By Kyle Kensing
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, October 31, 2005
Montana and Rice. Aikman and Irvin.
Tuitama and Thomas?
To mention Arizona's teenage tandem of Willie Tuitama and Mike Thomas in the same breath as two of the most recognizable quarterback-receiver combinations in NFL history is premature, to say the least.
But please excuse Arizona fans if they get a little excited after Saturday's 29-27 win at Oregon State.
Two weeks removed from talk of a possible 1-10 season after a tough loss to Stanford, Arizona found new hope in rain-soaked Reser Stadium behind the freshman Tuitama's 335 yards and two touchdowns through the air, as he spread the ball to seven different receivers.
There to haul in a team-best 162 of those yards on four catches was Thomas, Tuitama's first-year peer and the team's leading receiver (43 receptions, 622 yards, four touchdowns) through eight games. The duo hooked up for a season-best 75-yard gain for a touchdown in the first half.
Those are some big numbers to be sure, but they pale in comparison to the game's most telling statistic - zero.
That's the number of interceptions Tuitama threw Saturday, the first time in 2005 the Wildcats have gone an entire game without a pick, in an outing that saw opposing quarterback Matt Moore offer up six of them to the Arizona defense.
It was the perfect coronation in Tuitama's first college start and completed the dizzying turnaround of Arizona football in the court of public opinion.
Walking down North Fourth Avenue on Saturday and hearing the buzz among my fellow students, I couldn't help but wonder if I was still in Tucson, what with all the positive football talk.
"Did you hear about that game?"
"Tuitama's the man!"
"We're the best 2-6 team anywhere!"
Political science senior Sigi Kristianson said it best, though.
"Tuitama is one of the biggest celebrities in this city, at least as big as any basketball player in a basketball school," he said.
Thanks to two outings in which the freshman signal-caller has combined for four touchdowns, 517 yards and just one turnover, 'Tuitamania' has reached a fever pitch.
And those flames are being stoked by everyone from Arizona Republic columnist Andy Bagnato to Arizona cornerback Antoine Cason, both of whom began the first of what is sure to become more common "Tuitama for Heisman" talk.
Meanwhile, under much less of a microscope, Tuitama's partner in crime, Thomas, has racked up team highs in receptions and yards this season.
In a baptism by fire, Tuitama and Thomas aren't just surviving - they're excelling in a world where most players their age stand on the sidelines.
Arizona head coach Mike Stoops isn't waiting for the future. In playing Tuitama and Thomas so early with such success, he's ensuring it.