Nick Foles is ahead of schedule in his attempt to recover from a dislocated knee injury suffered two games ago against Washington State, and may be ready to take the reins of the Arizona offense again Saturday against UCLA at the Rose Bowl.
The junior transfer from Michigan State, who took over the starting role three games into the 2009 season, says that three days of intense therapy has enabled the injury to heal faster than anyone had expected. He was originally expected to be out of action 4-6 weeks.
Foles flew back to his home in Austin, Tex., to undergo deep-tissue massage at the same clinic that helped him get back on the field ahead of schedule during his senior year in high school when he injured his throwing shoulder.
He was back at practice Monday, throwing passes and jogging around the field – much to the surprise of his teammates and coaches.
But if he is cleared to play Saturday, it presents a tough decision for head coach, Mike Stoops.
Matt Scott took over when Washington State defensive end, Travis Long, rolled over Foles’ leg to cause the dislocation in the first half of that Oct. 16 game. The Cats not only won that game, but went on to manhandle University of Washington last week in an impressive 44-14 win in Tucson.
And Scott was equally impressive. The offense, beind a new signal caller, didn’t skip a beat.
Actually, Scott isn’t all that new. He was the starting quarterback when the 2009 season began, but lost his job to Foles following a loss to Iowa in the third game. Foles went on to throw for 2,486 yards to rank him sixth on the UA all-time list, and earned All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention honors.
But the Matt Scott that emerged this year bears little resemblance to last year’s model, who didn’t perform well in the pocket and had difficulty learning the offensive system.
Last week against Washington, Scott looked every bit like a seasoned quarterback who minimized mistakes and took control of the offense from the git-go, hitting his junior receiver, David Roberts, for a 17-yard TD pass and the first score.
Behind Scott, the offense took a 30-14 halftime lead and never let the Huskies back in the game, finishing with 467 yards. Scott finished the game with 233 yards passing and another 65 yards on seven carries.
His pass-efficiency rating of 200.78 for the Washington game was the Cats’ best of the season, as Scott moved his record to 4-1 as a starter.
But he got lots of help from Keola Antolin, who rushed for 114 yards and two scores, and Juron Criner, who caught eight passes for 108 yards.
And the defense, which is ranked seventh in the country in rushing and scoring, has been preparing this week for UCLA’s new ‘pistol’ offense that powers the Bruins’ No. 22 rushing game. It helped UCLA upset Texas, 34-12, earlier in the season when the Longhorns were ranked No. 7 in the country.
The pistol is built around the quarterback and running back and is designed to create match-up problems for the defense. It relies heavily on the run. For example, against Texas the Bruins ran for 264 yards on 56 carries, but only passed nine times for 27 yards.
And that should play right into Arizona’s hands.
Last week, they held Washington’s NFL-bound quarterback, Jake Locker, to minus-24 rushing. The Huskies were the fifth team that the Cats have held to under 100 yards rushing.
UCLA (3-4, 1-3) owns a 19-13-2 edge over the Cats, but Arizona has won the last three meetings. Last year, the Cats generated just 211 yards of total offense, but were able to jump on the Bruins early and got out to a 13-0 lead. Arizona’s five turnovers kept the game within reach for UCLA, but the Cats managed the 27-13 win.
This year, the biggest issue for the Cats may be which quarterback to go with. The Bruins used three in last year’s game to try to jump-start their offense, but Arizona doesn’t have that problem.
The Cats have two red-hot QBs – but should need just one. But we won’t know which one until Saturday since Stoops has called the selection a game-day decision.
Actually, it’s a nice problem to have.