The UA football team took the field Saturday to the sound of pounding drums coming from the Wildcat Powwow being held nearby.
The steady thump-thump-thumping set the tone for an afternoon of great jazz.
For the next two hours, the Wildcats' new "Air Raid" offense improvised its way through the team's annual spring game. Each short passing route and elaborate shovel pass gave the 9,500 fans at Arizona Stadium a reason to hear music.
The white-shirts gained 551 yards running a vanilla version of its scheme, and won 56-28 using a scoring system that rewarded big plays on both sides of the ball.
The offense's performance was enough to keep UA coach Mike Stoops optimistic that the team can improve on its 6-6 record in 2006. The Wildcats finished 115th out of 119 Division I teams in offense last season.
Stoops replaced the entire offensive staff except for tight ends coach Dana Dimel during a tumultuous off-season.
"Offensively, we have a chance to spread things out and be multiple in our looks," Stoops said. "We're still finding out what our best sets are, who our best 11, 12, 13 players are going to be."
One of them will clearly be quarterback Willie Tuitama, who continued to show few ill effects after missing half of his sophomore season with injuries.
Tuitama completed 24 of 39 passes for 292 yards and two touchdowns playing with the first string. Sixteen Wildcats caught passes; five caught five passes or more.
"We had a couple turnovers early that hurt us … but I thought Willie played pretty well," first-year offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes said. "I think his arm might be a little tired. That's part of spring football — we're going to wear him out a little bit."
Dykes wasn't joking.
Following the scrimmage, Tuitama admitted his arm was sore from throwing so much this spring. The Cats' star quarterback guessed he had thrown more than 3,000 passes during the month-long camp.
"For the most part, I felt real good in spring," Tuitama said. "The first time I felt anything really was this week."
Tuitama will continue to work with Arizona's strength staff to ensure his right arm stays healthy. Tuitama will try to take a short break — "Ice and rest," he said — following today's final workout. He is expected to lead the team through voluntary 7-on-7 drills this summer.
"Once we all get on the same page with our reps, we should be on fire," he said.
Like with jazz, Saturday's mistakes were often more exciting — and memorable — than the planned music. The Wildcats gained 55 yards using a play drawn up by Green Valley's Jim Thomas, a fan who won the team's "Coach for a Play" contest.
One problem — Thomas' play called for a short pass to the tight end. The ball instead went to wide receiver Mike Thomas on a streak route.
Stoops joked Thomas, a 67-year-old retired ad executive, "is going to want my job."
"I'll probably get 1,000 e-mails on Monday," Stoops said. "It was a pretty good play."
Jim Thomas wanted instant replay. He was standing in the corner of the end zone with his wife, Nancy, when the play ran just after halftime.
"I didn't know halftime was over until I heard the crowd (roar)," Thomas said. "I heard it worked."
• Help name Arizona's new offense.
Starting next week, the Star will officially retire the "Air Raid" moniker in favor of something more Wildcat-specific.
Send us your suggestions, along with your name and contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday.