Arizona Wildcats football: UA aims to halt Foles hit parade

Wildcats say they must do better job of protecting the QB
2011-09-30T00:01:00Z 2012-11-30T16:19:10Z Arizona Wildcats football: UA aims to halt Foles hit paradeRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
September 30, 2011 12:01 am  • 

Nick Foles let go of the football a split second before the Oregon defender drilled him from behind, driving the Arizona Wildcats quarterback chest-first into the Arizona Stadium turf. The pass, a 34-yard laser, struck wide receiver Richard Morrison in the numbers for a second-quarter UA touchdown.

On the home sideline, Mike Stoops was in no mood to celebrate. He turned to offensive line coach Robert Anae and, seething, pointed to Foles on the ground.

Perhaps no play better embodies Foles' hot start - and the UA's 2011 struggles.

Foles is on pace to break the UA's single-season and career passing marks, but may also set a record for most hits taken.

Foles has been sacked 12 times this season, including 10 times in the last two games, for a loss of 99 yards. He's been hurried at least a dozen more times.

Despite the pounding, Foles - who has refused numerous media requests since last weekend's loss - is expected to be under center when the Wildcats travel to USC on Saturday.

"He's a tough guy, and he leads by example," left tackle Mickey Baucus said. "He's the toughest guy on the field after taking some of those hits."

Foles took more sacks this month than he endured in all of 2009, when defenders got to him just 11 times for a loss of 90 yards. The Wildcats' quarterbacks were sacked just 13 times that year, a number that jumped to 32 a year ago.

The numbers are, of course, the byproduct of Arizona's decision to throw 189 times as a team so far this season behind an inexperienced offensive line. Foles has completed 129 of his 183 attempts for 1,477 yards and 10 touchdowns. He has yet to turn the ball over.

Statistical anomalies, however, don't make the hits hurt any less. Foles struggled to get off the turf after an Oregon defender drilled him in the back during the Ducks' 56-31 win over the UA at Arizona Stadium. The play wasn't ruled a sack, though, as Foles was able to throw the ball on his way down - left-handed - to Keola Antolin.

The Wildcats' quarterback was hit head-on at least two more times before the game mercifully ended.

"Seeing that, it kills me inside," center Kyle Quinn said.

Stoops conceded this week that Foles "has been under a lot of duress" the last three weeks, in part because the Wildcats have been playing from behind and passing more. It doesn't help that Foles' backup, Bryson Beirne, is battling a knee injury and third-stringer Matt Scott is trying to redshirt so he can start in 2012.

"It's not an ideal situation," Stoops said. "Nick's really hung in there. … The toughness, and the way he sits in there and takes it, he proves himself over and over and over."

At this rate, however, one has to wonder how long Foles can hold up physically. The poster boy of Arizona injuries, former quarterback Willie Tuitama, assumed the starting quarterback's job as a freshman in 2005 in part because Richard Kovalcheck kept getting sacked.

Tuitama took a similar pounding in 2006, suffering a serious concussion in a loss at LSU that never fully healed during the season. USC and Washington combined to sack him 11 times in back-to-back games, and Tuitama suffered post-concussive syndrome the rest of the season.

He was eventually cleared to play and finished his career by taking the Wildcats to the Las Vegas Bowl.

Although it's unlikely that Foles will suffer a similar fate, Arizona's coaches are playing it safe. Quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo said this week that shots have a way of adding up.

"Any time your quarterback gets hit, it's a concern," he said. "It builds up during the course of the season. We have to find a way to manage it during practice.

"He's got to figure out a way to get it out quicker and throw it away. We have to do a better job of protecting. We have to get open faster. All of that."

The Wildcats are already trying to limit Foles' vulnerability, when possible.

The UA debuted a full-house formation against the Ducks, giving Foles three blockers - instead of one - in the backfield for passing plays.

Tailbacks Keola Antolin and Ka'Deem Carey combined for a season-high 103 rushing yards; Antolin even ran for a touchdown. Inside receiver David Douglas, the quarterback's safety valve, caught seven passes for a career-high 120 yards.

With USC scheduled for this week and winnable games against Oregon State, UCLA and Washington looming, it's possible that Foles will throw fewer passes and take fewer sacks.

Either way, the Wildcats must keep him healthy.

"We need to get better and protect him better and be tougher - be tough like him," Baucus said. "We don't want him to get hit. We're working to get better and protect him so he's not."

By the numbers

12

Times Arizona Wildcats quarterback Nick Foles has been sacked this season, the most of any Pac-12 signal-caller

10

Sacks of Foles in the last two games, losses to Stanford and Oregon

105th

Arizona's national ranking in sacks allowed; only 10 teams have allowed more

111th

Arizona's national ranking in sack yards allowed; only North Carolina State, Vanderbilt, Pitt and Akron have allowed more

Sad sacks

Against Arizona Year Sacks Yards lost

2004 22 167

2005 21 141

2006 31 249

2007 31 240

2008 28 181

2009 13 94

2010 32 218

2011* 12 99

* Through four games

NOTE: Nick Foles was sacked 11 times in 2009 and 23 times in 2010 as a part-time starter.

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