Arizona On The Air
Radio: Wildcat Sports Properties/Host Communications (Flagship - KCUB, 1290 AM, Tucson, Ariz.) ?- Brian Jeffries (Play-By-Play), Lamont Lovett (Color), Sean Mooney (Sidelines), Ryan Radtke (pregame/halftime/postgame)?- Spanish Language Broadcast (XENY 760 AM in Nogales/KXEW 1600 AM in Tucson) ?- Francisco Romero (Play-By-Play)
Television: FSN AZ ?- Dave Sitton (Play-By-Play), Larry Smith (Color)
Some Game Themes
Arizona’s defensive mettle gets an extreme test from a team that romped for 582 total yards in its season opener, including 370 through the air and 212 on the ground... UA opens more of its playbook after a close-to-the-vest performance in its first videographed action under new management ...The Cats face their first ranked opponent of the year, with others looming on the horizon. Arizona hasn’t fared well against ranked teams of late, with a 1-16 mark since the start of the 2000 season... UA defensive tackles coach Mike Tuiasosopo spent last season as the line coach at Utah and could be spending a few extra moments with Arizona offensive coordinator Mike Canales this week... Despite some well-chronicled woes, Arizona was 7-4 against non-conference opponents the past three years, including a 23-17 victory over Utah in Tucson in 2002...
Arizona opened the game with a nine-minute, 16-play, 80-yard drive to take the lead, then used two fourth-quarter touchdowns to seal the first career head coaching victory for Mike Stoops with a 21-3 margin over Northern Arizona. The Cats’ rejuvenated defense held the Lumberjacks to a total of 280 yards in offense, sparked by four takeaways including three interceptions - two of those in the final quarter. Junior halfback Mike Bell carried a career-high 31 times for 118 yards and two touchdowns, one capping the opening drive and the other punctuating a turnover possession in the fourth period. Quarterback Kris Heavner spread the ball to eight different receivers, completing 18 of 23 for 171 yards. He narrowly missed setting a UA single-game completion percentage record. His 18th completion of the night was a 13-yard scoring strike to sophomore Syndric Steptoe, who led UA with four catches for 75 yards. Stoops, who received a game ball from the players, turned around and rewarded eight others to Steptoe, Bell, the three defensive backs who had interceptions - junior safety Darrell Brooks and freshman cornerbacks Wilrey Fontenot and Antoine Cason - and strength coaches Corey Edmond, Mark Hill and Waitus Cooper. The interceptions - nearly half of what the entire team accumulated a year ago - were a welcome sight for the crowd of 49,741. Cason led the team with 13 tackles and two forced fumbles. Brooks bounced back from time off during the final week of training camp due to a nagging leg injury. The Cats were modest in their play selection, keeping it simple for 307 net yards. But the execution was good enough to build a nine-minute edge in time of possession. It all added up to UA’s fifth consecutive season opening victory, but one that carried a glimmer of the future.
Present And Accounted
Arizona’s opening-day crowd of 49,741 was the largest collection to witness a home game since 54,297 fans watched the Nov. 24, 2000 contest against Arizona State. The attendance figure was the largest opening-day crowd since 57,367 fans showed up for the Arizona-Ohio State game on Sept 9, 2000.
The Cats and Utes - The Series
Former WAC foes Utah and Arizona will meet up for the 35th time since 1924 ... The Utes own a 17-15-2 advantage in the all-time series, but the Wildcats have won the last two meetings and eight out the last nine ... This year’s game will be the third between the two schools in the last five seasons ... The Wildcats are tentatively scheduled to open the 2005 season against Utah in Salt Lake City ... Arizona last defeated Utah 23-17 in the second game of the 2002 season ... Utah last defeated Arizona 16-13 in the 1994 Freedom Bowl in Anaheim, Calif. ... Although the Wildcats own an 8-7-2 advantage against the Utes in Tucson, the series has played even in Arizona Stadium, with each team recording seven wins and a pair of ties in contests in the facility... Dating back to 1969, UA has won the last seven meetings with Utah in Arizona Stadium ... 13 of the 34 previous games played between the two schools have been decided by seven points or less.
