Things are going well for Arizona's offense, which is saying something because it lost its starting quarterback when Nick Foles when down with a knee injury against Washington State.
But backup Matt Scott came off the bench and won Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Week for his performance against Washington, and now it appears that Foles won't be out long. He's questionable, but traveling with the team to UCLA on Saturday.
So things are feeling pretty good in Tucson. It's also not so bad to have the Pac-10's best defense. And to be ranked 15th and still in the Rose Bowl race, with a marquee game at Stanford looming on Nov. 6.
While there might have been some preseason concerns about coach Mike Stoops using co-coordinators on both sides of the ball, those are now gone.
Seth Littrell calls the offensive plays for the Wildcats, which requires a bit of tweaking for Scott, so it seemed like a good time to check in.
First of all, the offensive numbers are good, so the co-coordinator arrangement seems to be working well: Have their been any surprises in the dynamic that you didn't see coming?
Seth Littrell: No. [Offensive line coach and co-coordinator Bill] Bedenbaugh and I have been together a long time. We have a lot of the same philosophies. Our backgrounds are very similar. We're very close, on and off the football field. Nothing's changed. It's been a great relationship, not only with him but also with the rest of our staff. We are a pretty tight- knit group. We worked together and game-plan together. So there really haven't been any surprises.
You've had some struggles running the ball and protecting the QB: What's going on there?
SL: Early on, we got put in some bad situations, with penalties that put us in a lot of second and third-and-long situations, which we really had to work on. Also protection issues have involved a little bit of everybody. It hasn't been one individual group or one individual player. It's been the group as a whole. Some of it's been the offensive line. Some of it's been the running backs, missing a blitz. Some of it's been the quarterback hanging onto the ball too long, or not getting the right read. We've had to work on that the last couple of weeks and get it fixed. It's really been holding us back. With the running game, we just need to do a better job with the running backs and the offensive line up coming off the line and blocking. Also the O-line got us into the secondary a number of times and we haven't done a great job of making the safeties miss. This past week [against Washington] we did a better job of that. And also we can call a little more [running plays]. When stuff is just not going great, you've still got have confidence in the running game. So it's a little bit on everybody's part. But I think this past week, we did a lot better job of sort of hanging our hat on some of the run stuff, especially with Matt in the game. That opens up the run a little bit more because they've also got to account for him.
Tell me your first thoughts when QB Nick Foles goes down and clutches his knee?
SL: I felt bad for Nick, but I wasn't worried about [backup Matt Scott]. I've said this more than once: I have a lot of faith in Matt and what he brings to the table. He had a really good camp and spring. He came in with a lot of confidence. A lot of people don't understand, that really was a tight race for that job. We have a lot of confidence in Matt. I know he brings a little different dynamic to the game than what Foles brings. They both have their strengths and weaknesses. But we feel very comfortable with Matt, and we probably should've gotten him into the game a little bit more when Nick was playing than we did. I knew that Matt was very capable of coming in and leading this team.
Update me on Foles' status: Any chance he plays at UCLA?
SL: There is a possibility. We're day-to-day on that. I think he feels pretty good. His rehab is going well. Whether he plays on Saturday, we'll just have to see how things progress during the week [Littrell was speaking on Wednesday].
So if Matt Scott is lights-out versus the Bruins, does Foles still automatically return as the starter when he's healthy?
SL: The way I look at it is Foles won the job and it's his job. Due to injury, Matt obviously came in and had a great game this past week. Obviously, I think he is going to have a nice game again this week. But when Foles gets healthy and comes back he will become the starter again. But what this does is, now, you really find ways to use Matt in each and every game. Like I said, we probably should've played him a little bit more early on -- getting some different packages for him. It may be a situation where you could see them both in the game at the same time. Who knows?
That was going to be my next question: Some guys don't like to play two quarterbacks. So, with these complementary sets of skills, you feel comfortable playing two guys?
SL: Absolutely. Neither one of them has an ego. That's the biggest thing. If you looked at Foles the other night, he was rooting Matt on. They compete against each other, but at the same time, and they understand this is a business and this is a job and we do what's best for the offense. I think both of them have handled it very well. And they are going to continue to handle it very well. They are both great players. When Nick gets back in and is healthy, he'll be the starter. And everybody has to be ready to play at any given moment. So, that doesn't mean that just because Nick is starter we won't use Matt.
Seems like Keola Antolin has become your No. 1 running back: What does he do well?
SL: He does everything more consistently right now. Early on, he wasn't as consistent as I would've liked. The past couple of games he's really showed up. Right now, he's probably the most consistent running back I have. Whenever you're putting a guy out there and you're asking him to do a lot of different things and that's the guy you want. A guy you can trust, play after play, to do the right thing. You're right. As of right now, he deserves to play a little bit more. You've got to put the team in the best position to win. As of right now, Keola brings a lot to the table.
I've seen so many big plays this year from receiver Juron Criner: How good can he be?
SL: (Laughs) Really good. He's been banged up a little bit this year. We've just got to keep him on the field as much as possible. Even when he's not making plays, he's a threat. You always have to account for Juron. He's had some great catches for us and some great games. He's made a couple plays down the stretch when we really needed him. He's just got to continue to practice hard, try to stay healthy, and play fast every week. When he plays fast and is on top of his game, he's one of the best in the country. We've got to continue to find different ways to get him the football. And at the same time, we've got spread it around, too. Some other guys have stepped up. We've got to continue to get our other receivers to make plays. We you spread the ball around, you can't focus on one guy. But, yeah, Juron is as good as they come when he's on.
Where do you need to improve to take the offense to the proverbial next level?
SL: This past week we had great balance. You always got have great balance between the run game in the pass game. You want to spread the ball to as many different positions as you can. You don't want to be one-dimensional in the pass game or one-dimensional in the run game. You don't want to be always throwing to one guy or giving it to one guy. As long as we continue to spread the ball around and play fast the great tempo, I think that will be the biggest thing. You want a great balance. And I'm not talking about a great balance that has to be 50-50 run-pass. I'm talking about a great balance of spreading the ball around to as many different positions as we can, in as many different ways as we can.