. The key for any team is its third-down conversion rate and a lot of that depends on how much a team gains on first down. With Foles in the pocket, the UA generally passes more than runs on first down and Foles usually connects for a decent gain, setting up the likelihood of a prolonged drive.
The UA’s third-down conversion rate is 48 percent (37 out of 77 such situations have resulted in first downs). Opponents have succeeded only 39 percent of the time. The only opponent to have a better than 50 percent success rate on third down? Oregon State, which achieved a first down on 10 of 15 (66.7 percent) third-down situations.
After Scott took over for the injured Foles last week at Washington State, the UA had 20 plays on first down. The Cats gained 82 yards on those plays, an average of 4.1 yards, which is pedestrian.
In one stretch of first downs with Scott as quarterback, the UA lost eight yards on a sack, had an incompletion, a 1-yard run, two consecutive incompletions, a 7-yard loss on a sack and a 3-yard run. The UA converted on 5-of-13 third-down situations under Scott, failing to convert on eight out of the last nine.
Arizona outscored the hapless Cougars only 10-7 in the second half. With a week working with the first-team unit, Scott might be more effective against Washington.
Ultimately, which team gains more yards on first down and converts on third downs will win this game.