Noting the Utes
Picked to win the Mountain West Conference, Utah opened its year with a convincing 41-21 win over Texas A&M in Salt Lake City on Sept. 2 ... ... The Utes won the MWC title in 2003 with a 6-1 mark and went on to defeat Southern Mississippi 17-0 in the Liberty Bowl ... Utah defeated both Pac-10 schools it faced in 2003, downing Cal 31-24 and Oregon 17-13 in SLC ... Head coach Urban Meyer is in his second season at Utah and has put together a very impressive 11-2 record in 13 games ... Prior to taking over at Utah, Meyer posted 17-6 record as the head coach at Bowling Green University, making his career record a lofty 28-8 (.778) ... Utah returns 17 starters (8 Off., 7 Def., 2 Specialists) from last season’s 10-2 team ... Junior quarterback Alex Smith led the Utes in both passing and rushing yards last season and it appears he’ll do the same again this year after rushing for 76 yards with two TDs and passing for a career-high 359 yards and three TDs against Texas A&M in the season opener last week ... Smith hooked up with receivers Paris Warren (116 yards) and Steve Savoy (108 yards) for a combined 224 yards against the Aggies ... Defensively, Utah surrendered 437 yards to A&M last week after averaging 338.3 yards per game to opponents in 2003 ... The Utes tallied a pair of sacks and seven tackles for loss against TAMU last week ... Senior linebacker Tommy Hackenbruck led the Utes in stops in the season opener with 10 total tackles ... Morgan Scalley, the leading returning tackler from last season, finished with seven stops, including a sack for a loss of 14 yards.
Utah and Arizona - The Last Time Out
Utah will be making a second consecutive trip to Tucson after visiting the Old Pueblo in 2002 ... The Wildcats held on to defeat the Utes 23-17 after turning them away on downs after Utah had reached UA’s three-yard line with 2:21 left to play in the game ... Arizona’s Jason Johnson threw for 416 yards, including a pair of scoring passes to Bobby Wade (47 yards) and Andre Thurman (44 yards) ... Wade and Thurman teamed up to catch 18 balls for a combined 340 yards in the contest ... Arizona’s defense limited Utah to just 204 total yards, including only 32 on the ground for a team averaging 334 yards rushing entering the game ... Arizona’s defense gave up just 11 first downs and allowed Utah to convert just three third downs in 15 attempts.
Spreading It Around
Sophomore quarterback Kris Heavner took advantage of Mike Canales’ new spread offense, connecting with eight different receivers against Northern Arizona in the season opener. The last time Arizona QBs hit eight or more receivers in a game was last season in a 48-10 loss to Oregon on Sept. 13. As noted above, classmate Syndric Steptoe was an early favorite of Heavner’s, catching four balls for a career-high 76 yards and his first career touchdown against the Lumberjacks. Heaver’s 18-for-23, 171-yard night against NAU was missing one thing though ... an interception. The no-interception-game was the first for Heavner in 10 career games.
Sophomore quarterback Kris Heavner’s 18-for-23 performance vs. NAU narrowly missed two UA completion percentage records. The single game records for highest percentage in a game are (minimum 15 completions) .809 by Keith Smith at Penn State in 1999 (17-for-21) and (minimum 20 completions) .780 by Tom Tunnicliffe vs. Pacific in 1982 (21-for-27). Another three-for-four would have given him a share of "Tom Terrific’s" mark and two fewer attempts would have given him the mark over Smitty for minimum 15 completions in a game...
Taking Their Time
Arizona opened the season with a 16-play, 80-yard scoring drive. The effort marked the second straight game the Wildcats have opened with a touchdown (ASU in 2003 15 plays, 76 yards). The impressive drive against the Lumberjacks mixed up nine rushes and seven pass attempts over a span of 9:04. The time of possession on the drive was the longest for Arizona since Sept. 11, 1993 when Arizona went 90 yards on 17 plays over 9:00 for a field goal against Pacific. Arizona’s last touchdown drive to come close in terms of TOP came all the way back in 1989 when the Wildcats went 80 yards on 18 plays in 8:59 against Arizona State on Nov. 25.
The 2004 Wildcats started six seniors in the opener ?- offensive linemen Keoki Fraser and Chris Johnson, tight end Steve Fleming, defensive tackle Carlos Williams, defensive end Andre Torrey and nickel back Tony Wingate. But five freshmen stepped up with starts and put themselves in position to battle for some long tenure in the lineup ?- redshirt wide receiver Anthony Johnson, redshirt offensive tackle Peter Graniello, redshirt cornerback Wilrey Fontenot, redshirt linebacker Dane Krogstad and true freshman corner Antoine Cason. Graniello helped the unit protect the quarterback (one voluntary sack when Heavner ran out of bounds on a busted play), Johnson caught three passes for 21 yards, Fontenot came up with the Cats’ first interception of the year, Krogstad recorded his first tackle and Cason was a dazzler with an interception, a tackle for loss, two forced fumbles and a PBU. Another true freshman also saw his first action, cornerback and special teams player B.J. Dennard. Running back Chris Henry, who received a medical hardship restoration after missing most of his true freshman year last season, also saw action.
