Arizona Football

Five off-the-beaten-path storylines of Washington Huskies vs. Arizona Wildcats




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Chris Petersen

Chris Petersen

Five off-the-beaten-path storylines of Washington vs. Arizona while wondering if Chris Petersen and Sean Miller ever crossed paths at Pitt’s athletic facility during Miller’s senior year in 1991-92 after Petersen was hired to coach the Panthers’ quarterbacks in March 1992. …

1. Hard knocks of a young coach.

Petersen was hired by Pitt on March 11, 1992, when Panthers coach Paul Hackett, who later unsuccessfully coached at USC, cleaned house and brought in new assistants in an attempt to save his own job. It was Petersen’s first venture into big-time college football after serving five years at his alma mater Cal-Davis as the freshman and wide receivers coach.

It was also Petersen’s first and only experience coaching east of the Mississippi.

Hackett also hired that day Mike McCarthy, now a Super Bowl-winning coach with Green Bay. McCarthy, a Pittsburgh native, volunteered as a coach with the Panthers for three years as the quarterbacks coach. He was replaced by Petersen and was switched to wide receivers coach.

Hackett (13-20-1 at Pitt) did not last that season, fired before the last game, as the Panthers finished 3-8.

After less than a year in Pittsburgh, Petersen, 28 at the time, was forced to pack his belongings and head back west where he landed a job as Portland State’s quarterback coach in 1993. He then was hired by Oregon’s Mike Bellotti as the receivers coach from 1995-2000. His first coordinator job came with Boise State, where he coached the offense from 2001-2005.

After becoming Boise State’s head coach in 2006, Petersen compiled a 92-12 record through last season with two unbeaten seasons and three years with only one loss. Now Washington is banking on him restoring the Huskies to where they were in the early 1990s, about the time he got his break (and then heartbreak) with Pitt.

Hackett, who lasted only three years at USC from 1998 to 2000, was not a good college coach, but his track record of hiring Petersen and McCarthy so fresh in their development is impressive. After Hackett was fired from Pitt, he landed the Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator job and McCarthy followed him there as the “offensive quality control assistant”. From that inauspicious start in the NFL, McCarthy has progressed to be one of the league’s best.


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2. Jim Young success revisited.

One cool aspect of Arizona vying for at least three straight seasons with eight victories is the name Jim Young gets mentioned again.

He is the only Arizona coach to accomplish that feat from 1973-75 when the Wildcats went 8-3, 9-2 and 9-2 in his first three seasons in Tucson.

Rich Rodriguez went 8-5 in each of his first two seasons and the Wildcats are presently 7-2 with a potential four games remaining including a bowl.

Young bolted Arizona for Purdue after only four seasons because of his Midwest roots. He left his mark on Arizona’s program, however, by showing school administrators that the Wildcats could compete at a level worthy of a move from the WAC to the Pac-10. A year after he left in 1977, Arizona switched to the Pac-10.


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3. My way or the highway.

Petersen’s dismissal of talented cornerback Marcus Peters last week is one of the top stories in the Pac-12 this season given Peters’ NFL promise. Peters remains a potential first-round draft pick despite questionable character issues after a series of run-ins with Petersen and his assistants.

Peters, a junior, led a young, decimated secondary with three interceptions and seven pass breakups, and was fourth on the squad with four tackles for loss, before his dismissal Nov. 6.

Peters is the ninth player Petersen has either suspended or dismissed from the program since the coach took over in December.

In last week’s loss to UCLA, the Huskies started three true freshmen in the defensive backfield including former Arizona commit Naijiel Hale, who took over Peters’ position. Former receiver John Ross III has practiced as a cornerback in recent weeks and will start ahead of Hale tomorrow at Arizona Stadium.

When a new coach and staff take over, players come and go. Rodriguez had a similar case with safety Adam Hall as Petersen and Peters when he took over Arizona’s program in 2012. The amount of personnel issues does not compare between Rodriguez, who can be rigid but also on the level with his players, and the stoic Petersen.

ESPN radio personality Colin Cowherd went so far as to say last week that Petersen will have trouble succeeding at Washington because of his personality.

4. Zoinks! Scooby’s sack taken away.

After a review, one of Scooby Wright’s sacks at Washington State two weeks ago was taken away because Connor Halliday fumbled and a Cougar offensive lineman recovered and advanced to the line of scrimmage. College football statistical guidelines dictate that because the fumble was not returned behind the line of scrimmage, Wright’s sack and tackle for loss were voided.

Wright now has 12 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. Still, plenty of Scooby snacks to chew on.

The sack removal brings to mind the mild controversy involving Tedy Bruschi, whom Wright is chasing in the sacks and tackles-for-loss categories in the school record book.

Bruschi was awarded 2 1/2 sacks in his last game against ASU in 1995. That allowed him to tie Alabama’s Derrick Thomas with a record 52 career sacks. After watching film of the game, Arizona’s coaches commented that ASU’s scorekeepers should not have given Bruschi a half-sack on at least two tackles when it seemed Bruschi made the unassisted sack.

Bruschi holds the season record of 19 sacks in 1993. Bruschi’s 27.5 tackles for lost yardage in 1993 are the most since defensive tackle Tom Nelson had 29 in 1968.

5. Has Arizona ever had a player like Shaq Thompson?

The Washington linebacker/running back is one of a few NFL prospects on the Huskies’ roster. He was Washington’s primary running back the past three games, rushing for 372 yards on 52 carries (7.2 yards per carry) but he will start at linebacker against Arizona.

Thompson, a probable Top 10 NFL draft choice, has scored five touchdowns, one as a running back and four on defense (one interception return and three fumble returns).

Jogging the memory, I can not recall a defender significantly impacting Arizona’s game plan in the modern era. From 1953, college football outlawed the use of two-way players. A revision in the rule in 1964 allowed for unlimited substitution.

The use of such players seems old school, although Thompson and UCLA’s Myles Jack have emerged as dangerous two-way threats the last two years.

Former Arizona fullback Taimi Tutogi also played on the defensive line in Rodriguez’s first season. Darryll Lewis, a Jim Thorpe-award winner as a cornerback in 1990, started as a running back with the Wildcats but never played on both sides of the ball. 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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