Redshirt QB could play as Kovalcheck status questionable
Two days after a disappointing Pacific 10 Conference loss at home to Stanford, Arizona football head coach Mike Stoops said a change at quarterback is not out of the question heading into the team's remaining five games.
"We've thought about it," Stoops said at his weekly press conference yesterday. "We'll get (freshman) Willie (Tuitama) ready to play. How much ... we're going to see."
Tuitama, a highly touted recruit out of Stockton, Calif., has yet to see action at the collegiate level and last week appeared headed for redshirt status.
That changed over the weekend, when starting quarterback Richard Kovalcheck struggled through a two-fumble, two-interception performance against the Cardinal.
Stoops said Tuitama will see increased repetitions in practice throughout the week, moving from the scout team to a more prominent role.
Tuitama said Arizona offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Mike Canales approached him after the Stanford game about seeing game time Saturday against No. 15 Oregon.
"He told me, come Monday, 'Be ready'... so I told him, 'I'm always ready,'" Tuitama said.
Tuitama received prep All-America accolades after a senior season at St. Mary's High School that included 2,734 yards passing and 32 touchdowns with seven interceptions.
The transition from high school to the Pac-10 will not be an easy one for Tuitama, said sophomore cornerback Antoine Cason, a player who saw significant playing time as a true freshman last season.
"He's out there having fun (in practice), but when it's time to step up and be the man, it weighs differently on a person," he said. "We'll have to see how he is during the week, see if he'll be ready or not."
Tuitama said he has struggled with Arizona's offensive scheme, but that he's making progress through daily work with Canales.
"Right now, I feel real comfortable," Tuitama said.
Tuitama's increased role in practice may not result in a new game-day starter, as Stoops said he has been pleased with much of what Kovalcheck has accomplished this season.
The redshirt sophomore from San Diego has 1,336 passing yards and 10 touchdowns, both program bests since 2002.
"Richard's done some awfully good things," Stoops said. "In no way is Richard the sole reason (for Arizona's offensive problems). We have four dropped balls in the course of a game, right in the receivers' hands."
Kovalcheck has run into his share of hard times, throwing 10 interceptions and taking 18 sacks.
Sophomore linebacker Spencer Larsen said he is confident in the abilities of either man at quarterback.
"I know whoever is back there is going to make plays, and we're going to turn this thing around," he said.
With Arizona's bowl hopes virtually dashed - a win in each of the last five games is its only chance - the Wildcat coaching staff is faced with the challenge of salvaging the season.
"We've got to see if Willie gives us a spark and give him an opportunity," Stoops said. "It's a tough decision, and it's one we'll make as the week goes on. We have to see what he's capable of."