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Extended Highlights of U of A vs. NAU game - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

Extended Highlights of U of A vs. NAU game

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The Arizona Wildcats are gunning for a 2-0 start as they head into their home matchup against Houston this Saturday.  Here are some extended highlights of Arizona's blowout victory over NAU (shot by KVOA's Drew Yaussey & Paul Cicala):

As the Cats prep for Houston in a matchup starting at 7:30 p.m. this Saturday, here's more "fun facts" from the Arizona Athletics staff:

Some Game Themes: In what was expected to be a pivotal non-conference showdown only a couple weeks ago, this week's cat fight between the Cats and Cougars has taken on a new, much more significant, storyline in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey … Houston's opener with Lone Star State rival UTSA was postponed last weekend after the team relocated to Austin and then back home to help begin the relief and cleanup efforts on home soil … For its part, Arizona has organized a charitable drive to fill the football team's equipment semi with items to help in the relief efforts. Following the game Saturday, the Cats' truck will hit the road and tail the Cougars' traveling equipment trailer back to Houston … On the football front, this now becomes the Cougars season opener, which will be good for either an injection of optimism and energy, or maybe a dose of uncertainty and rust … Regardless, this game could go a long way to defining the season for both programs. The Coogs have a first-year head coach, Major Applewhite, who has been with the program as offensive coordinator in recent seasons. They also have a highly talented quarterback in Scottsdale, Ariz., native Kyle Allen, who transferred from Texas A&M. While Allen was not named the starter out of camp, he's the most experienced of the bunch … On the other side, Arizona did not name a starter leading up to its opener, but Brandon Dawkins– a 10-game starter a year ago – started an opener for the first time in his career. Paced by a deep backfield, Dawkins was the leading rusher in what was a 500-yard output on the ground in the 62-24 thumping of Northern Arizona … The Wildcats are one of the youngest teams in the country and it showed last Saturday. A total of 23 freshmen, including 13 true freshmen, played a week ago. Three of the true freshmen started on defense and a fourth took over kickoff duties on special teams … Arizona was never threatened last week, but expects a big time battle this week on the national stage. Houston is an extremely talented team that has four-straight eight-win seasons and an impressive 22 victories over the last two seasons … The home side hopes to energize its home patrons with more big plays like it has produced in the last two games (2016 finale and 2017 opener) with 10-plus yard per play averages … Doing so against an athletic Houston defense will be tough, but the road through the Pac-12 will be equally as tough in the coming weeks … So lace your shoes up, pull those chins straps a little tighter and let's get ready for a big time college football game this Saturday night at Arizona Stadium.

Helping Hands: In response to Hurricane Harvey and the ongoing relief efforts in Texas, Arizona Athletics has called on those in the Tucson and Southern Arizona community to do their part to assist those who have and continue to be affected. Through donations, Arizona Athletics intend to fill the Arizona football equipment truck (a 48-foot, Suddath Relocation Systems semi) with various items this week and drive them to Houston following the football game against the Cougars on Sept. 9. More information on this drive can be found at www.arizonawildcats.com.

Youth Movement: Arizona is surely one of the youngest teams in the Pac-12, if not the country, entering 2017. The Wildcats' roster includes 61 freshmen (including redshirts) on the 120-man roster. Yes, over half the roster is a freshman eligibility-wise and there are more freshmen than sophomores, juniors and seniors combined. Furthermore, 83 of the 120 players are freshmen or sophomores, and the roster includes 77 players in their first or second year of the program. Lastly, among all classes of eligibility, there are 48 players in their first year of the program.
Youth Movement Part II: Arizona had 23 freshmen play in its season opener versus NAU. Of those 23 freshmen, 13 were true freshmen. In coach Rich Rodriguez's previous five seasons, the Wildcats had never played more than five true freshmen in a season opener. Arizona played five both in 2015 and 2013. In 2016, 2014 and 2012, the Cats played four. The 23 total freshmen is also the highest total under Rodriguez. The previous high was 11 set last year. Rodriguez played nine total freshmen in 2012 and 2014. Of the 13 true freshmen, three – Kylan WilbornTony Fields II and Scottie Young Jr. – earned starting assignments. Redshirt freshman Lorenzo Burns also started at cornerback. Wilborn, who started at the STUD position on the defensive line had two tackles, one sack and a forced fumble in his collegiate debut. Young Jr., finished with four tackles and Fields II had three. Burns had seven tackles and a pass breakup. True freshman Jalen Harris, who played a key role as a reserve, finished with four tackles.
Can't Touch This: Perhaps Arizona's most impressive rookie debut came from true freshman kicker Lucas Havrisik, who earned the starting job handling kickoffs for the season opener. If the initial performance is any indication, he'll be doing for some time. The Riverside, Calif., native produced nine touchbacks on 10 total kickoffs in the game. That effort was a big factor in Arizona enjoying a seven-yard advantage in average starting field position. Perhaps most impressive about Havrisik's nine touchbacks? That was the same total the Wildcats had over their final eight games in 2016. It's not a stat historically tracked, but nine touchbacks in a contest could well be the Arizona single-game record. No contest since the 2004 season has seen more than seven. To boot, Havrisk tallied his first career point by knocking home the game's final extra point.

