The Arizona football team begins its 2013 season against Northern Arizona at Arizona Stadium on Aug. 30, which is nine days away. From now until then, this Web site will count down the days with facts about the Wildcats, their players, coaching staff and opponents. This is not a ranking, only a list of 100 facts and observances related to the 2013 Arizona football team and coach Rich Rodriguez.
USC coach Lane Kiffin, knowing his job is on the line this season, is coming out fighting, or at least his players are with their drastically increased physical play during fall camp.
Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, realizing he is only in his second year and building for the future, is at a stage where running intense practice sessions with scrimmages and tackling drills does not make much sense.
Kiffin told Sirius/XM’s College Sports Nation show yesterday, during its tour of campuses before the season, that having more physical practices with scrimmages is necessary after last year’s disappointing 7-6 season. The Trojans were the preseason No. 1 team, with Heisman candidate Matt Barkley, but fell flat because of their preparation, according to Kiffin.
“It was good because we were really healthy,” Kiffin said about last season, “but at the same time, we didn’t play really physical last year, so we’ve kind of gone the other way in spring and the beginning of fall camp of making sure, especially on defense, that we’re really tackling and playing physical.
“We’ve had a number of injuries because of it, but I think we’ll be better in the long run.”
Rodriguez told the media Monday that he is taking the opposite approach with the Wildcats, who are thin at many positions, including virtually all of the backup spots.
“This is the least hitting I’ve done in 20 years of coaching football,” Rodriguez said. “You need to be extra cautious and coach a different way than you ever have. You need to get guys ready to play.
“This is not the pros, we still need to teach our guys how to tackle and block. We need to find that fine line where we do enough to get them taught but not to beat up your team. Hopefully, we’ll be healthy and ready to play the first game.”
Kiffin’s lack of scrimmages and tackling in workouts last year were in correlation with the Trojans’ depth issues because of scholarship limitations. As part of its NCAA probation because of alleged improper benefits given to former tailback Reggie Bush, USC lost 30 scholarships over three years starting in 2011.
The NCAA placed a limitation of 75 scholarship players, 10 below the FBS minimum, through this year.
Rodriguez has recruited the full complement of 25 players in each of the last two years, but the transition from Mike Stoops’ staff to his regime has caused some transfers and growing pains with his new system on offense and defense. Rodriguez must protect the thin talent pool he has in order to have a chance in November.
The irony is receiver Austin Hill, an NFL prospect at wide receiver, suffered a torn ACL early in spring drills. No serious injuries have been reported during fall camp.
The danger in not scrimmaging and running practices with physical play is that players will not be as intense come game time next Friday against NAU.
A boxer needs a sparring partner. A wrestler must be as intense in practice as on the mat for a match. A football player must work on wrapping up a ball-handler or else arm tackles will take place. You’ve heard of the term “football shape”?
How will Arizona tackle NAU running back Zach Bauman if it has not been forced to try to bring down Ka’Deem Carey or Daniel Jenkins on a consistent basis in practice? Conversely, how has Carey worked on breaking tackles and exerting his physical style?
The Wildcats will undoubtedly increase their physicality as game preparation continues against the Lumberjacks, but was anything lost in the first three weeks of fall camp?
Kiffin’s approach suggests USC needed to bring back its toughness starting in spring drills to correct what went wrong last season.
The result: At least 22 players have missed drills in fall camp because of injuries. The Trojans recently had only two healthy receivers and running backs.
Kiffin stated last week that if the season opener at Hawaii (next Thursday) was closer, he would not be putting his players through scrimmages and physical drills.
“We’d be really concerned,” Kiffin was quoted as saying by FoxSportsWest.com. “Our health, right now, would not put us in position to win many games if we had to play tomorrow. We would not have many rotations at many spots.
“If we were that close to a game, we would not practice like this.”
Arizona is preparing the opposite way. Which formula works the best will tell in the defensive stats in the Wildcats’ game with NAU and USC’s with Hawaii.
Rodriguez is hoping the Wildcats show that “Hard Edge” — his motto — after weeks of carefully shaping his team like a calculating sculptor.
The best Arizona player to wear No. 9, according to TucsonCitizen.com’s Anthony Gimino, is wide receiver Terry Vaughn (1990-93). He went on to become the career receptions leader in the Canadian Football League.
Last year, this site and TucsonCitizen.com ran a Top 50 Games in the history of Arizona football series. I will relive that list here with less than 50 days to kickoff and add one game to it: Arizona’s improbable 49-48 win over Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl last December, which landed as No. 38 on the list. Note, after clicking on the link, you will notice last year’s ranking. The list on this page is the current ranking.
