Thanks, Frank: Arizona completing passes at near-historic paceby Anthony Gimino on Nov. 05, 2010, under Sports
The Arizona Wildcats are completing 74.13 percent of their passes this season. That’s not just good for a program that has been historically starved at quarterback. It’s good for anybody, anywhere, anytime.
In fact, if Nick Foles and Matt Scott — and maybe even third-stringer Bryson Beirne and anyone else throwing a pass off a trick play — can push that percentage a little higher, it would challenge an NCAA record.
That belongs to the 2008 Colt McCoy-led Texas team that completed 76.7 percent of its passes (343 of 447). Arizona’s current percentage would be the second-best figure ever.
Can we get an assistant coach of the year award for first-year quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo?
“I think Frank Scelfo has done a great job coaching these two guys,” Arizona head coach Mike Stoops said, referring to Foles and Scott. “Anytime you can complete over 75 percent of your throws … that’s not an accident.”
It helps that Arizona uses a lot of lot of quick, short passes in its spread offense. It’s the kind of attack where you probably should complete about two-thirds of your throws. That’s the percentage where Texas Tech — which this offense was imported from — is usually at. Sometimes a bit higher.
But never at 74.13 percent.
Stoops is right. It’s not an accident. Scelfo has, most notably, improved Foles’ footwork and shortened Scott’s throwing motion. Add better technique to another year of experience, and you’ve got what has been a lethal quarterback combination.
And credit Stoops, too.
He not only made a great “gut” decision to bring in Scelfo after offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes left to become the Louisiana Tech head coach in January, Stoops double-downed on the good call by making Scelfo a dedicated quarterbacks coach.
Dykes and Mike Canales before him had dual roles coaching quarterbacks and coordinating the offense. They called plays, too.
Because he had to watch over the entire offense, Dykes said, some of the coaching technique at the quarterback position was left to volunteer assistant Kris Heavner, a former UA quarterback.
“I relied a lot on Kris Heavner,” Dykes said in an interview this week.
“He had played the position and worked with some really good quarterback coaches in the past. I relied on Kris to handle some of the fundamentals. When you’re the coordinator, you have to look at 11 guys and handle some broad details.”
It ended up being a trade of sorts in the offseason, as Scelfo had been the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Louisiana Tech. He could have stayed there to work with Dykes, but Scelfo also had a chance to interview with Stoops.
“He was the last guy I interviewed,” Stoops said.
“I was ready to hire somebody else, and this became available. I said, ‘Sure, let’s bring him in.’ I was in no hurry, and once I met him, I knew his personality was perfect for what we needed for our quarterbacks, and his knowledge and his confidence were impressive.”
Before accepting, Scelfo told Stoops he had to do one thing: Call Dykes.
“When I called and told him I really felt good and I thought this is a great place, he said, ‘You know what, it is. It’s a great place,’” Scelfo said.
“He said he could sense it in my voice that I really felt comfortable about being here. He said, ‘You gotta go, man.’”
Said Dykes: “I told him the truth. Hey, you’ve got 10 guys coming back on offense and have a guy who has a chance to be an NFL quarterback. He had coached in this part of the country his whole life and I told him that he didn’t want to get pigeonholed as a coach, that it would be great exposure to go to another part of the country.
“And I knew Frank well enough through the years to know he would do a good job, and that it would be good for everybody.”
It was good for Foles, who has completed 143 of 190 passes (a national-best 75.3 percent) for 1,600 yards, with nine touchdowns and five interceptions. He is expected back for Saturday’s game at 10th-ranked Stanford after missing two games because of a dislocated kneecap.
It was good for Scott, who has completed 64 of 91 passes for 772 yards, with four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Beirne has contributed five completions in five attempts.
Add it all up, and it’s 212 completions in 286 attempts.
Scelfo didn’t exactly answer the question when asked what would be a good completion percentage in this offense.
“100 percent,” he said.
“I don’t think you can put a number on it because there are times when there is a throwaway involved. There are times when the defense makes great plays. … What you try to do is minimize the number of mistakes you make and then maximize the number of opportunities you have to get some matchups.
“If you put your kids in those situations, then you have a chance.”
No matter what the numbers end up being, the restructuring of the offensive coaching staff has been one of Stoops’ best moves.
He did what he always wants to do — promote from within — and elevated offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh and running backs coach Seth Littrell to co-coordinators, while letting Scelfo focus on the quarterbacks.
Dykes got things started in 2007 with this spread offense, which has morphed into a more balanced version of what Texas Tech used to run under pass-happy coach Mike Leach. Along the way, other Tech coaches came to Tucson — Bedenbaugh, Littrell and outside receivers coach Dave Nichol.
Inside receivers coach Garret Chachere arrived in 2009; he was in Dykes’ wedding party.
“Heck, I love those guys,” Dykes said.
“I love Arizona. I love Coach Stoops. Those guys are some of my best friends in the whole world. I have a very vested interest in what goes on there.”
Other Arizona football coverage from the TucsonCitizen.com Sports Network:
Scott Terrell, UASports.net: This Week in the Pac-10: Arizona at Stanford, the Pac-12 schedule and Oregeddon
Scott Terrell, UASports.net: Arizona faces Stanford as a contender thanks to fake punt power
Javier Morales, WildAboutAZCats.com: Harbaugh and Stoops charge their teams with different fiery personalities
Brad Allis, Wildcat Sports Report: Game week video