A Special Start: Arizona's first touchdown of 2017 came on Shun Brown's 66-yard punt return against Northern Arizona with 10:12 remaining in the opening quarter of the season.  The last time the Wildcats' first touchdown of a season came on a special teams score was Chris McAlister's 100-yard kickoff return against Hawai'i on Sept. 3, 1998. McAlister's memorable return came on the game's opening kickoff and spurred the Wildcats to a 12-1 season. No foreshadowing Arizona's record some months down the road, but it was an electrifying way to get on the scoreboard. Two years ago, Anthony Lopez had a 23-yard interception return for a touchdown against UTSA for the first six-pointer of the 2015 campaign.

Early Returns: Shun Brown's 66-yard punt return for a touchdown and Tyrell Johnson's career-long 58-yard kickoff return helped produce 203 total return yards for the Wildcats. Consider that a year ago Arizona's season-high for return yardage was some 96 yards and it's easy to understand the significance of 200-plus yards in the return game. It had been 26 games since UA last produced a 200-plus yard output, which came against Oregon in the 2014 Pac-12 Championship game when Johnson set the school single-game record with 211 yards on eight kick returns. Brown's touchdown was UA's first on a punt return since Nate Phillips' 69-yarder against Washington State on Oct. 24, 2015.

Pick-6: No, we're not talking interceptions returned for touchdowns, but we are talking about No. 6 picking passes. Junior "bandit" safety Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles intercepted a pair of passes in the season opener, increasing his career tally to five. Interestingly, Flannigan-Fowles' first career interception came two years ago against the Lumberjacks on Sept. 19, 2015. The number '6' is also notable because it was worn by Arizona legend and College Football Hall of Famer, Chuck Cecil, back in the 1980s. Cecil, a longtime NFL defensive assistant, joined the UA staff in July as a senior defensive analyst. A hard-hitting safety himself, Cecil holds the Wildcats' career record with 21 interceptions from 1984-87. While Cecil is unable to coach and instruct players on the field, he is a valuable mind in the film and meeting rooms analyzing and game-planning.

Touchdown Tony: Redshirt junior Tony Ellison entered Arizona's season opener with three career catches for 32 yards. He had one catch in 13 games as a freshman in 2015 and two last season. It sure didn't take long for him to surpass those totals Saturday in just one game. Ellison caught five passes for 79 yards and his first career touchdown. Ellison hauled in a 43-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Dawkins early in the second quarter to put the Wildcats up 21-7. Ellison took a short pass from Dawkins and used his speed in the open field to break away from defenders for a touchdown. Ellison was the only Wildcat to register multiple catches Saturday against the Lumberjacks. 

