Greg Hansen: UA's best hope to bag win is to avoid sacks

2010-10-23T00:00:00Z 2012-11-30T19:29:59Z Greg Hansen: UA's best hope to bag win is to avoid sacksGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 23, 2010 12:00 am  • 

Dear Mr. Football: Is Washington's passing connection, Jake Locker to Jermaine Kearse, the most feared twosome Arizona will face this season?

A: If those guys are any better than Washington State co-defensive coordinators Chris Ball and Jody Sears, the Wildcats are in deep-dish trouble.

Last week at Wazzu, Ball and Sears befuddled Arizona's offense so thoroughly that the Cougars sacked UA quarterbacks six times. How bad/good is that? Dating to 2002, Arizona yielded six or more sacks once, in a 31-17 loss to Oregon State in 2007.

"We had a lot of screw-ups, and it was very upsetting," said UA left tackle Adam Grant, "but at the same time, they had a great defensive package. Four of those sacks came off of a delayed blitz that we'd never seen. We couldn't account for all of their guys; sometimes they were scot-free. My hat's off to their coaches."

Dear Mr. Football: Does Washington have a smart defensive coordinator?

A: Nick Holt is the league's celebrity defensive coach, a big, loud and attention-seeking bald guy who makes $650,000 a year and is about as subtle as an anvil dropped on your toes.

Alas, Holt's team is giving up 412 yards per game, and Holt, who built his reputation coaching Pete Carroll's future NFL studs at USC, is learning how it is to coach when you don't have all the blue-chippers.

Say one thing for college football coaching: It's often about whom you know more than what you know. In a stroke of career good fortune, Holt was a linebacker on a woeful Pacific team in 1983 when Carroll was a UOP assistant coach. The two clicked. When Carroll was hired at USC, he plucked the anonymous Holt - who had coached at Idaho, UNLV and Louisville - and he became an overnight genius.

Dear Mr. Football: Can a quarterback, Nick Foles for example, come back effectively from a busted kneecap?

A: Get this: A few months before Arizona opened the 1982 season, junior quarterback Tom Tunnicliffe wrecked his kneecap skiing in Lake Tahoe.

Tunnicliffe laughs about it now (he is a commercial real estate executive in Burbank, Calif.), but 28 years ago it was frightening.

"I cracked my kneecap, and some bones splintered," he remembers. "I came back to Tucson and had surgery. (Coach) Larry Smith was not very happy. I was just a dumb kid; I should not have been skiing. I was lucky there wasn't lasting damage."

Tunnicliffe's return was sensational. He directed victories over No. 9 Notre Dame, No. 6 Arizona State and out-played John Elway in a dramatic comeback victory at Stanford, in which Tunnicliffe himself caught a game-changing touchdown pass.

Dear Mr. Football: Is Foles' injury the most devastating in UA football history?

A: Nothing approaches the lost season of star linebacker Kevin Singleton in 1989; he was diagnosed with leukemia a month before training camp and missed the season. He has made a full recovery.

As far as on-field injuries go, nothing matches the ordeal of tackle Mike Ciasca, a Parade All-American who in 1989 was named the nation's No. 1 prep offensive lineman while at Sahuaro High School.

Ciasca's 1990 season was lost to shin splints. His '91 season was wiped out entirely by knee surgery. In '92, after three starts, he required shoulder surgery. In '93, after five starts, a back problem required surgery. When he returned for a fifth year, in 1994, projected as a key player on the Desert Swarm powerhouse, he was forced to retire from football with a disk problem in his back.

Dear Mr. Football: Could UW linebacker Mason Foster break the Pac-10 record for tackles?

A: Foster has 72 tackles midway through the season. "It's ridiculous," UW coach Steve Sarkisian told Seattle reporters. No UA player has as many as 41, but it's entirely likely that Foster will be No. 3 in tackles at Arizona Stadium tonight.

Tucsonan Lamonte Hunley, a regular at UA home games, set the Pac-10 record with 168 tackles in 1984. A year later, UA linebacker Byron Evans, who often watches his old team from the sidelines, broke Hunley's record (188) and a year later broke his own record (196), which still exists.

Dear Mr. Football: Who is the best Pac-10 quarterback with a lifetime losing record?

A: Until now it was John Elway, 20-23, as Stanford's QB-of-record.

Washington's Jake Locker is 12-22, but he's the most worrisome player in the league. It is sort of like Seattle Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez, a possible Cy Young Award winner, going 13-12 with a 2.27 ERA this year on a 101-loss team.

"When I was a senior at Ironwood Ridge, I went to the Washington game to watch Locker," says UA starting linebacker Jake Fischer. "His passing game has evolved drastically. He was good then, but he didn't have the arm he has now."

At 6 feet 3 inches and 230 pounds, Locker is a beast. "A big dude," says Fisher, who is 5-11, 220. If Arizona thought Oregon State QB Ryan Katz was mobile - his escapability was the difference in OSU's 29-27 victory - Locker is at a higher level.

"Katz was really good, but he can't do the things Locker does," says Fisher.

In his two games against Arizona, Locker has rushed for 157 and 92 yards on 34 carries. The Huskies don't ask Locker to run that much any more. He averaged 14 rushes as a sophomore and junior. To protect his safety, and because he is operating a more NFL-style offense, Locker is down to 10 runs per game this year, but any one of them can beat you.

Dear Mr. Football: Is UA quarterback Matt Scott good enough to win this game?

A: It's not just Scott, it is UA co-offensive coordinator Seth Littrell and UA quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo.

This is Littrell's first real chance to establish himself as a big-game play-caller, and it's Scelfo's first test, at Arizona, to teach a quarterback how to win a critical game the way he did in Louisiana with future NFL quarterbacks J.P. Losman and Shaun King.

"I think Matt's beyond (being skittish)," says Scelfo. "That's not who we've seen in practice every day."

I'll take that trio, Littrell, Scelfo and Scott, to find a way to outscore Locker in a typically nutty UA-Huskies game.

Arizona 37, Washington 35

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