By Charles Renning
Chris Coduto/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Arizona corner Antoine Cason tries to tackle Stanford's Nick Frank during the first half of Stanford's 20-16 win over Arizona on Saturday at Arizona Stadium. Cason and the rest of the team's secondary, including safeties Darrell Brooks and Lamon Means, are among the team leaders in tackles.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, October 20, 2005
Cats' secondary brings toughness against Oregon
Through its first seven games, the Oregon offense has picked apart opposing defenses on its way to averaging 340 yards a game, good for fifth in the nation.
Arizona football head coach Mike Stoops might have had that image in mind when he described the performance of the Wildcats' secondary this season.
"The secondary has really been the glue behind everything we've done," Stoops said.
Arizona ranks second in the Pacific 10 Conference in passing defense and needs to continue to play well to contain the No. 15 Ducks, who have scored 30 or more points in every game this season save for their 45-13 loss to No. 1 Southern California.
Stoops said the Oregon offense is one of the most athletic his club will face.
"It's a big challenge, but I think we're up for it," said sophomore cornerback Antoine Cason.
Since the preseason, the Arizona secondary has been recognized as one of the best in the nation, with both Cason and senior safety Darrell Brooks being named to the watch list for the Thorpe Award, given to the country's best collegiate defensive back.
"We take pride in being considered one of the best secondaries," said senior corner back Wilrey Fontenot. He compared the Oregon challenge to the one the team faced against USC two weeks ago.
"We have a very athletic secondary, and we're going to need them all to play well this week," Stoops said.
The Wildcats' defensive backfield, comprising Cason, Fontenot, Brooks, senior safety Lamon Means and junior-college transfer Michael Johnson, has been successful because of the closeness of the group and improved communication, Cason said.
Of those five players, four are in the team's top six in tackles on the team, and the fifth, Means, is ninth.
Brooks leads the squad with 51 total tackles and continues to move up Arizona's all-time tackles list. He has 258 takedowns in four seasons and is just 12 away from moving on to the school's top-20 list.
Both Cason and Fontenot have each snared an interception, ranking fourth and fifth on the team in tackles, respectively.
Probably the team's biggest surprise has been the play of Johnson, who came in from Tyler Community College in Pflugerville, Texas, and has increased his playing time since arriving in Tucson.
Johnson is currently sixth on the team in tackles with 23, including a career-high eight made against the Trojans.
Add into the mix the three-year letter-winner Means, who combines athleticism and experience with 31 career starts, and the Wildcats have hopes to counter the Ducks' offensive production.
"I know that we can make plays," Cason said. "It helps me out a lot more to help my team. I feel good when (opponents) throw at me because I feel I can make plays and turn some things around."
Tuitama still practicing with first string, possibly losing redshirt
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Richard Kovalcheck remains Arizona's No. 1 option behind center, but the Wildcat coaching staff continues to prepare true freshman Willie Tuitama for Saturday's showdown.
Arizona offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Canales said after practice yesterday that Tuitama, while making progress in his first week practicing with the offense's first string, has played "like a freshman."
"(He's playing) up and down," he said. "He's asking questions, watching a lot of film."
Tuitama began sharing repetitions with Kovalcheck in the wake of the second-year-starter's four-turnover performance Saturday in a 20-16 loss to Stanford.
Canales said he considered playing Tuitama this weekend immediately after the loss to the Cardinal, and that he later presented the idea in a phone call to Tuitama's parents, Lui and Nancy.
"They want what's best for the program, and if that's playing their son, that's what they want," he said.
Canales said he has worked closely with Tuitama this season in the event of a Kovalcheck injury or another situation that might call for the freshman to take snaps.
"He's got to play every snap, and that's the way we've approached it all year long if Richard gets hurt, or (junior) Adam (Austin) gets hurt," he said. "The situation has presented itself."