PULLMAN – Mike Stoops knows how lucky he is.
He has Nick Foles as his quarterback.
“Nick’s what, 75 percent completions? I don’t think you’re going to see that in many places with the amount of yards he has,” the Arizona coach said this week. “He’s a very accurate thrower. He can make all the different throws and that gives you a lot of variety in your offense.”
Foles’ accuracy is uncanny at times. Last season, his first as the Wildcats’ starter, he connected on 260 of 409 passes, a 63.6 completion percentage.
And he’s been better in UA’s 4-1 start this year, which has thrust the Wildcats into the national consciousness, even earning them a season-best national ranking of ninth going into last week’s 29-27 home defeat to Oregon State.
Coming into Saturday’s game at Washington State, the junior from Austin, Texas, has hit 137 of 183 passes. That’s a 74.9 completion percentage, one of the best in the nation. Those completions have been good for 1,529 yards and nine touchdowns.
“You’ve got to make sure you don’t give (Foles) a lot of easy throws, he is such a high percentage guy,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said. “He takes what you give him, he does a great job in that area. They protect him well enough where you can’t get consistent pressure on him to maybe throw his timing off or his rhythm.”
That timing and rhythm has allowed the Wildcats to lead the Pac-10 in passing yardage (328.6 per game) and rank third in passing efficiency (a rating of 156.4).
Junior Juron Criner has been the main recipient of Foles’ accurate throws, having caught 31 passes for 531 yards in five games. He leads the Pac-10 in yards (106.2) and receptions (6.2) per game.
“They have an outstanding passing attack, probably the most mature passing attack in the conference,” Wulff said. “Nick Foles is a veteran player, they’ve got outstanding receivers and they have enough running game – they have great speed at tailback to keep you honest.
“Right now, nobody in this conference throws the ball as well as Arizona.”
So how do you handle that?
“You’ve got to be patient and realize they’re going to move the ball because they’re going to,” Wulff said. “They are going to make their yards, they’re going to score some points. We’ve just got to be real disciplined and have a short memory.”
Around the conference
Oregon State coach Mike Riley believes the Beavers will overcome the loss of star senior receiver James Rodgers, whose season ended last week against Arizona with a knee injury. “This guy is the heart and soul of our team,” Riley said. “It’s really disappointing for everybody. But we’ve played one game without him already, so someone will have to step up. Nobody is going to panic, nobody’s going to blink, they’ll just go forward and get ready to play the Huskies.” … Can anyone go undefeated in this conference this season? Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh thinks “it would be a high degree of difficulty, but Oregon has a shot at it.” … Though the Ducks don’t have a game this week, coach Chip Kelly made it clear they are not taking the week off. They are practicing all week, and those practices are closed. In fact, Kelly wouldn’t even answer whether or not Kenjon Barner was at practice. “I’m not talking about that,” Kelly said. “Practice is closed, that’s why we closed it. … I thought that’s what our football team needed, so we don’t have to deal with questions like this.” Asked what is behind the strategy of shielding his players, Kelly said, “We don’t shield our team, I think our kids can read whatever they want to read, we don’t talk about that.” … Four teams in the conference have byes this week, which leads to the usual does it come at a good time or bad time question. Credit UCLA’s Rick Neuheisel for having the most down-to-earth answer. “Well, it comes,” he said. “We don’t get to decide. We’ve got to make it good.” … Dennis Erickson had a bit different take and it has to do with the Saturday before. “It’s like anything,” ASU’s coach said, “When you come off a win, it’s a lot more fun to practice.” The Sun Devils defeated UW 24-14 last week. … California struggled the first time it faced the pistol offense, losing big at Nevada. The second time the Bears were ready, and shut down UCLA last Saturday 35-7. “The experience at Nevada made us focus on some different things,” coach Jeff Tedford said.