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Football Set To Kick Off '05 With Road Trip To Utah
Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Release: 09/02/2005
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Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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Some Game Themes

Season Two of the Mike Stoops era kicks off with a road trip to Salt Lake City ... Both Arizona and Utah will be opening their respective seasons to a nationally televised audience on ESPN ... After matching the high-flying Utah offense nearly yard-for-yard in 2004, can a more experienced and effective Arizona offense take advantage of scoring opportunities after kicking just a pair of field goals in five red zone chances against the Utes a season ago ... What look will Utah show after losing its head coach, offensive coordinator, starting QB and its top two productive wideouts from last season ...

 

Arizona vs. Utah - The Series

In a series that dates back to 1924, Utah owns a 18-15-2 advantage against Arizona in 35 all-time meetings ... Thirteen games in the 35-game series have been decided by seven points or fewer ... Utah’s 23-6 victory over Arizona in Tucson last season snapped a two-game winning streak in the series for the Wildcats and a seven-game UA winning streak over the Utes in Tucson ... In games played in SLC, Utah owns a slight 9-7 lead in the series and an 8-7 mark against Arizona in Rice-Eccles Stadium ... Arizona’s last trip to its neighbor to the north in 2000 resulted in a 17-3 Wildcat win ... As members of the Western Athletic Conference, Arizona tallied a 9-4 record against Utah from 1965 to 1977 ... Since UA joined the Pac-10 in 1978, Arizona and Utah have played five times, including three times in the last five years, to a 3-2 Arizona advantage

 

Utah and Arizona - The Last Time Out

Two costly turnovers and an inability to post points inside the red zone doomed Arizona to a 23-6 loss to Utah at Arizona Stadium in Tucson last season ... The Wildcats matched the Utes nearly yard-for-yard on offense (326 UU to 312 UA), but a fumble on the first play of the game at the UA 27 and a Kris Heavner interception inside the Arizona 20 twice gave Utah a short field to work with and an easy 10 points ... UA’s Nick Folk ended Arizona’s eight-game streak without a field goal conversion with a pair of successful attempts in the game, but the six points fell well shy of what could have been as Arizona penetrated Utah’s red zone five times in the contest and came up scoreless thrice ... Utah’s Marty Johnson led all players with 105 yards rushing and a TD and UU’s Alex Smith posted 170 yards passing and two TDs to receiver Steve Savoy ... While a small consolation, Arizona held Utah to its lowest scoring output of what turned out to be an undefeated and Fiesta Bowl championship season in Mike Stoops’ second game as head coach at UA.

 

Noting the Utes

Utah enters its season-opening game against Arizona with a 16-game winning streak in tow after winning the final four games of the 2003 campaign and capping off the most historic season in Ute history in 2004 with a 12-0 record and a championship in the Fiesta Bowl ... Since the 35-7 victory over Pitt in Tempe last Jan. 1 a lot has changed for Crimson and White. Gone are head coach Urban Meyer (to Florida), offensive coordinator Mike Sanford (to UNLV), quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Alex Smith (to the NFL), leading rusher Marty Johnson (graduation) and leading receivers Steve Savoy and Paris Warren (both to the NFL) ...  Despite all the offseason turnover in the Beehive State, the cupboard wasn’t exactly left bare for former Ute defensive coordinator and current head coach Kyle Whittingham. The Utes return five starters on both offense and defense, including three-fifths of the offensive line, their leading tackler from 2004, linebacker Spencer Toone, and defensive back Eric Weddle, who intercepted four passes and broke up five others in 2004 ...

 

Arizona In Season Openers

Arizona will attempt to tie the school record for consecutive seasons with a victory in the opening contest of the year at six straight against Utah on September 2 ... UA has won six straight season-openers four times in school history, with the latest coming from 1971-76 ... The Wildcats extended their winning streak in season openers to five straight after defeating Northern Arizona 21-3 last year ... Dating back to 2000, UA has beaten Utah (2000), San Diego State (2001), Northern Arizona (2002, 2004) and UTEP (2003) to open each respective year ... The Utah game in 2000 and the San Diego State contest in 2001 were on the road ... Dating back to 1899, Arizona is 73-23-5 all-time in season-opening games.

