The 2011 football season can’t possibly be any tougher than spring practice has been.
At least, that’s probably what the University of Arizona coaches are thinking after wrapping up three weeks of practice with the annual spring game Saturday.
The Wildcats lost two players before the game arrived to signal the close of the practice sessions, as starting safety Adam Hall and back-up running back Greg Nwoko both suffered knee injuries earlier in camp. Hall went down during one-on-one drills and Nwoko was cut down while trying to avoid being tackled during contact drills. (See April 5 Phxfan article: “Spring football practice proves costly…”)
The squad was just a few minutes away from avoiding the third knee injury, when Jake Fischer was hurt in the closing plays of the Saturday game. A run-in with offensive tackle, Fabbians Ebbele, did the damage to the starting strong-side linebacker who is/was expected to play a significant role in the Cats’ defense next season.
Head coach Mike Stoops is awaiting word on the extent of the injury to Fischer’s right knee.
But there was a bright side to the game, as Stoops’ offense ran up 53 points and provided a passing show for the estimated 4,500 fans who showed up to get a preview of what’s in store in the fall for a team that started strong last year and then collapsed after mid-season.
Starting quarterback, Nick Foles, picked up 133 yards on 11-of-16 passing, and back-up Matt Scott added 134 more yards by completing 11 of 13 attempts. The coaches are still considering whether to redshirt Scott for the 2012 season, which would mean fifth-year senior, Bryson Beirne, would be expected to step in should Foles falter or get hurt.
Beirne actually saw more action in the spring game than he did all last year. He was on the field just enough in 2010 to complete five passes on five attempts. But Saturday he threw for 115 yards, completing eight of nine pass attempts.
The offense picked up 27 first downs, with 16 via the pass. And the plays called were heavily weighted to the passing game that Arizona is expected to rely on next season, with 42 passing plays and 13 running plays.
Of the 462 total yards of offense, 380 were gained through the air, as the offense won the game, 53-10.
But it was the performance of a former quarterback who has morphed into a receiver that really stood out Saturday.
Richard Morrison, a sophomore who played quarterback in high school and converted to inside wide receiver when he got to Tucson, had four catches for 63 yards and a pair of TD’s – one off a short pass from Foles and the other from Beirne.
Not a big receiver at 6-foot and 180 pounds, the Texas native played some of his senior season in that position, but ran up 2,472 yards as a QB. He was redshirted in 2009 at Arizona, and then had 19 catches for 188 yards last season – six of them in the Alamo Bowl.
But, from all appearances Saturday, he may be able to find a spot among an already talented group of receivers and make a significant contribution next season.
Now, Stoops just needs to build up an offensive line that will require replacing most of last year’s starters. There will likely be four or five new big rear-ends on the O-line in 2011.
The spring game isn’t a valid indicator of where things will be the fall. No more than the scrimmage held a couple of weeks ago, when the defense dominated things. The defensive unit picked off five interceptions during the 70 minutes of play and had 14 stops on 15 drives.
More than anything, this final game was a way to build fan interest early and give the faithful something to talk about while they wait for that first snap on Sept. 3 when the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks will arrive in Tucson to kick off a new season.
But what is apparent at this point is that Arizona will likely be filling the air with a passing game that should give fans something to enjoy while the Cats begin the hunt anew for their fourth consecutive bowl invitation.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)