Arizona-Washington: The X-factor, close calls, prediction timeby Anthony Gimino on Oct. 23, 2010, under Sports
Arizona Wildcats junior quarterback Matt Scott is the X-factor tonight against Washington. You knew that. There are reasons to be optimistic, reasons to be worried.
Let’s start with the sunny side of the street:
Scott has three games of starting experience; he isn’t wide-eyed.
He has, thanks to the tutelage of new quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo, greatly improved his throwing mechanics. Scott is more accurate and has more velocity because of a more compact throwing motion. Coaches aren’t afraid to let him wing it.
He also is a runner, a guy who can make something out of nothing, a guy who can give the defense something else to scheme for, to worry about.
Arizona coach Mike Stoops said he has just told Matt to play like Matt, that he doesn’t have to prove he can stand back there and pass like Nick Foles. Scott needs to take the ground gains when he sees them.
OK, as for the pessimism:
There’s a reason he has been the No. 2 quarterback for the past 16 games. He’s not as good as Foles, who is out with a knee injury.
Can Scott think his way as well as Foles through a game, make the adjustments at the line of scrimmage, sense the pressure, hit his hot reads?
Just last week Scelfo was telling me that the area in which Foles has really grown is in recognizing fronts and coverages and understanding what would work against them. Foles had just thrown for 440 yards against Oregon State, but that wasn’t what had impressed Scelfo.
“He really played well … but it wasn’t because he threw for 440,” Scelfo said.
“It was because there were some things he did that nobody else sees that put us in position to get those. Some of those guys were wide open because he changed a play at the line and got a guy into that spot.”
Scelfo estimated that Foles might change something at the line of scrimmage about half the time. Maybe he would just alter a route; maybe he would change the play completely. Either way, Foles, according to Scelfo, had been nearly flawless in making those calls.
If Scott as adept at that?
I asked Scelfo on Monday where Scott had grown the most in the past several months.
“Understanding the offense. That’s the biggest thing for him,” Scelfo said.
“From a maturity standpoint, he’s learned that criticism is not a bad thing, and he understands now what is going on out there on the football field. It’s not just catch and run, or catch it and throw it. It’s actual understanding.”
A couple of other concerns: Can Scott and receiver Juron Criner develop the same kind of chemistry on the deep ball? Does Scott have the moxie to rally the team late in games, as Foles did against Iowa and Cal?
“It starts around Matt, no matter what,” Criner said, talking about where the leadership has to come from with Foles out. “He’s the quarterback. He’s running the show.”
Stoops has a winning record against only one Pac-10 opponent — he’s 5-1 against Washington State — but he has broken even against Arizona State and Washington.
As Ryan Finley of the Arizona Daily Star points out in a story in Saturday’s paper, Stoops’ teams have split six meetings against the Huskies, with Arizona holding a scant 13-point edge, 176-163.
But we’re going to take you a little deeper into the numbers.
Not only has Arizona and Washington been separated by just 13 points in six games, they have been separated by 13 yards.
The Cats have a 2,319 to 2,306 edge.
Arizona can’t just worry about Washington quarterback Jake Locker because the Huskies have plenty of weapons, including running back Chris Polk and receiver Jermaine Kearse.
But containing Locker is always the key. If you were going to pick your poison, you want to make Locker beat you by being a pocket passer. That means Arizona’s hard-charging ends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore might want to put on the brakes a bit and not get too far up field, thereby giving Locker room to step up and take off.
Arizona hasn’t played at the highest emotional pitch in the past few games, but it will be a rowdy Homecoming atmosphere in a night game on ESPN … all the ingredients are there for a “play like your hair’s on fire” kind of evening.
Washington already has won two Pac-10 games by a point. Arizona beat Cal by a point and lost to Oregon State by 2.
You can’t expect anything other than a close game.
“It’s going to be a typical Pac-10 game,” Stoops said.
Arizona 28, Washington 27.
More of my Arizona coverage at FoxSportsArizona.com:
More coverage from the TucsonCitizen.com Sports Network:
Javier Morales: Keys to the Game
Scott Terrell: This Week in the Pac-10
Gimino: Arizona’s injury update