Nicolas Grigsby says he knows why the Arizona Wildcats aren't running the football as much this year.
"We'll have a great play, then the next play will be a penalty. It'll back us out of running room," he said. "We run it in practice, but in games, it's a tough situation. We can't run on third-and-16, or second-and-16."
The Wildcats might want to try it anyway.
Through five games, the UA's running backs are making the most of their limited opportunities. Grigsby and backups Keola Antolin and Greg Nwoko have gained a combined 532 yards on 96 carries and have scored eight touchdowns. The trio averages 5.5 yards per carry, nearly 1yard per carry more than Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers and one-fifth of a yard less than Cal's Shane Vereen.
Each of Arizona's three backs has a role.
"Grigsby's a versatile running back, I'm in-between versatile and a power back, and Greg is full power," Antolin said. "We need to establish the run every game. We have confidence in all of our backs."
The UA will lean on all three when it travels to Pullman, Wash., for Saturday's game against Washington State. The 17th-ranked Wildcats have run all over the Cougars during a four-game winning streak dating to 2006. The Wildcats rushed for 317 yards in Pullman in 2008; in last season's meeting, they went for 294.
Here are three reasons why the Cats' backs are due for a big game:
1. Grigsby's feeling better. The Wildcats' starter was nagged by a hip flexor injury in last weekend's 29-27 loss to Oregon State, limiting his carries. Grigsby ran just five times for 22 yards against the Beavers before being replaced by Antolin, who finished with a team-high 70 on eight carries with a touchdown.
"I was like, 'Look, Key, it's your time to shine,'" Grigsby said. "My hip flexor was messing with me all week."
Washington State should be good for what ails Grigsby. He rushed for 189 yards and a touchdown against the Cougars as a freshman in 2007, and for 186 yards as a sophomore. Grigsby missed last year's 48-7 rout because of a shoulder injury.
2. The Cougars can't stop the run. Washington State is dead-last in the nation in rushing defense, allowing 254.67 yards per game. The Cougars' opponents are averaging 6.4 yards per carry, with one of out of every 15 attempts going for a touchdown.
All but two of WSU's opponents have rushed for 250 yards or more. A June Jones-coached SMU team rushed just 22 times for 140 yards, and Div. 1-AA Montana State ran 24 times for 123 yards.
Not that Arizona is taking the Cougars lightly.
"Washington State is not a pushover; they've been playing tough, week in and week out," Grigsby said. "They're not going to let us come out and walk all over them."
3. If WSU does stop the run, Arizona can catch it. Everybody gets into the act in Arizona's pass-happy offense - including the running backs. Grigsby and Antolin caught touchdown passes against Oregon State. Through five games, the Wildcats' two backs have combined to catch 32 passes - just 12 fewer than they had all last season - for 254 yards. The Wildcats' backs are producing, even when they're not running.
"We're going to go out there, play hard and play fast," Grigsby said.
By the numbers
Rushing yards per game allowed by Washington State, most in the country
Arizona Wildcats' rushing yards per game in 2010
• What: Arizona at Washington State
• When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday
• TV: Versus
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM
The Wildcats may not be running often, but they're running well. Here's a look at how the UA's three running backs have fared through five games:
Att. Yds. Avg. TD
Nicolas Grigsby 50 274 5.5 5
Greg Nwoko 21 132 6.3 2
Keola Antolin 25 126 5.0 1
Totals 96 532 5.5 8