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UCLA REPORT

Tuitama Searching for Consistency

October 05, 2006|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

Arizona sophomore quarterback Willie Tuitama has started eight games over the last two seasons and has had more mediocre games than standout starts.

Unfortunately for UCLA, one of his strong games came last year against the Bruins when Tuitama passed for 204 yards and two touchdowns in a 52-14 victory for the Wildcats.

This season, Tuitama again has had his moments. He passed for 308 yards and one touchdown in Arizona's 21-10 loss to Washington last week, and completed 14 of 23 passes for 170 yards in a loss to USC last month.

But he has also struggled. He completed less than 50% of his throws and three of his passes were intercepted in the Wildcats' first two games against Brigham Young and Louisiana State.

"Willie is throwing the ball better, but our protection hasn't been where it needs to be and our inability to run the football has hurt him," Arizona Coach Mike Stoops said. "With those two things, you are setting your quarterback up for disaster. Our receivers also have not been as productive as we would have liked."

Of the 10 starting quarterbacks in the Pacific 10 Conference, Tuitama ranks last in passing efficiency with a 105.4 rating. Tuitama's biggest problem has been interceptions. He has thrown five with only three touchdown passes.

"Willie is learning," Stoops said. "He threw for his first 300 game of the season last week and UCLA only had [278] total yards against Washington, right? ... Obviously, we didn't run the ball as well as UCLA did but he's doing some good things. Willie had some terrific throws last week."

UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker is leery of Tuitama having another breakout game against the Bruins on Saturday at the Rose Bowl.

"I know that he's well coached," Walker said about Tuitama, who works under Arizona offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Canales. "[Canales] is a good coach, who worked with Philip Rivers at N.C. State. So, Tuitama is getting good tutoring.

"The thing is, he's a good athlete who throws well enough and you know, he's going to know what he's doing."

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Stoops on whether last year's 38-point victory over UCLA will have an impact on Saturday: "I'm sure they're mad that we ran it up on them," said Stoops, whose Wildcats are 2-3 and 0-2 in the Pacific 10 Conference.

"They can take that personal, but you still have to go out and play. It comes down to executing during the game. We just need to learn how to execute some things better. Hopefully, we'll have some confidence from playing so well against them last year."

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Sophomore tailback Kahlil Bell, who left Tuesday's workout early because of a left leg injury, went through a full practice on Wednesday.... Dorrell said senior receiver Joe Cowan, who has been sidelined since the start of training camp because of a knee injury, could return for UCLA's game at Oregon on Oct. 14.

lonnie.white@latimes.com

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