We’re in Tucson after avoiding the overturned car in the median of Interstate 10 - everyone looked OK as far as I could tell. Other than that one car, everyone was doing their age – which was about 80. Anyhow, we’re here and here is the unedited version of our advance – on Jeff Tuel’s return to his boyhood home – and our game-day items. Read on.
• So here’s the advance …
TUCSON – No, not everyone in Tucson is a University of Arizona fan.
Jeff Tuel wasn’t.
Tuel, who spent his formative years in the high desert community, was a football fan, sure, but not necessarily a Wildcat booster.
“I probably was when I was younger, but I wasn’t like a true, die-hard fan,” he said this week.
“I always dreamed of playing Division I football, so I guess (I dreamt) of playing on that field,” said Tuel, who has fulfilled the first part of that dream and will start his fifth game at quarterback for Washington State today when the Cougars face UA in a Pac-10 matchup.
“But I never grew up saying ‘I want to be a Wildcat.’ I just wanted to make it, to play at that level,”
That’s not to say Tuel didn’t follow the Wildcats – “I’ve probably been to over 200 games in my lifetime,” he said, including all sports – or play on the Arizona Stadium field.
“I actually played a Pop Warner game on there at halftime,” he said.
Tuel lived in Tucson until the summer following ninth grade at Salpointe Catholic. That’s when his dad, also Jeff, took a job as a general manager of Fresno, Calif., irrigation company.
WSU’s freshman quarterback left a few friends behind, including Mike Descisciolo, a first-year walk-on with the Cats.
“After my senior year of high school I visited some friends down there for a few days,” said Tuel, who finished his high school career at Clovis West on the outskirts of Fresno. “It all looked the same. Drove by my old house. I can still maneuver my way through the town just fine.”
Now Tuel will try to maneuver the Cougars (1-7 overall, 0-5 in Pac-10 play) past the 21st-ranked Wildcats (5-2, 3-1) and snap WSU’s five-game losing streak.
At least he’s in a town he’s experienced success.
“Our Pop Warner league was extremely competitive,” Tuel said, smiling. “We won a city championship down there – my dad was the coach – my sixth grade, seventh grade year. That was pretty cool.”
• And here are the game-day items …
Washington State at Arizona
Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. (PST), Arizona Stadium
TV: FSN (delayed at 7:30 p.m.)
Radio: KXLY 920-AM
• Tale of the tape
Washington State Cougars
Record: 0-5 Pac-10, 1-7 Overall
Coach: Paul Wulff, second season
Record: 3-1 Pac-10, 5-2 Overall
Coach: Mike Stoops, sixth season
Arizona 59, WSU 28
Last week: WSU lost to Notre Dame, 40-14
Arizona had a bye; defeated UCLA 27-13, Oct. 24
Series: Arizona leads 23-13
• The matchups
When the Cougars run: When you are only averaging 76.2 yards a game on the ground, the truth is you can’t run the ball on anyone. And it’s certainly not going to be much different in Tucson. The Wildcats’ rush defense is second in the conference, yielding 101.3 yards a game. Even Stanford, which seems to run the ball on everyone, could only generate 150 yards on 40 carries. And that’s the most the Cats have yielded. Expect to hear the name of linebacker Xavier Kelley often. He leads UA with 46 tackles. EDGE: Arizona
When the Cougars pass: Once again the key will be protecting quarterback Jeff Tuel. Don’t expect the freshman to pass through unscathed. Arizona has 18 sacks, 5.5 of them from defensive end Ricky Elmore coming off the edge. If Tuel does have time, he might want to avoid cornerback Trevin Wade’s side of the field. The 5-foot-11, 182-pound sophomore has four interceptions, tops on UA. The Wildcats are a little undersized at the corners, so expect to see more of Tuel trying to find Jared Karstetter on fades. EDGE: Arizona
When the Wildcats run: Arizona may not have leading rusher – and WSU killer – Nic Grigsby today as the junior nurses a sore shoulder back to health. But don’t shed a tear for the Wildcats. They will replace him with Keola Antolin, who is averaging 5.2 yards per carry. The Cougars’ rush defense takes a hit this week with the absence of safety Chima Nwachukwu (sprained ankle), who has turned into a sure tackler and is second on the team in that category. Defensive end Jesse Feagin (broken hand) won’t be available either. EDGE: Arizona
When the Wildcats pass: For the second consecutive week, the Cougars are facing a productive passing team led by a hot quarterback. Sophomore Nick Foles took over the starting the spot in the season’s third week and has been exceptional, posting a 147.55 passing efficiency rating, second in the conference. The Cougars have been at their best when there is a push up front, but the Arizona offensive line – another big group, averaging 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds – has yielded a conference-low four sacks as Foles gets rid of the ball in a hurry. He has, however, thrown five interceptions. EDGE: Arizona
Coaching/intangibles: Arizona has never been to the Rose Bowl. But, as the calendar turns to November, the Wildcats control their fate. Win out and they have a date in Pasadena. All they have to do is defeat WSU, Cal, Oregon, ASU and USC. Which one of those games would be easy to overlook? But Mike Stoops has built a tough team in his six years in Tucson. A few years ago the Cats might have let down. That’s changed. They know what’s at stake. Besides it’s homecoming and the stadium should be rocking. EDGE: Arizona
