UA Wildcats football
Spring in step of Wildcat football
'We are super fast and we are going to just get faster'
From a fan's point of view, the questions about the University of Arizona’s defense may seem to be answered during the team’s spring game on Saturday at Arizona Stadium.
The team wound up their spring practices with a scrimmage at Arizona Stadium in front of 6,000 fans. The White team beat the Blue team 41-34.
Ask Wildcat safety Joe Perkins about the team's progress during spring practice and his response is "improvement."
"That’s what we’ve been trying to do this entire spring," said Perkins, a senior, who intercepted a Matt Scott pass after fellow senior cornerback Anthony Wilcox tipped the ball in the end zone.
"We got a lot of new guys and we’re trying to work it all in. The offense has been doing great and (the defense) has come out flat sometimes too, but we’re not discouraged at all. We know we’re going to get it."
After Perkins returned the interception out to the 25-yard line he pitched it to junior corner back Trevin Wade, who went untouched down the sideline to complete the 100-yard score.
"(Perkins) and I have been practicing that for a year," Wade said about the pitch that he received from Perkins. "We said we were going to give it a shot today and we were successful. (The defense) has to get our tackling together, that’s the most important thing. We are super fast and we are going to just get faster."
Speed, downhill, East-West: Diverse running backs
The backfield of the Wildcats football team is a busy place. The team currently has six running backs waiting to get the ball from quarterback Nick Foles.
With nothing set in stone yet, sophomore running back Taimi Tutogi used all of his six foot, 1 inch, 258-pound frame to good use.
He finished with 20 yards on five rushes, but late in the scrimmage, he received a 62-yard pass from Matt Scott that set up the offense at the 7-yard line. Tutogi bowled over two defensemen on the play.
Scott then connected with Juron Criner on a fade into the back corner of the end zone.
"It went well and the offense started a little slow," said running back Keola Antolin, who finished with 43 yards on 11 carries to lead all rushers.
"We started picking up at the end. Once we start clicking, no one can stop us. The wide receivers we have help us spread out the field and have speed and that gives us a better chance to run the ball."
Nic Grigsby, who has been bothered by a hamstring injury, had one run for 22 yards. After evading a tackler, he hobbled off the field and didn’t return.
Daniel Jenkins, a freshman, added another 11 yards on the ground on five carries.
"It was a good experience and I got a lot of good work in,” said Jenkins, who redshirted last year. "I improved a lot. That’s what they say spring ball is all about: 'the more you shine, the more reps are going to increase.'
"That’s what spring ball is all about, competing for a spot. I like the versatility in the backfield we all bring something different to the table and it’s all going to benefit the team in the long run."
Sticky hands: Wide receivers
The football team’s corps of receivers left the 6,000 or so fans that came to watch with a look at what this team can do.
With the spread offense plays now being called by co-offensive coordinators Seth Littrell and Bill Bedenbaugh – after Sonny Dykes' departure – the coaching staff wasn't happy with the offense.
"I thought we were sloppy throughout the day," said head coach Mike Stoops. "We had a lot of turnovers. I think we had four or five turnovers overall. I thought receiver Gino Crump continues to show what a great player he is."
Crump, a transfer from Virginia Tech who sat out last year, finished with 40 yards on five catches.
Juron Criner, the go-to guy for big plays, caught two touchdowns to go with his 41 yards on four catches.
"I feel like I’m doing my job," Criner said. "Hard work pays off. I think I have to make more (big plays) routinely in practice and start making a consistent thing. Once it becomes consistent, it will just come automatically. The receivers are hungry for it. I think are biggest weapon is that we have depth at every position."
Tutogi led all receivers with 81 yards on two grabs. Walk-on Mike Descisciolo finished with 62 yards on two snags as well. He also caught a 54-yard pass from Scott that he scored on.
"As far as the offense, we had a pretty good spring and I’m pretty confident about them,” said junior David Roberts, who pulled down two catches for 57 yards. "I think it’s a mixture of plays and a little bit of all the guys are comfortable now.
"Last year, it was a lot of guys that hadn’t played (together) before including me, (and quarterback Nick) Foles, but I think now as far as the corps goes, we are all comfortable. We’re going out there and we know what we need to do."
Veteran defensive line
Senior Ricky Elmore summed up the defensive line as "on fire."
With fellow senior Brooks Reed, Elmore and the line put consistent pressure on whoever was playing quarterback and forced Scott to throw two interceptions, both of which were returned for touchdowns.
“We started up fast and a lot of the young guys stepped up,” Elmore said. “They fulfilled some roles that we needed them to fulfill. We’re really happy with what we did today. We look forward to going into the summer with what we have accomplished. Our defensive line is going to have to help the rest of the defense along.
"We’re trying to be loud and get everyone motivated and that’s something we are taking upon ourselves. It’s a new team and we have to learn to work on together.”
The Wildcats open the season on Sept. 3 at Toledo before returning home for a four-game stand beginning Sept. 11 against The Citadel.