Scott needs to step up for Arizona to move up

September, 17, 2009
9/17/09
7:28
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


A good way to make a young quarterback's life easy is to rush for 318 yards per game.

That success on the ground, however, makes it difficult to reach any conclusions about Arizona quarterback Matt Scott. He's made some good plays with his feet -- his 65.5 yards rushing per game ranks ninth in the conference. And bad plays with his arm -- see two picks and just one touchdown.

While his coaches seem generally satisfied, a visit to Iowa should provide a better measure than home games vs. Central Michigan and Northern Arizona. There's no direction attached to the Hawkeyes.
 
 Chris Morrison/US Presswire
 Matt Scott (4) has made plays with his feet, but Arizona needs its QB to improve his passing.


"I don't think we'll be able to rush for 300 yards," Wildcats offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes said. "So our passing game is going to get tested this week."

Scott has completed 66 percent of his throws, but has rarely looked downfield. Part of that isn't his fault. His two best receivers, Delashaun Dean and tight end Rob Gronkowski, have battled injuries. Gronkowski, who led the Wildcats with 10 touchdowns last year, will miss the Iowa game because his back is still bothering him.

"I've been really impressed with his poise and his leadership skills," coach Mike Stoops said. "He's managed the team very well. I think he's made good decisions for the most part. He can make a lot of big throws. We just missed on a couple of them. He throws the ball well and he's been very accurate for the most part. I don't see anything I don't like in Matt at this point. Obviously, the competition will get much stiffer as we move through the season."

What Scott hasn't been able to do is cement his status as the starter. Backup Nick Foles is still in the picture. Foles looked sharp completing 6 of 8 passes for 44 yards and a touchdown against Northern Arizona, and he may see spot action at Iowa, particularly if the Wildcats offense stalls against a rugged Hawkeyes defense that welcomes back eight starters from a crew that ranked ninth in the nation last year against the run (94 yards per game).

It's worth noting, however, that Iowa State rushed for 190 yards against the Hawkeyes last weekend, with five interceptions doing in the Cyclones in during a 35-3 defeat.

It's unlikely the Wildcats will be able to go into rowdy Kinnick Stadium, run Nic Grigsby 40 times and win the game. They will need to throw. Scott, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound sophomore, believes that won't be a problem. He said his offense has a few more tricks up its sleeve and a lot more plays in the playbook.

"We haven't really opened much stuff up yet," he said. "We've been relying on the run game. We're really close on a lot of passes. We're going to get it done."

This will be Scott's first road start, and Kinnick isn't the most hospitable environment. It will be a challenge to communicate with his team, and the Wildcats offense requires a fair amount of communication due to a variety of checks the quarterback is responsible for at the line of scrimmage.

Scott said he's not worried about crowd noise.

"I'm good at blocking that stuff out," he said. "I don't worry about fans or stuff around me. I just worry about stuff on the field."

Scott also said he's fine if he has to share time with Foles.

"Whatever works for the team, that's alright for me," he said. "As long as we get that W, it doesn't matter to me who goes in or how long they go in."

One of the big stories of the week has been the return of Stoops and his brother Mark, Arizona's defensive coordinator, to their alma mater. Both played defensive back for the Hawkeyes and then-coach Hayden Fry.

Stoops has waved away the sentimental angle for the most part. "I'm not real nostalgic about it," he said.

That's because the Wildcats could make a big leap forward as a program with a win.

While they won eight games last year and won their first bowl game since 1998, Pac-10 media picked the Wildcats eighth in the conference's preseason poll.

Some apparently still have doubts about the trajectory of the program.

Winning at Iowa would earn the Wildcats national attention -- perhaps a national ranking? -- and would build up confidence as they head into the conference schedule.

Said Scott: "If we can pull this out, we can send a message to everybody that we can do a lot more than what we have in the past. I think we have the team to do it."

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