UA football keys: Running, faster starts

2011-09-12T00:02:00Z 2014-09-15T10:03:04Z UA football keys: Running, faster startsRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
September 12, 2011 12:02 am  • 

The Arizona Wildcats feasted on a Big Sky Conference cupcake and then choked down a Cowboy-sized piece of humble pie.

Now, it's time to dig in.

The UA will host No. 6 Stanford on Saturday in the teams' Pac-12 opener, the first in a string of three near-impossible conference games in a row. After taking on the Cardinal, Arizona will face No. 12 Oregon and then travel to Los Angeles to take on always tough USC.

The Wildcats (1-1) will need to improve in all areas if they hope to escape with even one win in the next three games. They were one-dimensional, easily intimidated and inconsistent in Thursday's 37-14 loss to eighth-ranked Oklahoma State.

To get better, Arizona must:

1. Establish the run

The Wildcats won't be a power-rushing team this season, especially with two undersized backs and an all-new offensive line. But they need to run enough to keep other teams from teeing off on quarterback Nick Foles. The UA rushed 21 times for just 41 yards against Oklahoma State, and is averaging just 58 rushing yards per game this year.

Here's how bad that is: The UA is ranked 115th nationally in rushing yards, ahead of only Akron, East Carolina, UTEP, Kent State and Florida Atlantic. Of those teams, only Arizona (1-1) and East Carolina (1-1) have victories this season.

"Until we run the football better, it's going to be hard to move forward the way we want to," coach Mike Stoops said. "Some of it's personnel, some of it's commitment - getting players to do better - and some of it's coaching."

Said Foles: "We have to find a way to run the ball better."

2. Defend the pass

Small sample sizes and impossible opponents - Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon is the nation's top wide receiver, better than anyone the UA will face the rest of the year - mean the Wildcats' pass defense probably won't be this bad all season. Still, it's worth noting just how well Arizona's opponents are throwing the ball: The Wildcats are allowing 288 passing yards per game, which ranks 102nd nationally and 10th in the Pac-12.

Northern Arizona's Cary Grossart and Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden combined for a 147.19 quarterback rating against the UA, making Arizona the 99th-best pass defending team in the nation.

It could be worse, though: Washington is allowing 403 yards per game, worst in the country.

3. Start fast

Face it, Arizona can't upset any of its next three opponents without a hot start. The Cats' first two foes outscored them 31-14 in the first half; in the second half, however, Arizona is outscoring them 41-16.

Arizona is 27-6 under Stoops when leading after the first quarter, and 14-40 when tied or trailing. The Wildcats have won 17 of their last 18 games when leading after the first quarter; their only loss came against Oregon a year ago.

The Cats need to play with more energy early in game, to get the home crowd - and the momentum - in their favor.

If they can't, the next three weeks will look frustratingly familiar.

Up next

• What: Stanford at Arizona

• When: 7:45 p.m. Saturday

• TV: ESPN

Safety commits

Devian Shelton verbally committed to the Arizona Wildcats on Sunday night, giving the UA a toolsy and potentially valuable safety for 2012.

The Scout.com recruiting service lists the 6-foot-2-inch, 180-pound Shelton as a three-star recruit and the nation's 88th-best safety. He chose the Wildcats over offers from Arizona State, Idaho, New Mexico, San Diego State, SMU, Utah State and Washington State.

Shelton registered 41 tackles and three interceptions and recovered one fumble as a junior at Inglewood (Calif.) High School. He's one of the top players for the Sentinels, who are 0-2 so far this season.

Shelton is the second high school standout to commit to the UA in as many Sundays. The Wildcats received a verbal commitment from Anthony Lopez, a running back from Gilbert Mesquite High School, a week ago. Lopez rushed for 1,552 yards and 21 touchdowns as a junior in 2010.

Shelton is the 17th recruit to commit to the UA's next recruiting class. Players can sign letters of intent in February.

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



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