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Arizona’s Back from Holiday

Our last memory of Nick Foles: Arizona's loss to Nebraska in last year's Holiday Bowl.

The last time we saw the Arizona offense it was the Holiday Bowl, when the Wildcats racked up paltry amounts of yardage in a 33-0 Nebraska loss to Nebraska. Not a great way to end the season, right? Especially after the way Arizona concluded Pac-10 play, ending the regular season with a very meaningful win over U.S.C.; in fact, it was that win that gave Arizona possession of second place in the conference, earning it the date with the Cornhuskers in San Diego. Good news led to bad news, as there’s no question that how a team performs in its final game of the season carries over through spring ball, summer workouts and into fall camp — perhaps even into the first quarter of the first game of the following season. If that is the case, and a poor finish stays with a team for more than nine months, one wonders how good the Wildcats would have looked last night had they shutout Nebraska, not vice versa.

I know, I know: Toledo. Let me tell you something about Toledo: no, the Rockets aren’t great; they’re still the second-best team in the MAC West division, in my opinion, and a team that will finish the year bowl eligible. Again, in my opinion. In the big picture, Toledo is not a Pac-10 team, of course, but it’s also gave Arizona a better test than one would have imagined looking at last night’s result.

So, long story short, Toledo’s not that bad. Arizona was just that good, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. And that’s all we were looking for from the Wildcats after watching their poor performance against Nebraska. Was that an aberration, or had Nebraska provided a blueprint on how to stop this offense?

The answer is clearly the former, as Toledo never stood a chance. There was no lack of confidence from the Arizona offense, beginning with the play of its quarterback, Nick Foles. Check out these numbers: 32 of 37, 360 yards, 2 touchdowns; he also added a touchdown on the ground, though that’s far from his forte.

Let’s talk about confidence. Foles didn’t have a drop of it against Nebraska, tossing an interception on Arizona’s first series en route to completing only 6 of 20 attempts for 63 yards. Not a good showing, one that could have very well sapped his confidence heading into the spring. It’s hard to extrapolate his coming season off of last night, but if his performance is any indication, Foles used his abysmal Holiday Bowl showing as motivation.

In addition, don’t underestimate the importance of spending an entire off-season with the first team offense. Foles actually opened last season as the team’s backup under center, playing behind Matt Scott — who’s also back, and played a role last night. After taking the job from Scott, Foles was able to work with his fellow starters throughout the spring, summer and fall, developing a rapport that was built on the fly during the 2009 campaign.

Here were the results: Foles hit on all five of his attempts on Arizona’s first drive, ending with a nine-yard touchdown pass to David Douglas. He followed that up with a later scoring pass to Juron Criner — who was superb, by the way. Criner ended his day with 11 receptions for 187 yards, numbers that included both that 32-yard touchdown reception and a 45-yard, one-handed, circus-style grab deep over the middle of the field.

Now that’s confidence. And it’s a sign that Arizona has no lingering aftereffects from its loss to Nebraska, even if few thought Toledo had much of a chance of upsetting the Wildcats. What else can we take from this game? That there’s likely life after Sonny Dykes, the former Arizona offensive coordinator that hit the road for Louisiana Tech in the off-season. And there’s room for both Foles and Scott under center, particularly with Arizona putting Scott into packages suited to his skill set.

Toledo is no, say, U.C.L.A., or Washington. The Rockets are still a solid club: I still think six wins, though last night’s quarterback play was distressing. Credit to Arizona for getting it done offensively, showing little rust after last year’s bitter conclusion. What’s the final thing we can take from last night? That as Arizona fans can attest, the offense can surely be better.

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  1. Burnt Orange says:

    Impressive win for the Cats. On the offensive side of the ball, I was never a big Sonny Dykes fan. Addition by subtraction ?

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