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April 24, 2007After seven wins, the most important number for Arizona football in 2007 will be 31.
That's how many quarterback sacks the Wildcats allowed last season, some of which contributed to Willie Tuitama suffering a concussion that severely limited his effectiveness.
And make no mistake, Tui is the straw that stirs Arizona's margarita.
If the Cats are to get an elusive seventh win to reach their first bowl game since 1998, it will surely be with Tui in an upright position.
One figures Mike Stoops weighed Tui's health factor heavily when choosing Texas Tech assistant Sonny Dykes as his new offensive coordinator.
Consider for a moment that Arizona's 31 sacks came in 387 called passing plays ? or an average of one sack for every 12.5 pass plays.
Operating in a system that calls for quick passes, Tech quarterbacks went down a mere 19 times last season on 675 pass plays ??? or once every 35.5 plays. Big difference.
In retooling the offense, Stoops jettisoned all but one offensive assistant coach. Second to Dykes on the importance scale is new line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, whose troops are charged with keeping Tui off his back.
If there is one lynchpin to the Cats' offensive success, it lies up front.
In addition to the aforementioned low sack total, Tech got 6.1 yards per carry and 10 touchdowns from sophomore running back Shannon Woods in 2006. And that balance is needed if the UA is to make any sort of noise in the Pac-10.
Arizona was ninth in the Pac-10 at 2.7 yards per rush in 2006, a figure that ranked among the worst in the nation.
The inability to move on the ground put an even more emphasis on a one-dimensional aerial attack, particularly as the offense played "behind the chains" time and time again. Arizona's poor third-down success was a direct result of failure in trying to run on first and second downs.
That said, the crosshairs are squarely on Tuitama.
Spring practice was the first step in rejuvenating the offense. Dykes' system, while relying on the pass, won't fully resemble the wide-open attack employed by his former boss, Mike Leach, at Texas Tech.
A defensive-minded head coach like Stoops will never allow 70 passes a game for two reasons:
1) Throwing that much lengthens the game. Arizona's defense, while one of the most veteran in the league, cannot afford to spend all afternoon on the field. The depth simply is not there yet.
2) Tuitama's delicate health is such that one severe blow to the head could be a season- or career-ending injury. Stoops would never subject his star passer to excessive risk.
Don't expect overnight success from Tui.
Quick reads don't seem to suit his dropback style. And remember, he's learning new terminology under a new coach and with largely new receivers.
Tui deserves a break-in period. Here's hoping that he's not broken during it.