TUCSON, Ariz. - Arizona's top offensive and defensive units dominated the Wildcats' Spring Game Saturday to culminate the University of Arizona's first spring practice under new head coach John Mackovic. Under Mackovic's direction, the Blue team whipped the Red squad, 21-0.
A school spring game record crowd of some 4,500 fans attended the pre-game tailgate party and game, which consisted of about 84 plays and lasted about 90 minutes.
"I think that we did a nice job overall, but everybody still has a lot of work to do over the summer. We have only gotten part way through a long journey. We need to work toward becoming a smarter, stronger and better conditioned team than the people we play," Mackovic said.
"We threw a lot of passes today, and we gave up some sacks. But, we needed to put the young lineman under the gun," he said.
The Wildcats' probable No. 1 quarterback, junior Jason Johnson, led the Blue team's offensive attack, completing 10-of-14 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown. Johnson hit sophomore wide receiver Andrae Thurman for a 19-yard touchdown strike to take a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. Johnson also completed his first seven consecutive passes of the game.
"We have to evaluate the players, but Jason (Johnson) is still ahead of everyone else. There definitely is a battle going on for the next two spots," Mackovic said.
Sophomore Cliff Watkins completed 2-of-4 passes for 59 yards and a touchdown. Junior Erik Garcia led the Red squad with 3-of-9 passing for 48 yards. Redshirt freshman John Rattay (Blue team) was 1-of-6 passing for 20 yards and had an interception. For the Red team, sophomore Kyle Slager was 1-of-6 passing for four yards and had an interception. Redshirt freshman Steve Fleming saw limited action for the Red team and completed 1-of-3 passes for six yards.
Andrae Thurman led Arizona's receiving corps with four receptions for 79 yards and a touchdown. Senior Brandon Marshall had three catches for 56 yards, and senior Malosi Leonard had two catches for 45 yards, including a 40-yard reception for a touchdown from Watkins.
The Blue squad dominated in the trenches, as the defense tallied 11 sacks on the day and held the Red team to only 37 total offensive yards. Arizona's Blue defense was led by senior defensive end Eli Wnek's six sacks and six tackles. Senior defensive end Alex Luna added 4.5 tackles, three sacks and a pass breakup.
Junior linebacker Ray Wells intercepted quarterback Kyle Slager and had a 41-yard return on the play, which set up a 3-yard touchdown run by redshirt freshman running back Tremaine Cox.
"Defensively, we have veterans at every position, and we have a lot of players up front who did a very good job all spring," Mackovic said.
UA's makeover to Mackovic's more complex passing attack was evident, as the Red team attempted 19 passes, and the Blue squad attempted 23 passes. The Blue team had 10 first downs, and the Red team had four first downs. Both teams each had 21 rushing attempts, and the teams split the game's 10 total penalties.
In his only attempt of the day, junior placekicker Sean Keel missed a 42-yard field goal. Both senior Chris Palic and sophomore Ramey Peru split the punting duties. Palic had four punts for 192 yards, an average of 48.0 yards per punt. Peru had four punts for 137 yards, an average of 34.2 yards per punt. Redshirt freshman Doug Jones had one punt for 15 yards.
"Our kicking game had a real test today, especially with the wind conditions, but we didn't do as well as I had expected," Mackovic said.
During the halftime festivities, Mackovic handed out three team awards for outstanding effort during spring drills. Sophomore offensive tackle Brandon Phillips was named the team's most improved offensive player, and Wells was named the most improved defensive player. Wnek, who switched from H-back to defensive end at the start of spring practice, earned the Outstanding Hustle Award.
"Like I told the players after the game, we need to work hard in the next four months. We need to study and learn and get in the weight room so that we can be a better team when the players return in the fall," Mackovic said.