The Arizona Wildcats won their season-opener, 35-0 over NAU on Friday night. Here are several thoughts about the game …
True freshman Scooby Wright started his first game at Arizona at strong-side linebacker, making an impact with six tackles, including one for loss. His tipped pass, which came on a blitz off the edge, led to Tra’Mayne Bondurant’s interception and 23-yard return for a score.
If buying Scooby stock wasn’t an NCAA violation, I’d recommend a STRONG BUY.
“He’s always going 100 miles an hour,” said senior linebacker Jake Fischer.
“Sometimes it gets him into trouble, but other times it helps him to make plays. Once he learns all the little details and what he needs to do on certain plays, he’ll probably be an All-Pac-12 linebacker.”
Despite all that went right for Wright, I would bet he is still absolutely kicking himself for not being able to wrap up for a safety early in the third quarter.
“We gave him crap about that,” Fischer said.
2. B.J. Denker has good wheels
Note on Daniel Jenkins’ 91-yard touchdown run that Denker appears to be making up ground as he trailed the play after the handoff. Later, Denker scored on a 30-yard scramble up the middle, diving head-first near the goal line and spinning through the end zone turf.
Denker was expecting NAU to be in man coverage on the play, but he adjusted when he saw the Lumberjacks had disguised their scheme.
“They went to two high safeties and they dropped everybody out,” Denker said.
“After I took my third step in my drop, I went, ‘OK, this is not what I was expecting’ and the hole was wide open. I just took it and saw it part … and I wasn’t going to be denied going into the end zone.”
3. Thumbs down to special teams
True freshman Nate Phillips muffed two punt catches and was replaced by Johnny Jackson. Drew Riggleman has a good leg, but his first attempt skittered out of bounds for 18 yards and he later posted a 15-yard effort. The field goal operation didn’t look good as Jake Smith missed a 28-yard field goal attempt. Arizona had reasonably close competition at those spots in fall camp, so the evaluation continues.
The coverage units were very good, though, and have a chance to stay that way with better overall team speed and athleticism.
4. Arizona’s changes to the ZonaZoo worked
The emphasis has been on getting the students to stop making a mass exodus at halftime, so UA launched a “stay the entire game” campaign. Tangible improvements included cutting down on the waiting time to get into the stadium and cold hard cash. The athletic department gave away $500 to five students who were still there in the fourth quarter.
The student section was stuffed, 9,000 strong, before the game, and lost maybe only 1,000 by the end of a blowout game in the rain.
“I thought the ZonaZoo was terrific,” coach Rich Rodriguez said.
5. Nice newcomers
Arizona used six true freshmen — Wright, Phillips, cornerback Devin Holiday (one interception), linebacker Derrick Turituri (one sack), linebacker DeAndre Miller and receiver Samajie Grant. Junior college transfer Steven Gurrola was the starting center.
Another freshman, interior defensive lineman Luca Bruno, would have played but still had some NCAA clearinghouse issues, Rodriguez said.
Turituri looks to be a force on Arizona’s third-down pass-rush package. The Cats can rotate in more bodies to defense this season and use players situationally.
6. No eligibility news yet on Davonte’ Neal
7. Remember this quote from RichRod
This is not going to be last season’s offense. Other than an early 31-yard pass to Garic Wharton, the Cats didn’t threaten the field vertically. Arizona doesn’t have Matt Scott’s arm or Austin Hill’s big-play ability.
Arizona passed for 87 yards while rushing for 306, relying more on the QB run game than last season.
“I don’t want to say win ugly, but we’re going to have a lot of games like that this year, where we’re going to scrape and claw and do whatever we got to do just to win,” Rodriguez said.
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And here are some photos from the game by Casey Sapio of USA TODAY Sports …
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