2005 Arizona Footall Season Review: Youth, depth gives football reasons for hope

By Charles Renning
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, November 30, 2005

On paper, year two of head coach Mike Stoops' time with the Arizona football team looked a lot like year one.

The Wildcats finished 3-8, with one win over a top-25 opponent, one win over Division I-AA Northern Arizona, two Pacific 10 Conference wins, a handful of close calls and tons of starters coming back the next season.

Still, don't tell Stoops that they were the same.

"We're a 10-times-better football team than we were a year ago," he said after the team's 23-20 loss to ASU Friday. "We're a lot closer than we were at any point last year. I can say that losing."

Arizona closed out last season beating then-No. 18 ASU 34-28 and had a high point to end the season on.

This year, while the Wildcats lost the battle for the Territorial Cup, Stoops said his team is better off because of its depth.

"That's something we didn't have two years ago," Stoops said. "I like our youth on this team. We have some quality young players who just need an opportunity."

A lot of those players got a chance to play this season and shined for Arizona.

Wildcats in wins, losses

2005 record: 3-8 (2-6 Pacific 10 Conference)

Sept. 2 at Utah 27-24 (L)
Sept. 10 NAU 31-12 (W)
Sept. 17 Purdue 31-24 (L)
Oct. 1 at California 28-0 (L)
Oct. 8 at USC 42-21 (L)
Oct. 15 Stanford 20-16 (L)
Oct. 22 Oregon 28-21 (L)
Oct. 29 at OSU 29-27 (W)
Nov. 5 UCLA 52-14 (W)
Nov. 12 Washington 38-14 (L)
Nov. 25 at ASU 23-20 (L)

Freshmen quarterback Willie Tuitama and wide receiver Mike Thomas led the Arizona offense and gave the Wildcats hope for better things to come in the future.

Tuitama threw for 1,105 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions in five games, while Thomas led the team in catches 52 and receiving yards 771 both Arizona freshman records.

"I wish spring ball started tomorrow, because I'm really excited about what's going to happen and where we're going with this offense," said offensive coordinator Mike Canales.

The Wildcats scored 88 more points than a year ago and averaged more than a touchdown per game more while throwing for 59 yards more per contest.

Stoops and Canales said Tuitama was a big reason for that.

"Willie gives us a chance to be special," Stoops said.

One area that was lacking this season was the Wildcats' ability to hold a lead in the second half.

Arizona outscored its opponents in both the first and second quarters all year, but couldn't out-produce teams in the third and fourth.

On the season, the Wildcats were outscored 161-95 in the second half, and both Mike Stoops and defensive coordinator Mark Stoops said youth played into that.

"Our young guys need to learn how to finish and play four quarters," Mike said.

Added Mike: "We've got to do things better when the game's on the line."

All three coaches agreed that if the team makes strides similar to those seen between last season and this one, the wins will come.

"We've just got to be a hungry, hungry football team, and that's got to carry into the offseason," Mark Stoops said. "We know we can be a good football team. Yeah, we want to win every game, but we know we're getting better."

Arizona will return nine of 11 starters on defense, but will lose leading tackler Darrell Brooks (93) and sacks leader Copeland Bryan (7.5).

The offense, too, will have a small number of shoes to fill, but they leave with a lot of production.

The Wildcats must replace a combined 1,236 rushing yards from seniors Mike Bell (career-high 952) and Gilbert Harris (284).

"I am pleased with the distance we're making. Things will happen," Mike Stoops said. "When we continue to get better, we'll win more consistently.