FOOTBALL

Arizona football: Not ready for big stage yet

Tutogi, Nwoko aid thin defense; newcomers shine at QB, K and RB
2012-08-13T00:00:00Z 2014-10-10T11:27:19Z Arizona football: Not ready for big stage yetRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 13, 2012 12:00 am  • 

The Arizona Wildcats pulled back the curtain on their reconfigured football team Saturday night.

And like a lot of dress rehearsals, especially those three weeks away from opening night, there were problems.

Understudies played major roles. The timing was off. Blocking - the where-you're-supposed-to-be kind, not pass protection - was frequently a mess.

The UA answered some questions and created some new concerns Saturday in the offense's trouncing of the defense at Fort Huachuca's Bujalski Field.

First-year coach Rich Rodriguez was unhappy with what he saw in the "very below-average scrimmage" - though, he'd surely admit, any results are better than the unknown.

Here are four things we learned Saturday:

1. Arizona's defense may be worse off than we thought. This year's unit won't be mistaken for "Desert Swarm," but Saturday's performance was jarring nonetheless. The UA's blueshirts allowed 552 yards in the 92-play scrimmage, a 6 yards-per-play clip that likely would have been greater had the offense not spent its final 15 plays inside the 20-yard line. Take away incomplete passes and tackles-for-loss, and the defense surrendered positive yardage on 77 of the 92 plays.

"Bad day," linebacker Jake Fischer said.

If there was a bright side - and positives were hard on defense Saturday night - it's that cornerback Jonathan McKnight and linebacker Rob Hankins, both projected starters, did not play for precautionary reasons. The resulting defense was scary-thin: Shadow Williams, a freshman walk-on middle linebacker, played with the first team.

Rodriguez has already moved running backs Taimi Tutogi and Greg Nwoko to defense for depth, and joked Saturday that "we may have 10 guys going both ways" if things don't improve defensively.

Fischer and his fellow defenders know they're running out of time before the Sept. 1 season opener.

"We're all going to work as hard as we possibly can for the next two-and-a-half, three weeks," Fischer said. "We can't go out against Toledo - we can't go out against anybody - playing like this."

2. John Bonano's in for a battle. From the it's-about-time department: Arizona may have not only one but two talented kickers in camp. Incumbent starter John Bonano missed the first week of practices with a leg injury; his replacement, Youngstown State transfer Jake Smith, has made the most of his chance. Smith connected on a 19-yard field goal and hit all of his PAT attempts in Saturday's scrimmage. Bonano was perfect, too, setting up an intriguing - and unlikely - position battle heading into the final three weeks.

3. B.J. Denker gets it. Arizona's backup quarterback completed 12 of 17 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns in his first-ever scrimmage, providing hope that the Wildcats could survive should starter Matt Scott ever suffer an injury. Coaches named Denker, a junior transfer from Cerritos (Calif.) College, as the backup earlier in the week. His numbers were even more impressive considering that he, for scrimmage reasons, faced the No. 1 defense most of the time Saturday night.

4. J.T. Washington can scoot. The most impressive performance in Saturday's scrimmage belonged to a freshman running back. Washington - the J.T. is short for Joetavious - gained 31 yards on four carries, and wowed his teammates with a Matrix-style spin as he avoided a tackle. The 5-foot-7-inch, 165-pound Washington relies on his speed: He competed in the 100 meters, 200 meters and long jump at Indialantic (Fla.) Satellite High School. Washington should only improve, Rodriguez said, as he learns the finer points of football. For now, it's unclear where he fits in a backfield that includes Ka'Deem Carey, Daniel Jenkins and Kylan Butler.

"J.T. likes to push that circle button on the PlayStation and spin every time," Rodriguez said. "He has some natural abilities; sometimes he just needs to stick his foot in the ground and go north and south.

"We've got some pretty good backs (but) I think he's going to have a really good future."

Scott's face lit up as he talked about Washington's runs.

"Oh wow. That kid is going to be a good player for us," he said. "I'm excited to watch him play."

Today

• What: UA football training camp

• Where: Kindall/Sancet Stadium

• When: 8:15-10:15 a.m. (Closed to public)

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Pac-12 South football standings

  Conference Overall
Team W L T PCT W L T PCT
Arizona 7 2 0 0.778 10 3 0 0.769
USC 6 3 0 0.667 8 4 0 0.667
UCLA 6 3 0 0.667 9 3 0 0.750
Arizona State 6 3 0 0.667 9 3 0 0.750
Utah 5 4 0 0.556 9 4 0 0.692
Colorado 0 9 0 0.000 2 10 0 0.167

Pac-12 North football standings

  Conference Overall
Team W L T PCT W L T PCT
Oregon 8 1 0 0.889 12 1 0 0.923
Stanford 5 4 0 0.556 7 5 0 0.583
Washington 4 5 0 0.444 8 5 0 0.615
Cal 3 6 0 0.333 5 7 0 0.417
Washington State 2 7 0 0.222 3 9 0 0.250
Oregon State 2 7 0 0.222 5 7 0 0.417
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