Going the Distance
Mike Stoops has said all along that he’d find some guys who could play, and then he’d play them. UA used 44 players in the opener and most of the starters played throughout. The close contest might have been a factor, but it’s evident all the emphasis on conditioning and strength training has a primary purpose ?- find your best guys and keep them on the field. Mike Bell touched the ball 34 times out of 65 total plays the team ran, for example. He had nine carries for 47 yards in the fourth quarter, when UA garnered 34% of its total offensive production.
Winning the Fourth
Mike Stoops has continually preached that the Wildcats’ efforts during the off-season to get stronger will pay off in the fourth quarter, and early on it appears to be true. The Wildcats scored 14 points in the final frame of their opening game, posted 22 more yards on offense then the Lumberjacks, limited NAU to just 20 yards rushing on nine attempts, intercepted two passes, tallied a sack and stopped NAU on fourth down twice.
Arizona is opening its season against the same three non-conference opponents it did two years ago, with the only difference being the venue. The Wildcats defeated NAU 37-3 at home on opening day in 2002 and downed Utah 23-17 in Tucson the next weekend before falling at Wisconsin in the third week of the year, 31-10.
Arizona will attempt to end a trend of following a victory with a loss. After both of UA’s victories last year, the Wildcats were on the opposite side of the score the next week. To be fair to the UA gridders however, the opponents following Arizona’s wins last season ended up sharing the national championship, LSU and USC. In what could be a bit of irony, Arizona’s last back-to-back wins came against NAU and Utah in 2002.
Simple fact: Convert on third down and you keep the ball. UA had 34:20 in time of possession in the opener and one factor was its 50 percent rate on third down, compared to 33 percent for NAU. It’s a modest rate, but dramatically better than the 27 percent conversion rate of 2003.
For the second straight season Arizona opened its year perfect in the red zone. Arizona converted all three opportunities inside the 20-yard line against NAU on Saturday into touchdowns. Last season UA was a perfect 4-for-4 with four TDs in the red zone against UTEP. Arizona also converted its lone first-and-goal opportunity on the game-opening drive.
Ringing The Bell
Junior Mike Bell’s 116-yard effort against NAU was his fifth career game with 100 or more yards rushing and his fourth in Arizona’s last six games. His two touchdowns against the Lumberjacks marked the second time at Arizona he has hit paydirt two or more times in a game (3 TDs vs. Washington Nov. 8, 2003).
The Wildcat players voted on their team captains at the beginning of the year and selected offensive players Mike Bell, Steve Fleming and Keoki Fraser, as well as defenders Andre Torrey, Carlos Williams and Darrell Brooks.
Junior wide receiver Biren Ealy is nearing readiness to return to practice after missing training camp with a foot injury. The Cats’ leading receiver in 2003 (42 catches, 577 yards), he should make a healthy addition to the perimeter passing attack. Another absentee in the opener was senior offensive tackle Brandon Phillips. Although he was given a sixth year of eligibility via medical hardship after missing most of last year and an earlier season, he must sit out three games because he secured an agreement for services with a professional agent following the 2003 season. A potential starter, his addition will further bolster the depth up front.
Three Dot Data
Sophomore place kicker Nick Folk extended his modest yet perfect young PAT streak to 11-for-11 with three makes in the opener... Ouch. The Cats suffered a blocked punt in the opener and the deflected ball resulted in a 13-yard kick that dropped net punting to 33.5 yards. It was the third time in his career that kicker Danny Baugher has been blocked... Senior linebacker Patrick Howard and junior linebacker Sean Jones combined for 14 tackles (7 apiece) in the opener, a nice bit of work in the middle. Howard had six solo hits and broke up a pass. Jones, a fullback in his first two years, returned a fumble for two yards after Darrell Brooks jarred the ball loose on a pass play. The other starter at linebacker was redshirt freshman Dane Krogstad... UA’s three interceptions and four passes defensed against NAU, plus a sack on a corner blitz by Zeonte Sherman gave Arizona at least eight big moments among 38 pass plays called by the ?'Jacks... Wide receiver and H-back Nic Costa had a couple of motion-in plays at quarterback against NAU, in shotgun formation. He handed off to Mike Bell once and was caught for a loss on a 4th-and-1 running attempt... UA played it so straight otherwise against NAU that it had to endure five three-and-outs on offense...
