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Football notes: Willie's first wobbles

Jacob Konst/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Freshman quarterback Willie Tuitama tries to tackle a Washington defender who had just intercepted a pass during Saturday's game at Arizona Stadium. Tuitama threw three interceptions and lost two fumbles in the Wildcats' 38-14 loss to Washington.
By Kyle Kensing
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
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After Husky thumping, frosh phenom Tuitama focusing on Devils

The pedestal was built so high, one couldn't help but feel that when freshman quarterback Willie Tuitama finally did have a bad game, it would be a long fall.

Tuitama suffered his worst outing in four appearances on Saturday at Arizona Stadium, throwing three interceptions and losing two fumbles in the Arizona football team's 38-14 loss to Washington.

"He got a little confused and made some young errors," Arizona head coach Mike Stoops said after Saturday's game. "Willie's not invincible by any stretch of the imagination."

Despite connecting with freshman wide receiver Mike Thomas on Arizona's first possession and senior running back Gilbert Harris in the second quarter for his seventh and eighth career touchdown passes, respectively, Tuitama never quite found his rhythm while facing a blitz-heavy Washington defense.

"We realize that he's a freshman quarterback," said Washington cornerback Josh Okoebor, who in the fourth quarter came away with one of Huskies' three picks. "We know it's hard to come in as a Pac-10 quarterback as an 18-year-old freshman, and we took advantage."

To say Washington took advantage of Arizona's mistakes is putting it mildly.

The Huskies turned the five Wildcat turnovers into 21 points, including a 42-yard interception return for a score by cornerback Roy Lewis.

"We tried to confuse and rattle (Tuitama)," Lewis said. "We disguised several coverages and played mind games with him."

It was a rough night for a young man who, in three previous appearances and two starts, accumulated 721 yards on 45-of-80 passing and six touchdowns, not to mention two Arizona wins.

"Their defensive line was really aggressive, much more so than last week," said Tuitama, who the previous week had 204 yards on 14-of-24 passing in helping engineer a 52-14 rout of UCLA.

"He missed a couple throws," said Arizona offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Canales. "He didn't spread. He tried to force the ball where we shouldn't have, and (the Washington defense) baited him into (an interception) and he didn't see it.

"That happens, it's part of growing as a quarterback," he said.

While the game was part of Tuitama's continuing maturation process, Washington head coach Tyrone Willingham used it to sharpen his defense's collective teeth.

Canales said when Tuitama attempted to change calls at the line of scrimmage, the Husky defense was able to adjust fast enough to disrupt the new play.

"It's a learning experience," Stoops said. "Everyone has bad games."

Tuitama said he hopes to turn Saturday's negative into positives Nov. 25 when Arizona travels to ASU for the annual Territorial Cup matchup, the team's final game of 2005.

"I just couldn't get it done," he said. "I put the loss on my shoulders. We'll have to work harder over the next two weeks to get ready for ASU."

Despite the difficult loss, Tuitama's teammates said they have faith in his ability to return to his prior form against the Sun Devils.

"Willie's a great kid, and he has a lot of potential," said senior running back Mike Bell. "I know he can play better than he played (Saturday), and I'm going to be behind him no matter what happens."

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