All of the Starts: Experience certainly won't be an issue for the big boys up front for the Wildcats this season. The Arizona offensive line features six players who have started at least four games each. All total, the Wildcats have 94 returning starts and 122 games played returning among their top six linemen. Redshirt senior right guard Jacob Alsadek leads the way with 36 career games played and 34 starts. Senior left tackle Layth Friekh has 26 career games and 22 starts to his credit. Another senior, Gerhard De Beer, has played in 22 games over the past three seasons with 13 starts. Additionally, redshirt sophomore Nathan Eldridge started all 12 games at center last year, while fellow redshirt sophomore Cody Creason has 12 games and four starts on his resume. Eldridge started his 13th game Saturday night and Creason split time with de Beer at right tackle. Finally, redshirt junior Christian Boettcher has played in 12 games with eight starts. Last season, Eldridge became the first UA freshman to start at center since Blake Kerley in 2006. Both players went on to start all 12 games that season. The big boys up front have helped Arizona rush for 1,017 yards over the last two games, which is a two-game program record.
 
Dartin' Dawkins: Redshirt junior quarterback Brandon Dawkins picked up where he left off last season with his ground production in Saturday's opener versus NAU. Dawkins rushed for 92 yards on just seven carries. He ripped off a 66-yard touchdown sprint and also scored on a 10-yard run. Dawkins now has 1,215 rushing yards in his career, which is the second-most by an Arizona quarterback since at least 1958. The only quarterback to have more rushing yards than Dawkins is Ronald Veal, who rushed for 1,419 career yards. Dawkins also now has 12 career rushing touchdowns. For his career, Dawkins is averaging 7.1 yards per carry, which is the highest YPC ever by an Arizona quarterback with at least 100 carries. Dating back to last season, Dawkins has 363 rushing yards and four touchdowns on just 34 carries over his last three games. In that span, he's averaging 10.7 yards per carry. Through the air, Dawkins has one touchdown pass in nine of his last 11 games and has one in three straight. Dawkins also has just one interception over his last four games. He's also avoided a sack in three straight games.

NFL Cats: With NFL teams still finalizing their rosters before this weekend's openers, it appears nine former Wildcats will open the season on active rosters. Three more have been signed to practice squads to open the season. The headliner is of course Rob Gronkowski, who enters his eighth season in the NFL with 6,095 yards and 68 touchdowns on 405 catches. He'll have another former Wildcat on the roster with him in New England in linebacker Marquis Flowers, who was traded by Cincinnati near the end of training camp. Ka'Deem Carey, who is entering his fourth NFL season, will open the season on the injured reserve after sustaining an injury in the preseason. Kicker Nick Folk won the job in Tampa Bay and will prepare to enter his 11th season as a pro, where he will play for former Arizona State head coach Dirk Koetter.

Former Wildcats in the NFL

Ka'Deem Carey, running back, Chicago Bears
Marquis Flowers, linebacker, New England Patriots
Nick Foles, quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles
Nick Folk, kicker, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Robert Golden, safety, Pittsburgh Steelers
Rob Gronkowski, tight end, New England Patriots
Earl Mitchell, defensive tackle, San Francisco 49ers
Will Parks, safety, Denver Broncos
Brooks Reed, defensive end, Atlanta Falcons
Reggie Gilbert, linebacker, Green Bay Packers, practice squad
Cayleb Jones, wide receiver, Minnesota Vikings, practice squad
Scooby Wright, Arizona Cardinals, practice squad

Wilborn in Rare Territory: The Wildcats got significant contributions from some new faces on the defensive line Saturday, but none bigger than Kylan Wilborn. Wilborn became the first true freshman defensive lineman at Arizona to start a season opener since at least 1992. Interestingly, Tedy Bruschi, a defensive end at Arizona before a standout career as a linebacker in the NFL, was slated to start the 1991 season opener as a true freshman. However, a training camp injury prevented that from happening and he didn't start until later in the season. He then sustained another injury and redshirted the season. Wilborn was a standout in his debut and had two tackles, including a sack where he forced a fumble that was recovered by fellow lineman Finton Connolly. Wilborn, from Northridge, California, quickly impressed coaches in training camp after a standout career at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks.  Wilborn had some company from other Wildcat rookies on the line. Fellow true freshman Jalen Harris had four tackles and junior college transfer Dereck Boles started and had three stops. True freshman Kurtis Brown also saw substantial time up front and had a pair of tackles.

Up Next: Arizona this the road and closes out non-conference play against UTEP at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, on Friday night, Sept. 15. The game will be televised by ESPN beginning at 8:15 p.m. (MDT) or 7:15 p.m. in Tucson (MST).

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