The University of Arizona's season opener on Saturday went about as well as it possibly could.
The Wildcats, the University of Toledo football team's opponent tomorrow in Tucson, are leading the nation in scoring after one week. Arizona also had its first shutout in 12 years in beating Idaho 70-0.
For a team that hasn't been to a bowl game in 10 seasons, the excitement stemming from the Wildcats' first week is reaching high levels.
"We understand we have the chance to have a really good football team," Arizona coach Mike Stoops said.
In scoring the most points in team history since 1921, Arizona's offense scored nine touchdowns on 15 possessions. The other score came on an 87-yard punt return for a touchdown that was originally a muffed punt.
"I think we could have scored every time we had the ball," Stoops said.
The performance seemed like it could be the start of washing away the bad taste of losing seasons in seven of the last eight years. Stoops has been careful to temper his team's enthusiasm based on the weak opponent it faced (Idaho was 1-11 in 2007), but he said his players have been mature without much prompting.
"Our kids have a different demeanor about them," Stoops said. "They want more. I don't know if we can play better, but we're certainly going to try and prepare the same way. That's what games like this do, it helps our morale. Hopefully we can take this and run with it."
The Wildcats are led by senior quarterback Willie Tuitama, a four-year starter and honorable mention selection in the Pac-10 Conference a year ago. Tuitama thrived in Arizona's spreadoffense that was installed last year. He started out 2008 well against Idaho, connecting on 17 of 21 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns in about a half of play.
"He's a very experienced passer," UT safety Barry Church said after watching film of Tuitama. "He knows what he's doing. He has a lot of receivers to help him out and a very good running back as well. He has a lot of pressure on him to do good against us."
Receivers Mike Thomas and Terrell Turner and running back Nic Grigsby complement Tuitama on offense.
"Offensively we're a whole lot better than we were at any time last year," Stoops said. "We feel like we have more balance running the football. We're excited about what we're doing."
What impressed Rockets coach Tom Amstutz and others about Arizona last weekend wasn't just the offensive domination. It was the defense that allowed no points and forced five turnovers, including four interceptions. The closest Idaho came to scoring was a missed 54-yard field goal, and the Vandals had just seven first downs.
"Defensively is where they had to do the most work," Amstutz said. "They stepped up to the challenge of their first game. A shutout is always hard to do, I don't care who you're playing against."
Amstutz's task is to get his team ready to face what will be a confident team.
"They'll be excited to play again," Amstutz said. "They'll feel really good about themselves, their fans will be excited about their team. We'll have a good challenge in front of us."