Taimi Tutogi's hair and feet are flying as he proves to be a multi-dimensional threat in spring/Photo by Brad Allis, WildcatSportsReport.com
Arizona had its Spring Game on Saturday. What did we learn? Well, we learned that a starting backfield of quarterback Nick Foles, fullback Taimi Tutogi and tailback Keola Antolin would lead the nation in hair.
Other than that …
You really don’t want to draw too many conclusions. It’s just a scrimmage.
The defense made some plays — three interceptions, two returned for touchdowns — but Arizona coach Mike Stoops said the offense was at a disadvantage, working off last season’s playbook because the coaches didn’t want to give anyone a look at its new wrinkles.
So, conclusions? Not so many.
Observations? Opinions? Those we can let fly:
New star in town
Sophomore fullback/tailback/H-back/tight end Taimi Tutogi. Call him Gronk-lite.
Tutogi hauled in a deep pass over the middle with one hand, knocked safety Mark Watley to the turf, made another guy miss and kept churning until two defenders brought him down 73 yards away from the line of scrimmage. Former UA tight end Rob Gronkowski would be proud.
Tutogi, at 6-foot-1 and 258 pounds, did what he had to do this spring. He was given an opportunity and he ran with it. Tailbacks Nic Grigsby and Antolin were in and out of practices due to nagging injuries. Third-stringer Greg Nwoko (shoulder surgery) was out all spring. Tutogi and redshirt freshman Daniel Jenkins made extended auditions.
“Taimi is tough,” said co-offensive coordinator Seth Littrell. “Taimi has gotten a lot of confidence this spring that he really needed.”
It’s hard to imagine there will be a lot of carries available for Tutogi from the tailback position this fall — assuming everyone is healthy — but he’ll be on the field a lot because he can do so many things.
“Taimi Tutogi continues to show that he is not only a great fullback, but he gives us another dimension at running back,” Stoops said. “And, believe me, we have no problems playing him at running back, either.”
Juron Criner, superstar
The 6-4 junior receiver had something of a breakout last season — 45 catches for 582 yards and nine touchdowns, including the game-winner against USC that launched the Wildcats to the Holiday Bowl.
For as much improvement as he made between his freshman and sophomore seasons, he might be making the same kind of jump before his junior season.
“The guy is a big-time talent,” said co-offensive coordinator Bill Bedenbaugh. “There are not many guys like him in the country.”
How’s that for a bold statement?
“He really understands the offense now,” Bedenbaugh continued. “He’s confident. To be a great football player, you have to be confident.”
Criner scored twice in the Spring Game, including once when he used his height and leaping ability to reach over cornerback DeWayne Peace for the ball. Later, he scored on a fade pass from Matt Scott to the left corner of the end zone. Arizona is going to go to that all the time if teams choose to play Criner one-on-one.
Said Foles: “I like having him in the red zone.”
What’s going on in the secondary?
Junior Trevin Wade is going to be one of the cornerbacks, a sure-fire preseason all-conference pick. Beyond that, who knows?
Coaches have been mixing and matching personnel. Safeties playing corner. Corners playing safety. Free safeties playing strong safety … you get the idea. At the Spring Game, guys were changing positions from play to play.
“We’re just making sure everybody can change in and out,” said safety Joe Perkins. At least we think he’s a safety.
I just noticed a trend
Tutogi, Criner and Wade were each rated only two out of five stars by one of the major recruiting services. I think Stoops and his staff can identify diamond-in-the-rough talent, and all the fuss in February over recruiting rankings is wasted energy.
It’s scary when Grigsby gets injured
Grigsby carried only once in the Spring Game, but it was nearly spectacular. He flattened safety Robert Golden on a burst up the middle, but then tackled himself by falling to the ground after a 22-yard gain.
Given the nature of the collision, my first thought was that he re-injured the shoulder that cost him most of the Pac-10 season last year. Grigsby walked back to the sideline and tossed his helmet on the turf in frustration.
But he was happy and smiling and signing autographs after the scrimmage. It wasn’t his shoulder. His hamstring was acting up again.
“I was ready to take off, but my hamstring wouldn’t let me,” he said of his 22-yard run. “That was a touchdown.”
He added: “The shoulder is good. I’m out there throwing it.”
Good. The offense needs his playmaking ability in order to reach its full potential.
Stay worried about the linebackers
This will remain the biggest potential problem as the team heads into offseason workouts and fall camp.
Mid-year junior college transfers Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo did some good things in spring, but Stoops said the group as a whole is still doing too much thinking and not enough reacting.
That is something that can be cured with time and experience.
“If we can get our linebacker group solidified over the next three months, then definitely I think we can make some improvement,” Stoops said.
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Wildcat Sports Report: Big plays in Spring Game