 

Wildcats Picked To Finish Eighth

Arizona was tabbed to finish eighth in the Pac-10 this season in a polling of the league’s media members. The low ranking however wouldn’t temper head coach Mike Stoops enthusiasm, “There are a lot of factors behind our optimism. We had a tough start for the program last year, but bounced back and put together a team that won two of its final three games,” he said. “One hundred percent of our players participated in off-season voluntary conditioning, and I think that tells you something about our team. The players commitment to the program and to each other is as strong as I’ve seen. We’re a much more together team. You’ll see a different team in the way we look, play, the way we run, our attitude, speed, size and quickness.”

 

No Let Up On The Schedule

Just like the previous two seasons, Arizona will face a tough slate in 2005. Starting with Utah and its 16-game winning streak, Arizona will face seven teams that made a postseason bowl appearance last year, including five of those games on the road. After getting the Utes, UA will host 2004 Sun Bowl participant Purdue in its final non-conference game of the year before having to head off on the road for back-to-back conference weekends against 2004 Pac-10 runner up Cal (Holiday) and defending national champions USC (Orange). Road trips to Oregon State (Insight.com) and Arizona State (Sun) are sandwiched around a home contest against UCLA (Las Vegas). Also on the slate in 2005 are in-state rival Northern Arizona, Stanford and its new head coach Walt Harris, a road trip to Oregon and its senior QB Kellen Clemens and a home game against Washington and the return of Tyrone Willingham to the Pac-10.

 

In The Second Year

Mike Stoops is looking to join predecessors Larry Smith and Dick Tomey as the two Arizona head coaches in the Pac-10 era to enjoy a winning season in their second year of tenure in the Old Pueblo. Smith took over at UA in 1980 and went 5-6 his first season. A year later, he had improved the win total by one in both the overall standings (6-5) and in the conference (4-4). Tomey, who replaced Smith in the fall of 1987, went 4-4-3 overall and 2-3-3 in the Pac-10 his first season, but turned it around to go 7-4 overall and 5-3 in the conference just 12 months later.

Arizona’s Second-Year Head Coaches (Pac-10 Era 1978-Present)

           

Tony Mason Larry Smith Dick Tomey John Mackovic

Mike Stoops

1977* - 5-7, 3-4 1980 - 5-6, 3-4 1987 - 4-4-3, 2-3-3  2001 - 5-6, 2-6  2004 - 3-8, 2-6
1978 - 5-6, 3-4 1981 - 6-5, 4-4 1988 - 7-4, 5-3 2002 - 4-8, 1-7 2005 -

* In Tony Mason’s first year Arizona was a member of the Western Athletic Conference

 

Stoops Named Pac-10’s Rising Star

Arizona’s Mike Stoops was named the Pac-10’s “Rising star” among the conference coaches in the September 2 edition of The Sporting News. The publication’s Matt Hayes ranked the head coaches from 11 different conferences and four independent schools. The Pac-10 coaches finished third as a group with an average ranking of 3.70 (out of five), trailing only the SEC (3.83) and the Big 12 (3.75). Stoops garnered a ranking of four from the magazine. Only USC’s Pete Carroll received a perfect five among the Pac-10 coaches.

 

Something To Build Off Of

Although the Wildcats suffered through their sixth-straight non-winning season last year, the improvement over the course of the year could be seen both on the field and the stats sheet. Arizona not only led the Pac-10 in fumbles recovered in 2004, but the nation as well with 19 take aways. UA also led the conference in fewest sacks allowed (22) and was the most disciplined team in the Pac-10 with a conference-low 42.9 penalty yards per game last year.

