Matt Scott remembers exactly when he decided to stop running.

The Arizona Wildcats had just finished their 2009 season, an 8-5 campaign in which Scott had lost his starting quarterback job to Nick Foles.

After long conversations with his family, Scott decided to return for his junior season rather than transfer. He was greeted by pair of new co-offensive coordinators and a quarterbacks coach determined to fix his bad habits.

One bad habit drove coaches crazy: Scott's tendency to run quarterback sneaks instead of checking down to open receivers.

"My first couple years, I just didn't know the offense that well," Scott said. "When I didn't see somebody open, my thought was, 'tuck and run.'"

Scott's instincts aren't the only improvements since last season. Scott, 20, will take the field Saturday for the injured Foles boasting three major improvements:

• A quicker release. Scott arrived at Arizona from Corona (Calif.) Centennial High School two years ago with a strong arm, but his release - the time it takes to throw a pass - was unnaturally long. Scott worked with quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo all spring and summer to shorten his throwing motion. Instead of bringing the ball to his chest and then throwing, the Cats quarterback now keeps the ball closer to his shoulder.

As a result, he's able to fire off passes to open receivers a split-second faster.

"Bringing the ball all the way down really just made me inaccurate," Scott said. The changes "have helped a lot."

Scott's completion percentage - the most important statistic for a spread-offense quarterback - has skyrocketed in part because of the mechanical tweak. He has completed 66.7 percent (22 of 33) of his passes this season; a year ago, he completed just 56.9 percent.

"He really made a point of emphasis this off-season of shortening his release and motion," backup Bryson Beirne said. "You can see that on Saturdays."

• Better feet. Scott developed a reputation during his first two seasons as a poor pocket passer, in part because his first instinct was to flee.

As it turns out, the Cats quarterback is just fine in the pocket. Though he took five sacks in last weekend's 24-7 win over Washington State, all of them came while scanning his receivers.

Scott can still run with the ball - but he picks his spots.

"Obviously, he moves well, he's athletic - but he's a quarterback that happens to be pretty athletic. He's not a running back," Scelfo said. "Now, he's picking up extra yards when there's a breakdown that takes place in coverage and protection."

• A better grasp. The mechanical changes underscore Scott's biggest improvement - understanding.

After struggling to understand the UA's complex offense in his first two years, Scott now seems to get it. He knows a quicker release will get the ball to his receivers faster; he knows when to run and when to throw the ball away.

And starting Saturday, he'll get to show it off.

"He's a good quarterback," Scelfo said. "Maybe he was judged prematurely."

up next

• What: Washington at Arizona

• When: 7:15 p.m. Saturday


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