Greg Hansen: Sideline savvy keeps UA in game

2012-09-03T00:00:00Z 2012-09-03T14:44:20Z Greg Hansen: Sideline savvy keeps UA in gameGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
September 03, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Late in the second quarter Saturday night, UA defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel was so annoyed that he pitched a notable fit (on the Mike Stoops scale, it was Category 2), confronting his regulars within earshot of the Zona Zoo.

Casteel was upset that linebacker Marquis Flowers had been called for a personal foul, steamed that his team was losing 14-10, and probably shaken by the pace of play.

Oregon is fast. Toledo was faster.

The Rockets were snapping plays in as few as 6.9 seconds from the moment the ball was placed at scrimmage. Rich Rodriguez built a reputation on playing fast, but in one first-half sequence, Toledo required just 10.3, 10.6 and 12.4 seconds from spot to snap.

No wonder Toledo was able to run 94 plays, the third most by an opponent in UA history.

And no wonder Casteel was stirred up. On a night he started six first-time defensive starters, three of them walk-ons, the potential for an opening night implosion was developing.

In the end, Toledo wasn't resourceful enough to score more than 17 points, and Casteel was able to adjust, play conservatively, and not get sucked into Toledo's traps. The Wildcat defense was gassed by game's end - who wouldn't be on a hot September night in Tucson? - but it made a minimum of mistakes.

That's what having an all-veteran assistant coaching staff with a cumulative 84 bowl appearances should do: cut the momentum, play smart and weather the storm of a team thinking upset.

It was a remarkable contrast to the only two other games in UA history in which the opponent ran more than 94 plays.

The latest was a 42-21 loss in 2005 in which USC ran 96 plays. The other came in November 1973 when Arizona State punished the UA, running 97 plays, winning 55-19 in Jim Young's first season at Arizona.

The UA's young defensive coordinator that night was 33-year-old Larry Smith. The only thing good to come from ASU's 98-play, 55-19 rout was that Smith vowed he would some day get back at Frank Kush and Co.

When Smith became Arizona's head coach in 1980, he made beating ASU a crusade, and from 1982 to 1986, The Streak, an improbable series of five near-legendary victories over the Sun Devils, made Smith so attractive that he became the head coach of the USC Trojans.

At 51, Casteel has experienced far greater victories than a debut win over Toledo, and he won't have time to think much about ASU for two months. But Saturday's defensive performance was notable for this reason: Anytime an opponent snaps 94 plays against your defense, and scores just 17 points, you've got the right people in the right places most of the time.

If that's not the definition of being well-coached, what is?

Isn't that why UA athletic director Greg Byrne was so eager to hire Rodriguez? Because it meant that all of those seasoned colleagues from RichRod's coaching tree - Casteel, Bill Kirelawich, Calvin Magee, Tony Gibson, Rod Smith - would likely be part of the package.

It's such an advantage.

When Stoops took over in 2004, with the exception of his brother, Mark, he hired virtual strangers, young men, many of them from small schools like North Texas and Central Florida. He hired his offensive coordinator, Mike Canales, the New York Jets receivers coach, over the phone. They didn't know one another. He hired 33-year-old Steve Spurrier Jr., because of the name cachet more than his coaching prowess.

No wonder, in Stoops' words, coaching at Arizona was "eight hard years."

It doesn't have to be that way.

On Saturday, Arizona could've panicked when, incredibly, starting left guard Chris Putton was injured on the first series and his replacement, true freshman Cayman Bundage was injured almost immediately thereafter.

How many teams are down to its No. 3 left guard, Shane Zink, in the first quarter of the season opener?

And yet the Wildcats gained 624 yards, second most in school history. These men know what they're doing.

In his postgame news briefing, Rodriguez said, "We're going to be about half-sick watching the film; we can hang our head for a second, but we've got to bring it back up."

He knows it could've been far worse.

Toledo left Arizona Stadium at midnight, caught a flight back to Ohio, traveling through three time zones, and was expected to arrive at the school's football plant about 9 a.m., tired and winless.

That's a Big Loss.

By comparison, the Wildcats are undefeated, having dodged the worst-case scenario of losing to Toledo and Oklahoma State, drawing perhaps 35,000 fans for Game 3 against South Carolina State and then flying to Oregon to open the Pac-12 season with no traction and no hope.

It's a long season, stretching through Nov. 23, but on opening night, the Wildcats made it seem short and sweet.

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

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