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Falling in Love with Taimi Tutogi's Game

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Skeptics might say love at first sight is a myth. It's taken more than a first sight - 13 to be exact - but in terms of ball carries 13 might as well be one. Thirteen is the total number of Taimi Tutogi's rushes this season, and that's all it has taken for this blogger to develop a full-fledged man-crush on his game.

At 6-foot-1, 250 pounds, Tutogi has the frame of a defensive end. He rushes with the same tenacity of an end blitzing off the edge. A punishing run style is to be expected from a back of his size. The graceful pass catching he provides out of the backfield, however? That makes him an exciting hidden weapon.

Readers should take note, the author is an ardent fan of nuances some might find strange: receivers finding a defender to block downfield, linemen scoring touchdowns (also known as a Fat Guy Touchdown), and old school Jumbo formation backs.

 

Tutogi fits in the latter category, but he also fits a sorely needed niche for the otherwise very new school Wildcat offense. The Oct. 1 game at USC established Tutogi as a viable option for Nick Foles: four receptions for 40 yards and a touchdown.

In last week's romp over UCLA, the new regime introduced him as the go-to guy in goal line formations, and Tutogi delivered with a pair of scores. One need not be a big back enthusiast to understand the importance of Tutogi's contribution vs. UCLA.

UA's red zone inefficiency had a direct correlation to the Bowl Subdivision losing streak. While special teams gaffes were an obvious detriment within the 20, the spread offense that so effectively moved within scoring range was the very reason the Wildcats came away empty handed so often.

Sonny Dykes replaced Mike Canales as UA offensive coordinator following the 2006 season, bringing with him the air raid spread offense. In the seasons since, the Wildcats' pass-to-rush attempts have broken down thusly:

2007: 532 pass, 320 rush

2008: 412 pass, 504 rush

2009: 484 pass, 430 rush

2010: 524 pass, 435 rush

2011: 331 pass, 197 rush

In the seasons UA showed more balance, its red zone percentages have been higher, peaking with 92.9 percent success in 2009 and languishing in the lower 70s through 2007 and 2010.

The Wildcat run game lacked those seasons because options were limited, particularly from a power standpoint.

The result was continued spread in situations with little space in which to, well, spread. The run game hit its most dire point prior to Oct. 1, when it came in ranked the nation's worst rushing offense.

As offensive coordinator Robert Anae has tinkered with formations and spread carries, the run game is budding. Ka'Deem Carey is seeing more opportunities as a feature back, and Tutogi's hulking physique makes him the quintessential option on the goal line.

UA became one dimensional, the No. 1 no-no for any offense. All those lamented special teams blunders would never have even come to fruition had the Wildcats thrown a more varied look at opposing defenses. Tutogi is proving to be that varied look, and that's something everyone in Wildcat Country can love.