Wildcats look to long-dormant offense for spark

Wildcats look to long-dormant offense for spark

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New Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes expects the Wildcats to be better this season. It would be hard for them to be worse.

A year ago, Arizona averaged 16.6 points per game, 105th out of 119 Division I programs.

Defense may win championships. But it couldn't help the Wildcats overcome a tepid attack that mustered 10 or fewer points five times -- all losses.

"We'll be better next year than we are right now, and we'll be better the year after that," Dykes said from Tucson. "But I feel good about where we are right now."

Arizona has shown progress in coach Mike Stoops' first three years in Tucson. After back-to-back 3-8 seasons (and 2-6 in the Pac-10), the Wildcats went 6-6 a year ago, and their 4-5 conference record earned a tie for fifth place.

Now the Wildcats hope to take the next step and end an eight-year bowl drought, longest in the Pac-10.

Stoops turned to Dykes for assistance. Dykes helped guide Texas Tech's high-octane attack, which deploys a fleet of receivers and pass-catching backs in an effort to create mismatches.

"Our players are built for this offense," Stoops said.

The schedule is daunting. Arizona opens with a trip to Mountain West stalwart BYU, which went 11-2 a year ago. After home games with Northern Arizona and New Mexico, the Wildcats open Pac-10 play at California. They also have road trips to top-ranked USC and arch rival Arizona State.

To contend with that schedule, the Wildcats can't rely only on their defense, although it has the potential to be among the best in the nation.

Stoops, a defensive tactician by trade, has 10 starters back on defense, led by all Pac-10 cornerback Antoine Cason. Linebacker Spencer Larsen and defensive end Louis Holmes earned second-team all-conference slots.

The defense allowed 19.6 points per game a year ago, third in the conference. The two Pac-10 teams with stingier defenses -- USC and California -- went a combined 21-5.

Too often, the defense wore down late in games because the offense simply couldn't sustain an attack. At the end of the season, offensive coordinator Mike Canales resigned under pressure, and Stoops brought in Dykes from Lubbock.

Dykes' first task has been to change the offense's mind-set. In recent years, the Wildcats often became predictable. Dykes wants them to keep opponents guessing with multiple-receiver sets.

He also wants his offense to play with "tempo." What does that mean?

"Tempo means we hit them hard, we hit them fast and we keep hitting them throughout the whole game," sophomore receiver Terrell Turner said.

Dykes said it could take three years for the attack to reach its potential. But improvement may come quickly under junior quarterback Willie Tuitama, who appears healthy after struggling with concussions a year ago.

Dykes said Tuitama has grown more comfortable in the scheme since spring ball, when he often threw to his first option on a given play. In fall camp, Tuitama has become more patient, waiting for a third or fourth option to open up, which invariably happens in this attack.

"He's done a nice job of not trying to force balls," Dykes said. "That's something I thought he was doing in the spring.

"Quarterbacks have got to learn that they're not the ones that make the plays," Dykes added. "They've just got to get the ball to guys who make the plays. That's been the biggest growth that Willie's had."

Tuitama has plenty of targets. Mike Thomas, a quick 5-foot-8, 173-pound senior, led the team with 597 receiving yards a year ago.

Senior Anthony Johnson and freshmen Terrell Reese and Delashaun Dean will also see plenty of action, along with Turner.

Stoops said he's been impressed with the offense so far. The question is whether he'll continue to be impressed once the games begin.

"People have no ideas what we are going to emphasize," Stoops said. "This offense has a mind of its own."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-08-24-07 1629MDT

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