August 30, 2008

Late Gronkowski TD leads UA over Idaho

Every week this season, GOAZCATS.com will run a simulation of each game that the Arizona Wildcats football team is involved in. The simulation will run on the Xbox 360 version of NCAA Football 2009 by pitting two CPU-controlled teams against each other.

In the first game of the season, the Wildcats - playing without star tight end Rob Gronkowski - overcame a huge deficit and avoided a major upset as they stormed back to defeat the Idaho Vandals by the score of 38-34.

Arizona went down by as many as 20 points in the second half, but scored the final 24 points to earn the victory. After a sloppy first half on both sides of the ball, the Wildcats woke up midway through the third quarter and shut down Idaho for the remainder of the game.

UA quarterback Willie Tuitama completed 20 for 26 passes for 319 yards and three touchdowns in the winning effort.

Tuitama spread the ball around very well against the Vandals. Terrell Turner caught four passes for 107 yards and a touchdown. Mike Thomas caught six passes for 79 yards and Delashaun Dean and Chris Gronkowski also added scores for Arizona.

Backup running back Nick Booth carried the ball 18 times for 68 yards and two touchdowns.

The Wildcats defense - which returns only three starters from the 2007 season - was exposed early by the Vandals' offense. Idaho got the scoring started less than a minute into the contest. Running back Devon Sturdivant took a short pass from quarterback Nathan Enderle and went 48 yards for the score as the Vandals took an early 7-0 lead.

The Wildcats proceeded to go four and out against a very suspect Idaho defense after Arizona failed to convert a first down on fourth and short and the Vandals took advantage by driving down the field for the second straight possession. Arizona held them to just a field goal, but the UA faithful were left stunned at being down two scores early.

Arizona struck back on its second drive when Tuitama hit Turner on an out route. Turner stiff-armed one defender and tumbled his way to a 52-yard touchdown to cut the Vandals lead to 10-7.

However, the Vandals would strike back almost immediately. After taking only four plays to move the ball 35 yards, sophomore running back Deonte Jackson took another short pass from Enderle and split the Arizona defense for a 49-yard touchdown as Idaho went back up by 10.

Idaho appeared to have Arizona on its heels. After Arizona failed to convert a fourth down and short, Enderle marched the Vandals right down the field with little resistance. The drive was capped off by an eight yard touchdown pass to receiver Lee Smith as the Vandals took a commanding 24-7 lead.

Arizona would appear to gain some of the momentum when Tuitama hit A.J. Simmons for a 22-yard completion to put Arizona in the red zone. The Wildcats followed with three consecutive runs Booth - who replaced starter Nicolas Grigsby when Grigsby left the game with a twisted ankle - to cap off the drive with a short touchdown run to cut the lead to 24-14.

Poor kickoff coverage by the Wildcats allowed the Vandals to get in a field goal to end the half and Idaho took a 27-14 lead.

The Wildcats would get the ball to start the second half but again failed on a fourth down and short and gave Idaho the ball right back.

The Vandals struck quickly as Enderle hit Max Komar for a 42-yard touchdown reception to give Idaho its biggest lead at 34-14.

At that point, something must have turned on for the Wildcats.

Devin Ross took the ensuing kickoff nearly to mid-field to set up the Wildcats offense. Tuitama led the offense down the field with several short, quick passes and ended the drive by hitting Dean for a six-yard touchdown as the Wildcats began to see light at the end of the tunnel, cutting the lead to 34-21.

Arizona would stop the Vandals offense quickly and got the ball back down by only two scores with more than half of the fourth quarter remaining.

Despite being down two scores, Arizona stuck with the run. Booth went for consecutive carries of 11, 14 and 10 yards to move the Wildcats offense down the field against an Idaho defense that appeared to show signs of fatigue. Booth concluded the drive by scoring on a yard run as the Wildcats were right back in it, down 34-28.

Once again, the Vandals failed to move down the field against an Arizona defense that suddenly looked like the opposite of what it appeared to be in the first half. UA would get the ball back with the momentum already built.

The Wildcats would receive a boost from a Gronkowski on the following drive. However, this time it was Chris who scored big for Arizona.

With Idaho in a zone, Gronkowski - the seldom-used Wildcats h-back - was able to get open underneath the coverage. Idaho blew the coverage completely and by the time Gronkowski caught the pass there was nothing but daylight ahead of him. He sprinted for a 23-yard touchdown to give Arizona a 35-34 lead.

The Vandals would make the Wildcats sweat as Enderle hit Jackson and Komar on consecutive big plays to put Idaho in Wildcats territory with a little over a minute to go.

However, on the next play Enderle would make a costly mistake when he misread the Arizona defense and was picked off by linebacker Xavier Kelley to end the drive.

The Vandals had trouble stopping Arizona and after a big pass play, Arizona kicked a field goal to give it a 38-34 lead.

Idaho wouldn't get another first down and time would run out on what once appeared to be the makings of a shocking upset.

Arizona took the victory but it was no easy task. After allowing 34 points in just a little over two quarters, the Wildcats' defense woke up and shut down Idaho the rest of the game. With the defense finding its game, Arizona took advantage and scored the final 24 points to steal the victory back from Idaho.

Jason Nimrichter

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