Flood control channels: Drive across Tucson – north to south or east to west, it really doesn’t matter – and you’ll notice something. The roads you are traveling have a dual purpose. They also serve to move rainwater. When thunderstorms blow up in the desert, at they do all year around, they really blow up and the ensuing downpours have a tendency to wash the planet clean. Flooding can be a problem in the Palouse too, but it’s usually just a week or two in the early spring. But, thanks to a well-engineered system – especially in downtown Colfax – there’s usually nothing to worry about. EDGE: Arizona
• 3 things to watch
Keys to today’s Washington State-Arizona matchup
1. Arizona off the edge: The Wildcat defenders can run. Other than Oregon, this might be the quickest group of defensive players Washington State will play. From defensive end Ricky Elmore, with his 5.5 sacks, to cornerback Trevin Wade and his four interceptions, this group will put pressure on you from every angle imaginable. Think you want to negate the speed with draws? Well that brings tackle Earl Mitchell into play. Though not huge (6-foot-2, 295 pounds), Mitchell clogs the middle and has a team-high 5.5 tackles for loss, including 3.5 sacks.
2. How long it takes Nick Foles to throw the ball: Arizona tries to do everything quick, and the passing game is no exception. Offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes loves the screen game with the wide receivers, so expect to see the quick hitter to a wide out heading back to the middle or sliding back off the line of scrimmage at least once or twice every possession. That’s why Terrell Turner has a team-high 35 catches but only 332 yards. The long handoffs, which is another way of describing the screen attack, usually can be contained for short gains. But miss a tackle or two and it’s off to the end zone.
3. The heat: It’s supposed to cool down in Tucson today, with the high temperature only predicted to hit 84. Which is about 40 degrees warmer than what WSU has been practicing in this week. If the defense gets stuck on the field for 40 minutes, like it did against Notre Dame, the heat will probably melt the group, especially considering the lack of depth – seven players on the original two-deep are out. The offense needs to avoid a series of three-and-outs to give the defense some rest.
• 3 names to know
ARIZONA MIDDLE LINEBACKER
The middle linebacker is key in Mike Stoops’ defensive schemes, and the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Tuihalamaka fits right in. Ranging from sideline to sideline, the Inglewood, Calif., native not only is key to Arizona’s rushing defense (yielding 101.3 yards per game, second in the Pac-10) but also runs well enough to be a factor in pass defense as well. Tuihalamaka, a senior who played at El Camino CC, has broken up three passes and picked off another. He’s also second on the team with 44 tackles, including 2.5 behind the line of scrimmage.
With usual starting safety Chima Nwachukwu out with a sprained ankle, the redshirt freshman from Lake Oswego, Ore., is stepping in. Matthews spent his first year on campus with the scout team then missed much of the spring and summer recovering from a shoulder injury suffered last season. He wasn’t cleared to begin fully hitting until a month into fall camp but by then had already impressed WSU coaches with his ability to learn quickly. At 6-1 and 207 pounds, Matthews is still growing – and growing into the safety role. In limited action during six games, he’s made six tackles.
Coming out of high school in Austin, Texas, Foles orginially was headed up the road to Arizona State. But when coach Dirk Koetter was fired, Foles decided to attend Michigan State. The cold weather wasn’t for him, however, so he transferred to Arizona. When the season started, he was behind Matt Scott, who was more of a running quarterback. But the 6-5, 235-pound Foles took over in the season’s third game and hasn’t let go, completing 72.3 percent of his passes for 1,399 yards and 11 touchdowns.
• This and that from today’s game …
WSU will start its sixth different offensive line grouping today, with freshman Tyson Pencer back at left tackle. The other four started the season together. … The Cougars brought five freshman defenders who are redshirting on their first trip. The group is expected to have an impact next season, so the coaching staff wanted to help them get acclimated to the road. There are three defensive backs – Nolan Washington, Anthony Carpenter and Casey Locker – and two defensive linemen – Jordan Pu’u Robinson and Justin Clayton. … The last WSU win in this series was in 2004. That was its fourth consecutive against UA. … The Wildcats are 14th in the nation in total offense and are tied with Stanford for the Pac-10 lead in time of possession. … WSU has forced 20 turnovers this season, second-most in the conference. But the Cougars’ 22 – 10 fumbles and 12 interceptions – are tops in the Pac-10. … The game is being broadcast live on Fox College Sports Atlantic. Check your listings.
• That’s it for today. We’ll be back in the morning with our usual game-day stuff. Have a great Friday night. Until then …