Arizona football notebook: UA 'surprise scores' could help foil USC

2012-10-23T00:00:00Z 2014-10-10T11:31:54Z Arizona football notebook: UA 'surprise scores' could help foil USCRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 23, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Richard Morrison caught the Washington punt at the UA's 37-yard line, cut and ran to daylight.

His Arizona Wildcats teammates blocked where they should have and avoided the temptation to hold or block in the back along the edges.

By the time the return man reached the end zone for a 63-yard touchdown, a season's worth of special teams frustrations had melted away.

Morrison's return gave the Cats a four-touchdown lead in the third quarter of Saturday night's game. Arizona added another score in the fourth, and went on to defeat the Huskies 52-17.

First-year coach Rich Rodriguez calls defensive and special teams touchdowns "surprise scores." Arizona (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12) has two of them this season, but will need more if it hopes to upset No. 10 USC (6-1, 4-1) when the Trojans visit Saturday.

USC has outscored opponents 244-117 so far this season; the team is plus-9 (22 to 13) on turnovers. Arizona is all-even (14 to 14) in turnover margin.

"The margin for error is very, very thin," Rodriguez said. "When we have a chance to get a play like we did on special teams or to get a turnover on defense, it's important for us to take advantage of it. … From a momentum standpoint, it's good, but it's also really big from a confidence standpoint.

"When we flip the field from a turnover standpoint and from a special teams standpoint, it's a big thing for us."

The Wildcats' first "surprise score" came in Week 2 on cornerback Jonathan McKnight's 48-yard interception return for a TD.

Safety Patrick Onwuasor said the scores "can be big game-changers; we just need to play fast and physical."

The Pac-12 honored Morrison on Monday, naming him the conference's special teams player of the week. USC quarterback Matt Barkley and Stanford linebacker Chase Thomas won the offensive and defensive awards, respectively.

The award was validation for Morrison, who has battled fumbling problems, inconsistency and a handful of minor injuries.

"I could sense that he was really anxious to prove himself if he got the opportunity," Rodriguez said.

Injury report

The Wildcats were "a little better … but not a whole lot better" this week than last week, Rodriguez said. But the coach isn't exactly optimistic.

Defensive end Dominique Austin (foot) will not play again this season, Rodriguez said, and a handful of other projected starters remain in wait-and-see mode for Saturday.

Three injured Cats - center Kyle Quinn, guard Trace Biskin and safety Jared Tevis - are seen as pivotal to the team's ultimate success. Tevis dressed out for last weekend's game against Washington but didn't reach the field.

"We'll find out how much Jared, Trace and maybe even Kyle can play this week," Rodriguez said. "It's good to get a win without them, and some (inexperienced) guys got experience, but we're a better team with them."

Changes

Defensive end Justin Washington and cornerback Derrick Rainey both made their first UA starts of the season against Washington; Monday, they were elevated on the depth chart. Washington is listed ahead of Chris Merrill, while Rainey is listed as "or" alongside Shaquille Richardson. Rainey and Richardson played about the same amount of plays against the Huskies.

Morrison is listed as first-string slot receiver, though Rodriguez said Johnny Jackson has earned the right to start once he gets healthy.

"I think all our guys understand it: We have an open competition at every position every day, not just on game day," Rodriguez said.

Extra points

• Senior Taimi Tutogi continues to contribute on both sides of the ball. The two-way player took 35 snaps on offense and 17 on defense against Washington. He caught one pass for 4 yards at fullback and registered three tackles, including one sack, as a defensive end. "I think it's the first time I've had a guy that's played that much on both sides of the ball," Rodriguez said.

• The UA's Nov. 3 game at UCLA will kick off at 7:30 p.m. and will be shown on the Pac-12 Networks, the schools announced Monday. The game will mark Arizona's seventh nighttime start in nine weeks.

On StarNet: Keep up to date with the latest news on the Wildcats on Ryan Finley's blog at azstarnet.com/finley

Up next

• Who: No. 10 USC (6-1) at Arizona (4-3, 1-3)

• When: 12:30 p.m. Saturday

• TV: Channel 9

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)

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