 

Defense On The Rise

Not quite on par with the nationally renowned “Desert Swarm” defenses of the mid-90’s, last year’s defensive squad did take significant strides towards reestablishing UA’s reputation on that side of the ball. Opponents gained 1,347 less yards on offense in 2004 as they did in 2003 and scored 154 fewer points. With a full year in the Stoops system, even more improvements are expected out of the group this year.

Defensive Improvements

Stat                              2003                 2004                 Difference

Opp Scoring                  429                   275                   -154

Opp Pts/Game              35.8                  25.0                  -10.8

Opp 1st Downs              284                   220                   -64

Opp Rushing                 2,169                1,363                -806

Opp Rush Yds/Game     180.8                123.9                -56.9

Opp Passing                 3,351                2,810                -541

Opp Total Offense          5,520                4,173                -1,347

Opp Total Yds/Game      460.0                379.4                -80.6

 

Start Me Up

The Wildcats have a number of players on both sides of the ball with considerable starting experience on the resumes. Led by senior free safety Darrell Brooks’ 30 starts, the UA defense has seven different players with 11 or more career starts (SS Lamon Means 25, DE Marcus Smith 17, DE Copeland Bryan 13, DT Paul Philipp 12, CB Antoine Cason 11 and CB Wilrey Fontenot 11). On offense, lineman Kili Lefotu paces the Cats with 29 career starts, including 10 in 2004. Others with significant starting experience include RB Mike Bell (25), OL Peter Graniello (11) and WR Syndric Steptoe (11).

 

Freshmen Looking To Make an Impact

A number of first-year Wildcats are looking to earn their way on the field this season. Michael Thomas, Blake Kerley, Brandon Tatum, Xavier Smith, Adrian McCovy and Garrett Fields headline a freshman class that made a strong a impression during fall camp. Thomas is pushing for playing time in Arizona’s passing game at wide out and as a kick returner after showing  impressive hands and speed during the two weeks of fall camp. Kerley is competing with junior Erick Levitre for the starting center spot and Smith is vying for carries as a reserve running back. Defensively, Tatum is making a run as part of UA’s deep secondary, McCovy in the linebacking corps and Fields in the rotation along the D-line.

 

Run G.M.C.

Arizona has a talented trio of running backs this season in senior Gilbert Harris, senior Mike Bell and sophomore Chris Henry. Each brings a different style of attack that will complement each other well throughout the year. Bell, UA’s leading returning rusher from last season, is already eighth all-time at Arizona in career rushing yards and has posted back-to-back 900+ yard seasons. An explosive runner, Bell has the ability to work both inside and on the perimeter. Harris is a change of pace back that has the ability punish would-be tacklers along the line. As described by Mike Stoops, Henry is a “angry” rusher, possessing both power and speed. And, as if their rushing abilities weren’t enough for opposing defenses to worry about, all three are very capable pass-catchers to boot.

Run GMC Season Totals

Player Attempts Yards TDs Avg. Rec. Yards TDs Avg.
Bell 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Henry 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Harris 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Combined 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

 

 

Firstly, They’re Hardly Secondary

Led by senior team captain Darrell Brooks, the Arizona defensive backs are a source of pride for defensive coordinator and secondary coach Mark Stoops. Returning all four starters from last season, the group of senior SS Lamon Means, FS Brooks and sophomore CBs Antoine Cason and Wilrey Fontenot combined to post seven of UA’s eight interceptions, break up 24 other pass attempts and make 252 tackles during the 2004 season. Brooks, Arizona’s leading tackler last year and most experienced player with 30 career starts, has been recognized by numerous preseason media outlets as an impact player not only in the Pac-10 but on a national level as well. Cason, a freshman All-American last year, drew rave reviews from opposing coaches and players after starting all 11 games as a true frosh last season. After redshirting his first year at UA, Fontenot made an impact in his initial season as a starter, including scoring the go-ahead touchdown on a fumble recovery in UA’s 23-13 victory at Washington. Means, a three-year starter, is a multifaceted hitter that can drop back into coverage or attack across the line of scrimmage. Along with the four returning starters, the Wildcats are able to show some depth with sophomore  Dominic Patrick and junior Marcus Hollingsworth at FS, junior  Michael Johnson and true freshman Brandon Tatum at SS and sophomore Michael Beach and junior Dramanye McElroy at the corner positions.