No. 9: Arizona (12-1) achieves best record, highest ranking to end season with 1998 win over Nebraska
No. 10: UA wins 1926 game after McKale delivers Salmon’s “Bear Down” line
No. 11: The Desert Swarm is born in 1992 near-upset of top-ranked Miami at the Orange Bowl
No. 12: Zendejas’ 57-yard FG ties UA record, keeps ASU out of Rose Bowl again
No. 13: Arizona blows 20-point lead and shot at the Rose Bowl with 1993 collapse at California
No. 14: UA upsets No. 2 UCLA in 1980 when Bruins appeared ready to be No. 1
No. 15: L.A. Times reporter: Arizona shows “fight of wildcats” in 1914 game vs. Occidental
No. 16: UA leads UCLA late in third quarter but loses big in 12-1 season
No. 17: Unranked Arizona upsets Ohio State, Woody Hayes in Buckeyes’ 1967 opener in Columbus
No. 18: Arizona and hasty coach Mudra lose Ultimatum Bowl to ASU in 1968
No. 19: Arizona keeps “The Streak” without loss to ASU alive in ’87 with bizarre finish that ends in tie
No. 20: Arizona fit to be tied with Cal despite leading 26-3 in third quarter
No. 21: Zendejas’ last-second 45-yard FG vs. ASU generates momentum for “The Streak” to endure
No. 22: Arizona wins its first bowl behind “Heat-seeking Missile” Chuck Cecil
No. 23: Collapse vs. Utah after leading 27-0 in fourth quarter changed the face of UA football
No. 24: UA shuts out ASU, Kush during dominating run for Sun Devils coach
No. 25: Arizona’s defense and Doug Pfaff’s last-second FG enough to upset sixth-ranked Oklahoma
No. 26: UA upsets ASU from Fiesta Bowl consideration in program’s best stretch
No. 27: Trung Canidate rushes for record 288 yards and three long TDs in ’98 shootout against ASU
No. 28: UA dominates No. 3 SMU, highest ranked non-conference foe to lose to Cats
No. 29: Arizona stuns second-ranked Oregon in most significant victory in Mike Stoops era
No. 30: Arizona’s win on last-second FG over ASU ends Frank Kush’s dominance in the series
No. 31: Arizona reaches its zenith under Mike Stoops with victory over Brigham Young in Las Vegas Bowl
No. 32: Arizona owed Cal a couple, knock Bears out of BCS title, Rose Bowl run
No. 33: Arizona’s 10-9 loss at Oregon in 1994, derailing its Rose Bowl hopes, still hurts
No. 34: ASU ripe for picking in banana uniforms for “The Streak” to reach eight
No. 35: Arizona tries risky fake PAT to beat California but loses in epic 4 overtime game
No. 36: Veal to Hill “Hail Mary” pass highlights “The Streak” reaching seven games against ASU
No. 37: USC outlasts Arizona 48-41 in one of most wild games played in Tucson
No. 38: Arizona Wildcats’ comeback against Nevada No. 38 in Top 50 games list
No. 39: Arizona shows signs of life under Mike Stoops with rout over No. 7 UCLA
No. 40: Art Luppino “The Cactus Comet” rockets toward 38 yards per carry and five touchdowns
No. 41: Fumblerooski enables Arizona to sweep USC, UCLA in L.A. for first time
No. 42: Sun Devil nemesis Dan White quarterbacks Arizona into Fiesta Bowl with win over ASU
No. 43: Struggling UA gets improbable win against ’83 Pac-10 champ UCLA
No. 44: Closing chapter of “The Streak” includes Arizona’s dramatic fourth-quarter heroics
No. 45: Arizona overcomes rival Texas Tech with unfathomable late-game rally
No. 46: Dick Tomey, the Desert Fox, does a number on UCLA by changing offense in midseason
No. 47: “The Streak” reaches three games, UA achieves best Pac-10 finish
No. 48: Arizona’s first game at Arizona Stadium in 1929, a 35-0 win over Cal Tech
No. 49: Underdog Arizona’s 2011 thriller over arch-rival Arizona State
No. 50: Arizona’s first win over arch-rival Arizona State, then known as Territorial Normal
Dropped out: Arizona’s first win in program’s history: 22-5 over Tucson Indians
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WILDABOUTAZCATS.net publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes blogs for Lindy’s College Sports, TucsonCitizen.com and Sports Illustrated-sponsored site ZonaZealots.com.