By Charles Renning
Claire C. Laurence/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Arizona's Mike Bell (11) and the Wildcats will travel to California to take on the No. 12 Golden Bears tomorrow. Arizona is coming off of a bye week that may have helped it get some key people off of the injured reserve list and back into the game.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, September 30, 2005
Although the Arizona football team opens its Pacific 10 Conference season against No. 12 California tomorrow, it might as well be the Wildcats' rushing game against that of the Golden Bears.
Arizona head coach Mike Stoops said the Wildcats' ability to move the ball on the ground and their success stopping Cal's backs will be the keys to tomorrow's 4 p.m. contest at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif.
"We need to play more physical and we need to play better run defense," he said. "If you're going to win, you can't give up 200 yards a game rushing."
The Wildcats (1-2) come into the contest against Cal (4-0, 1-0 Pac-10) last in rush defense in the conference, while the Bears lead the Pac-10 in rushing offense with 275.8 yards a game.
On the flip side, Cal's defense ranks second in rushing defense, with the Arizona ground game ranking ninth.
"It's going to be a physical game," Stoops said. "They are very talented on both sides of the ball. They're well coached and they play hard."
The Bears have beaten their first four opponents by an average score of 43-12 and hope to become 5-0 for the first time since 1996.
One thing Arizona has going for it is the team's recent bye week, which Stoops said has allowed the Wildcats to relax and prepare for the Pac-10 challenge that awaits.
Arizona returns senior defensive end Copeland Bryan and sophomore linebackers Spencer Larsen and Dane Krogstad, important players who should improve the Wildcat defense.
Cal counters with a returning impact player of its own in sophomore running back Marshawn Lynch, who broke a finger in his left hand against Washington Sept. 10.
Whether the Golden Bears need him is another story.
In Lynch's absence, running backs Justin Forsett and Marcus O'Keith have racked up a combined 674 yards.
"They're very confident in the way they run their offense," said Arizona senior safety Darrell Brooks. "They have very talented backs. ... They're (playing) for a reason."
Another help has been the play of quarterback Joe Ayoob, a junior college transfer who took over signal-calling duties after Nate Longshore went down with an ankle injury.
In four games, Ayoob has completed 42 of 80 passes for 676 yards with six touchdowns and one interception.
Stoops said it will be key to limit large gains by the Cal offense.
"It's just big plays (that) have really prohibited us from being a good defensive team," he said. "We'll play 40 to 50 plays the way we are supposed to and give up two or three big plays. You can't give up big plays."
Stoops said Arizona needs to control the clock and limit costly errors to be successful in Berkeley.
"When you go on the road, you have to be able to control the ball, can't give up big plays and have to be solid in the kicking game," he said. "(With) some of those things we haven't been as good as we need to be."