 

The “Js” are Okay

There seems to be a trend developing among UA’s wide receiver corps: B.J., B.J., M.J., A.J., S..., well it doesn’t quite work across the board, but the depth among UA’s pass-catchers will most certainly be a strength for the UA offense in 2005. Returnees Anthony Johnson, Mike Jefferson, B.J. Dennard and Syndric Steptoe have been joined by newcomers B.J. Vickers and Michael Thomas to form a potent offensive threat that will help to keep opposing defenses honest. Offensive coordinator Mike Canales and receivers coach Charlie Williams are counting on the group to not only help improve last year’s average of 170.5 yards per game through the air, but to free up running space around the line of scrimmage for UA’s running backs as well.

 

Injury Bug Bites LBs

The Wildcat linebacking corps has been the lone victim of the injury bug during the preseason. Projected starters Ronnie Palmer (foot), Randy Sims (ankle) and Spencer Larsen (knee) will all miss UA’s season opener against Utah on September 2. Palmer is expected to miss up to six weeks and Larsen and  Sims are hoping to return within the first month of the season. Looking to step up in their absence is senior Sean Jones, juniors John McKinney and Akin Akinniyi, redshirt freshman Brandon Lopez and true freshman Adrian McCovy.

 

Kovalcheck’s the One Under Center

Incumbent starting QB Richard Kovalcheck has shown no ill effects from a spring surgery on his back. The second-year starter took over the reigns of the Arizona offense against Oregon in UA’s sixth game last season and never looked back. After directing UA to a 2-1 record in the final month, Kovalcheck capped his redshirt freshman season be garnering Most Outstanding Player honors in the annual Duel in the Desert against ASU. Fully healthy now, Kovalcheck is looking to help Arizona improve an aerial attack that ranked near the bottom of the NCAA in passing offense, passing efficiency and scoring offense. Backing Kovalcheck up under center is junior Adam Austin, who took an esitmated 1,500 snaps during the spring season as UA’s only QB, and talented freshman Willie Tuitama.

 

D-Line Has Some Depth

Unlike a season ago when UA was forced to use players out of position and throw true freshmen into the starting lineup, the 2005 D-line appears to be well stocked with capable run stoppers and pass rushers. At end, three-year starter Marcus Smith will team up with senior classmate Copeland Bryan and sophomore Jason Parker and redshirt freshman Johnathan Turner. Inside JC tranfer Byron Smith has the edge for the starting nose tackle position while Paul Philipp returns to his starting tackle slot. Also in the mix inside are sophomores Yaniv Barnett and Lionel Dotson and JC transfer Rickey Parker.

 

Booting Danny Baugher

Already Arizona’s career leader for total punts, the Wildcats are hoping not to use senior  Danny Baugher as often this season, but know that when they do they’ll have an experienced kicker on their hands. With 188 total kicks and 7,718 total yards punted in three seasons, he has averaged 41 yards per punt and placed the ball inside the opponent’s 20-yard line 34 times.

 

Nick Can Kick

A year ago at this time, the Arizona place kickers were coming off a season that saw them finish the 2003 season 2 for 13 and miss their final six attempts of the year. It was certainly a group that entered the 2004 season with a lot more questions than answers. Then along came Nick Folk. After narrowly missing a game-winning field goal attempt in the final minute of a 9-7 loss to Wisconsin, Folk proved his mettle by converting six of his next nine attempts over the course of the season, including a career-long 53-yarder in Arizona’s 34-27 win over rival Arizona State. The well-earned confidence from last year has carried over to the early part of 2005, as Folk has regularly booted 50+-yard kicks during practice and in scrimmages. In live action against his teammates in fall camp intra squad games, he was a perfect 5-for-5, hitting from 22, 32, 35, 46 and 47 yards.

