Pac-10 Q&A: Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes


Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes has transformed the Arizona offense since coach Mike Stoops hired him away from Texas Tech in 2007.

But the Wildcats began 2009 with questions on offense due to the departure of quarterback Willie Tuitama -- a three-plus year starter -- receiver Mike Thomas and offensive tackle Eben Britton.

Matt Scott won the quarterback competition over fellow sophomore Nick Foles, but it was close and Foles is still in the picture.

The Wildcats opened with two efficient victories, but the offense played conservatively, leaning on a running attack that is averaging a stout 306 yards per contest and a stout defense.

But a visit to Iowa will pose a far tougher test on Saturday. It's unlikely the Wildcats can just line up and run right at the Hawkeyes.

Seemed like a good time to check in with Dykes and see where things stand.

Tell me how things are going at quarterback, starting with Matt Scott?

Sonny Dykes: He's made good progress so far. It's kind of been weird because we had a lead early in both games and have been pretty content to try to hold onto the ball and run it and try not to put too much on those guys right now. So he's done a good job doing that. We're completing a pretty high percentage of our throws. We haven't gotten the ball down the field a ton yet but we really haven't had to. So he's done a good job of executing what we've done. We've got to continue to improve our downfield passing game. But part of that has been we've had some guys injured and been a little bit slower than I would like to all get on the same page. Not having [tight end Rob] Gronkowski hurts us a bunch as far as getting it down the field. And Chris Gronkowski has been banged up. It's just been kind of slow to all come together.

When do you think you'll get something out of Gronkowski [this was asked before it was announced Wednesday that Gronkowski wouldn't play at Iowa]?

SD: It's still kind of wait-and-see. It's one of those deals where we'll see how he handles practice. We're trying to get him more and more into practice every day and see how he can handle it. The thing with him is you don't want to rush him back because I think it's one of those deals when if you rush him back too fast he may be out for a long time. It's that balancing act of really wanting him back and not wanting [him to get hurt worse]. It's one of those $50 in your pocket now or $200 in your pocket two weeks from now. Sometimes it's hard to pass up that $50 but you know that $200 in better.

With the injuries and the way games have gone, do you feel like maybe Iowa hasn't seen everything you've got in your bag of tricks?

SD: Yeah, I definitely thing so. We've had some stuff on the game plan the last couple of weeks that we didn't have to call. We felt like the game wasn't in jeopardy. So I think we have a couple of things they haven't seen. But we're one of those "we do what we do" type of teams. We're not a big trick-you outfit. But I think it will be a little different, little nuances here and there.

Tell me about the Iowa defense. Give me the scouting report of what you've seen on film from them.

SD: When I was at Texas Tech we played them in a bowl game [2001 Alamo Bowl; Iowa won 19-16] way back when and they look the same, really. They are very big. It's weird. It's like the same team every year. They lose guys but they replace them with the same type of guys. They're big guys. They're well-coached. They almost dare you to run the football because they are so big up front. They don't give up big plays. They rally to the ball and tackle. They've got a good formula for winning games. Their offense shortens the game and keeps the ball away from you and the defense makes you execute the length of the field to get the ball into the end zone. And when you get into short yardage situations against those guys, they are tough to run it against. They've got a good formula. They know what they are doing. They're tough. They make you earn everything you get.

You guys have almost become a Big Ten team, though, with the running game. You guys seem comfortable getting physical with people up front.

SD: It all starts with our offensive line. That's the strength of our offense. Those guys are playing extremely well. It's a solid group. I think they are very confident and secure in what they are doing in both pass protection and run blocking. We've got a good fullback -- Chris Gronkowski does a nice job blocking for us. Those guys up front have been really solid. That's a group we can rely on. Our receivers are good, but they've been a little bit banged up. The worst thing you can do is put the game in a young quarterback's hands when you're playing somebody you feel like you can beat. So our approach has been to run it and rely on the guys who have done it before and who are playing well and that's been our offensive line and [running back] Nic Grigsby. We've got to continue to develop our passing game and quarterbacks. I think those guys will play well. I think we're going to have to throw the ball better against Iowa than we have to this point. I don't think we'll be able to rush for 300 yards. So our passing game is going to get tested this week.

And Grigsby?

SD: Nic has done a nice job running. He's done a good job of sticking the ball up in there more. He's had a lot fewer negative plays that he used to. But that just comes from experience and understanding there are times you've got to stick it up in there and get the filthy three yards. And also being more selective when he tries to cut it back and get some of those big plays. The thing with him is he's just got to keep doing it over and over again and the big plays will come.

You mentioned being young at quarterback. Road games can be tough on them. How have you prepared Matt for what he might face at Iowa?

SD: We're in the process of doing that. I think the big thing is communication. That's an area you've really got to be solid in. It starts with me to the coaches on the sideline to the quarterback to the quarterback to the offensive line and receivers and everybody else. That's what you deal with on the road. You've got to overcommunicate almost so everybody understands what's going on. In our offense, we've got a lot of checks and that type of thing so everyone needs to know what's going on. And a big thing too is not panicking. What happens sometimes on the road is you have that uncomfortable feeling, especially when you've never been there before. When things tend to go bad, which is going to happen in every football game, it tests your ability to handle it and not worry about it and move on. We've got to understand it's going to be a pretty short game in terms of possessions and we've got to make sure we maximize every possession we get.

Is the plan to view Nick Foles as a little more than a backup quarterback and to play him no matter what in this game?

SD: Yeah. But I think you have to have a feel for it. I think at times it's good for your starting quarterback to maybe get on the sidelines a little bit and have a chance to watch the game. I think it's a good problem to have that you have two guys who are playing well enough that you've got confidence in both of them. Some people view playing two quarterbacks as neither of the guys are any good. But I think in our case we've got two good players who do different things. Matt gives us something different than Nick does, so I think there's a time and place for both of them.