SIX QUESTIONS WITH RYAN FINLEY, ARIZONA DAILY STAR
While we know more than we'd like to about Lute Olson's hoops team, Arizona football is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, stuffed into a tasty burrito with salsa verde. Who are these Wildcats? What has happened to their vaunted recruiting classes of the past two seasons? How do they plan to contain Cal's wide-open attack? Why does Mike Stoops keep yelling?
Why so angry?
With this in mind, Tightwad Hill's crack editorial staff recently exchanged thoughts with Ryan Finley, who covers Wildcat football for the Arizona Daily Star. Ryan is a real journalist who writes for a legitimate newspaper, so this is big league for us. We thought you would enjoy his responses to these questions:
TH: Almost three years into the Mike Stoops era, the Cats are 10-21. What's the mood in Tucson? How much rope does Stoops have left with Cats fans and the UofA administration?
RF: Honestly, I think Stoops has at least another year before people start complaining. He will almost certainly replace his offensive coordinator after this season, if not some more offensive coaches. But Stoops has captured this area's imagination — they're on pace to set all-time attendance record — and is a popular man among alumni and boosters. They won't pull the plug — yet.
TH: Last week's Arizona win in Pullman was an absolute shocker. Have the Cats turned a corner, or was that game an aberration?
RF: That's the big question here, and elsewhere, following Saturday's win. Arizona did the little things right — they ran the ball effectively, made a few big plays and forced a coupla turnovers — and caught WSU flat. I have a feeling that we'll know after this Saturday if Arizona's got anything going or not.
TH: What has changed in the team's offensive approach since Stoops elevated Dana Dimel to co-coordinator? Do Dimel and Canales really share play-calling duties and if so, how has that worked out?
RF: Dana Dimel calls most of the plays, because Arizona is now running about 70 percent of the time. A lot of their newfound conservativism has to do with the change at the top, though there is a contingent of people who believe that Canales would have been very successful had Willie Tuitama not suffered those concussions this year.
TH: Willie Tuitama has had two concussions this year (suffered a month apart). I read Greg Hansen's piece urging Stoops to shut him down for the year, and I found it persuasive. What is the thinking behind his return to the lineup? Is it indicative of the pressure Stoops is under to show progress this year? Is the backup QB situation that bleak?
RF: I think Willie came back because he — and his family — wanted him to. Nothing more. Stoops and Arizona's team doctors brought in experts to make sure Tuitama was cleared to go. I don't think Stoops is under a ton of pressure this season, to be honest, but I think he's under some pressure to keep his quarterback happy (especially with the possible coaching departures). The backup situation is solid, despite what some think. Adam Austin's solid as a No. 2 guy, and No. 3 guy Kris Heavner has 15 career starts.
TH: Who are three Wildcats (other than Tuitama) that Cal fans should watch Saturday?
RF: Let's see: Chris Henry, RB — The junior from Stockton set a school record with 35 carries against WSU. Spencer Larsen, LB — The Cats' middle 'backer is first-team all- conference quality. He's hard to ignore. Dominic Patrick, S — The heir apparent to former UA great Darrell Brooks, Patrick is a jarring hitter with a killer instinct.
TH: You're defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. Cal is bringing the conference's top offense to town - how do you scheme to shut down Cal's skill people on the perimeter?
RF: The key is to keep them off the field. If Arizona can run well, move the chains and kill some clock, the Cats will be fine. If not, it could be a long day. Oh, and Arizona shouldn't let DeSean Jackson return a single punt.
Our thanks to Ryan for his insight into StoopsWorld, and our best wishes to him for a clean, injury-free game. Go Bears!