 

Replay Comes Into Play

Beginning this season the Pac-10, along with nine other Division I conferences, will have instant replay on questionable plays on the field. The head coaches in the Pac-10 will have no say on whether a play should be reviewed or not, instead the conference will assign an observer in the press box that will make the calls. “Indisputable video evidence” must be present in order for a call to be overturned by the replay official in the booth. There is no limit on the number of plays that can be reviewed by the observer during the course of a contest.

Reviewable plays are as follows:

- A runner breaking the plane of the goal line.

- Pass complete/incomplete.

- Runner/receivers/interceptor in or out of bounds.

- Recovery of a fumble.

- Touching of a pass by an ineligible receiver.

- Touching of a pass by a defensive player.

- Ruling on forward pass/fumble.

- Forward or backward pass thrown from behind the line of scrimmage.

- Runner not ruled down.

- Forward progress in relation to first-down marker.

- Touching of a kick.

- Number of players on a field.

- Resetting of the game clock after a reversal.

Non-reviewable plays are: Holding, offside, illegal blocks, illegal formations, encroachment, pass interference, personal fouls, facemask, taunting/excessive celebration, false starts, roughing the passer/kicker, fighting participants.

 

A Change of Clothes

The Wildcats will debut a new set of duds in its season opener at Utah on Sept. 2. Arizona’s apparel partner Nike completely redesigned the uniforms and the Cats will have five different combinations to choose from this season. The front of the jersey has the players’ number along with thin piping, while the back has the players’ name, number and the Arizona name on a placard below the numeral. The road variations will feature a white jersey to go along with either white or blue pants. At home, UA will be able to choose from either a blue or red top and white or blue pants. The blue jersey can be worn with either the blue or white pants, while the red top will be worn only with the white pants. The helmet, which went from all white in 2003 to all blue in 2004, will remain the same as last year.

 

Lining Up Against Them

Arizona defensive line coach Mike Tuiasosopo might be able to tell offensive line coach Eric Wolford a thing or two about the Ute D-line that will square off against the Cats on Sept. 2. Coach Tui spent the 2003 season in Utah working in a similar role to the one he has in Tucson. With two sophomores, three juniors and three seniors on the Utah preseason two-deep, Coach Tui either helped recruit or coached a number of the Ute defensive unit charged with stopping the Wildcats.

 

A Couple of Familiar Faces

Standing on the opposite sideline in the series opener will be a pair of faces that most UA fans will recognize. Utah offensive line coach Charlie Dickey and tight ends coach/co-special teams coordinator Jay Boulware both served as assistants at Arizona at one time. Dickey, a two-year letter winner for the Wildcats from 1983-84 and an Arizona alumnus, spent 12 seasons (1992-2003) as the offensive line coach in Tucson under former head coaches Dick Tomey and John Mackovic. Boulware was an assistant to Mackovic for three seasons (2001-03), working with the tight ends, running backs and serving as the special teams coordinator.

 

All Access From arizonaathletics.com

Wildcat fans can hear all of the gridiron action this fall via cyberspace. By purchashing an All Access subscription at arizonaathletics.com, UA backers can hear live audio broadcasts of all the home and away contests, get insider articles and see live and on-demand videos of press conferences and live events in the comfort of thier own home on their computer. Service rates and and computer requirements can be found at Arizona’s official spot on the Internet - www.arizonaathletics.com.

 

Arizona Football Depth ?- at Utah 2005

Wildcat Offense

WR

 2  B.J. Vickers

6-2

217

Jr.

 

 9  Anthony Johnson

6-2

205

So.*

 

 4  B.J. Dennard

5-11

194

So.

LT

76 Peter Graniello

6-5

296

So.

 

74 Adam Hawes

6-4

302

Jr.

LG

69 John Abramo

6-4

301

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