Arizona Football

Five off-the-beaten-path storylines of California Golden Bears vs. Arizona Wildcats

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Former Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes makes first return to Tucson Saturday night

Former Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes makes first return to Tucson Saturday night

Thoughts about California vs. Arizona tomorrow while wondering if Sonny Dykes might be the Wildcats’ head coach today if Mike Stoops was lured away by Iowa State or another program after the Las Vegas Bowl win over BYU in 2008. …

1. Arizona coach Sonny Dykes?

It may not have been a serious overture from Iowa State, if there was one at all, but Mike Stoops was a rising name among young coaches in 2008 when he coached the Arizona Wildcats to a Las Vegas Bowl victory over BYU. Only five years after taking over an Arizona program that reached the depths of college football following the John Mackovic fiasco, Stoops was becoming a hot commodity.

Arizona’s offense, behind the likes of school record-holder quarterback Willie Tuitama, tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Juron Criner, was an important reason for the turnaround. The man responsible for the Wildcats’ “Air Raid” execution: Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes, a Mike Leach protege at Texas Tech.

If Stoops took the money and ran from Arizona in 2008 or 2009 (before he started to lose his luster in Tucson), Dykes was a natural hire for then-athletic director Jim Livengood.

Mark Stoops, Mike’s brother and Arizona’s defensive coordinator from 2004 to 2009, left Arizona to fill a similar capacity at Florida State close to when Dykes was hired as Louisiana Tech’s head coach. Mark Stoops and Dykes were two of the best assistant coach prospects following the 2009 season. Considering the backlash if Mike Stoops bolted from Arizona, Dykes would have been a more suitable hire than Stoops’ brother for Arizona boosters.

Because of the residue of Dykes being part of Stoops’ staff, and the way Stoops tapped out after 2008, Arizona fans welcome Rich Rodriguez as the coach today rather than the thought of Dykes.

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2. They may leave Tucson but Tucson never leaves them.

Dykes makes his first return to Tucson since the 2009 season when Cal faces Arizona tomorrow night at Arizona Stadium. His oldest daughter, Ally, was born in Tucson when he coached the Wildcats’ offense. He told the Bay area media this week that he has nothing but good memories of living in Southern Arizona.

He is not the first former Arizona assistant coach to return to Tucson in a head coaching capacity.


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Former defensive coordinator Moe Ankney helped Larry Smith build the program into a competitive team from the WAC to the Pac-10 during his time in Tucson from 1980-85. Ankney returned to Tucson in 1987 as Bowling Green’s head coach in the first season in which Dick Tomey took over for Smith, who left for USC. Arizona’s wish-and-shoot (wishbone and run-and-shoot offense) overwhelmed Bowling Green in a 45-7 win.

Ankney’s three children — Andrew, Angela and Molly — each maintained a long-standing residence in Tucson. Molly worked as an associate director of development at Arizona from 2001 to 2006. She was director of the Make-A-Wish Foundation in Tucson from 2006-2011 before moving to Ann Arbor, Mich., to be with her husband Brad Berlin, the director of equipment operations with the Michigan Wolverines. Andrew remains in Tucson as an account manager with Internet marketing company Simpleviewinc.com. Angela Ankney Tierney is a Canyon del Oro High School and Arizona graduate who has taught in the Amphi School District for 28 years.

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Moe Ankney, 72, is retired and living in Portland. He is active in the senior golf circuit in Oregon.

3. How does he feel about Arizona now?

Garret Chachere when he was an assistant coach at Arizona

Garret Chachere when he was an assistant coach at Arizona

Cal linebackers coach Garret Chachere, an Arizona assistant who coached the receivers (2009-10) and running backs (2011), also returns to Tucson. He was part of the interim staff that tried to keep the program competitive on and off the field after Stoops’ firing midway through the 2011 season.

With the program in transition, Chachere, interim head coach Tim Kish and the other coaches did not try to draw commitments from recruits. Instead they tried to strengthen the bond of those who already committed for the Class of 2012 (before Rodriguez was hired and could finish the effort).

When asked about the recruiting challenges of keeping players committed despite Stoops’ dismissal, Chachere told the Arizona Republic late that season: “I tell (the recruits) what I always told them – that Arizona is a great place to go to school, myself and my family really enjoy it, and I’ve never met anyone (who didn’t enjoy it), and I dare them or anyone they know to find someone that went to school here that didn’t enjoy it.”

Two prominent Texas high school products — linebacker A.J. Hilliard and cornerback Leo Thomas — did not take heed to that message and de-committed. Hilliard, now with Texas A&M, is out indefinitely with a dislocated ankle. Thomas is apparently out of football after leaving Arizona following his first practice in 2012. Rodriguez joked that Thomas did not last 24 hours in Tucson before heading home.

4. It’s called “Air Raid” for a reason.

Like most “Air Raid” offenses. the pass (with a single-, or many times, no-back formation) sets up the run, not the other way around. Cal’s leading rusher in its wins over Northwestern and Sacramento State is junior Daniel Lasco, whose career best mark before this season was 74 yards rushing against Southern Utah in 2012. Somehow, Lasco is listed as a Doak Walker Award candidate this season, according to Cal. In that case, Anu Solomon is a Heisman candidate.

Cal true freshman quarterback Luke Rubenzer is less than a year removed from winning a state title at Arizona Stadium

Cal true freshman quarterback Luke Rubenzer is less than a year removed from winning a state title at Arizona Stadium

Lasco has 116 yards on 17 carries. The second-leading rusher is true freshman quarterback Luke Rubenzer, who is inserted to off-set the defense with his ability to run. Rubenzer, from Scottsdale Saguaro High School, has gained 82 yards on 17 carries. The 23 rushes by Cal’s quarterbacks — sophomore Jared Goff and Rubenzer — comprises 24.7 percent of the team’s carries.

Arizona freshman running back Nick Wilson surpassed 116 yards — Lasco’s mark — on his eighth carry this season, the first attempt at UTSA when he gained 16 yards. Wilson leads the Wildcats and is the top freshman in the country with 449 yards on 66 attempts.

5. Saguaro vs. Chaparral rivalry revisited.

Rubenzer will look across the field tomorrow and be reminded of the nightmares he experienced playing Scottsdale Chaparral High School in his career at Scottsdale Saguaro. Last year, Rubenzer missed on his first five attempts and threw three interceptions in Saguaro’s 52-27 loss.

Arizona freshman tight end Trevor Wood was on the winning side with Chaparral, which won its third straight in the series in convincing fashion. Six other Chaparral grads are on the Arizona roster largely because of the influence of former Chaparral coach Charlie Ragle, Arizona’s tight ends and special teams coach.

Rubenzer returns to the stadium in which he won a Division III state title last year. After losing to Chaparral (a Division II power) in the season opener, Saguaro ran off 13 straight wins, including the 47-25 win over 2012 champion Queen Creek in the title game at Arizona Stadium.

ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.

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