The offensive line at Arizona has strung together a pretty impressive list of starts. Center Keoki Faser leads all Wildcat players on both sides of the ball with 30 career starts, including 24 straight. Joining him along the front five are tackle Chris Johnson (21 starts), guard Kili Lefotu (20 starts) and tackle Brandon Phillips (16 starts). Add in tight end Steve Fleming’s 12 starts, tackle Tanner Bell’s seven and guard John Abramo’s four and the offensive line has combined for 110 career games started.
The Sports Group in Dallas, Texas, has announced that senior Keoki Fraser has been added to the Rimington Award Watch List. The award will be presented to the top collegiate center in the country at the conclusion of the 2004 season. The award is named in honor of Dave Rimington, a consensus All-American at Nebraska in 1981 and ?'82 ... Fraser has also been named to watch list for the Outland Trophy. The award has been presented to the top interior lineman on either side of the ball by Football Writers Association of America at the end of the year since 1946, making the Outland the third-oldest award presented in collegiate football behind only the Heisman Trophy and Maxwell Award.
Bell Ready To Toll
One of the most pleasant surprises out of Arizona’s 2-10 season was the emergence of sophomore Mike Bell as a force running the ball. A junior now and the Pac-10’s leading returning rusher from 2003, Bell is coming off a season that saw him finish third in the conference in yards per game with 76.7. He finished 2003 with 920 yards on just 168 carries, a 5.5 yard-per-carry average, and was Arizona’s lone representative on the All-Pac-10 team with second team honors. His 222 yards in a 27-22 win over Washington were the fifth-most in a single game for any running back in school history. In addition to racking up an 8.5 yard per carry average against the Huskies, he scored three touchdowns in the game, including scoring runs of 69 and 67 yards.
Fling It To Fleming
After snagging just three balls for 30 yards in his first two season, senior tight end Steve Fleming is coming off an impressive 2003 campaign that saw him record 24 receptions for 252 yards and two touchdowns. His reception total from last season was the third-most in a year for any UA tight end since the Wildcats joined the Pac-10. A duplication of his numbers from last year in 2004 would place him among the top tight ends in school history. Currently Mark Keel (1981-82) holds the school record for both receptions (59) and yards receiving (856 yards) by a tight end, while former Wildcat Ron Beyer (1975-78) holds the record for the most touchdown receptions by a TE with seven.
Fans catching the Wildcats for the first time in 2004 might not recognize the team when they take the field for the first time this season. The reason? Arizona has changed the color of its helmets from primarily all white to a solid blue. The "Academic A" remains on the side, but it has no other markings or stripes and a blue face mask. The change marks the first time since 1980 that UA will be wearing a helmet that is a different primary color than white.
The solid blue helmet is the first time in school history that Arizona will take the field with head gear so colored. In looking back through photos in Arizona’s Heritage Hall, it has been found that former Wildcat great Art Lippino, UA’s "Cactus Comet", and his 1955 Wildcat teammates took the field in a helmet that featured blue around the sides with a red top. All other color photos over the years have shown that the Wildcat gridders have donned either primarily red or white bonnets.
Cat’s Picked To Finish 10th
The Wildcats have been picked to finish 10th in the Pac-10 this season, but that doesn’t mean Arizona has to like it. Head coach Mike Stoops made that point at Pac-10 Media Day in Los Angeles.
"Expectations here (at Pac-10 Media Day) aren’t high. As a staff and as a team, our expectations are much higher. When I think of the past seven or eight months, I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. When I took this position, I knew it would be a challenge in the beginning. The players have made it very easy for me and they’re excited about having some success on the football field again ... We feel we’re a stronger football team than we were back in December."
Cats To Face Tough Slate in 2004
After a 2003 season that saw the Wildcats play both national champions (LSU and USC) and seven other teams that participated in bowl games, the 2004 schedule couldn’t get any harder, right? Well the early forecast predicts another tough slate for the Cardinal and Navy. Right from the start the Wildcats have been tested, as opening day opponent NAU played the Wildcats tough in a 21-3 loss. Upcoming opponent Utah (1-0) is the early pick to win the Mountain West Conference and is ranked No. 17 in the Associated Press poll this week. The Big Ten does not list a preseason prediction outside of the top three, but Wisconsin (1-0), UA’s final non-conference opponent of the regular season, is currently ranked No. 21 in the AP poll. Once conference play begins, Arizona will face five straight games against 2003 bowl teams, including No. 12 Cal (1-0) and at No. 24 Oregon. Arizona’s final month features a road trip to Seattle to face the Huskies (0-1), a jaunt to LA to face top-ranked USC (1-0) and match up with rival Arizona State (1-0) in the final game of the year for the Territorial Cup. Combined, Arizona’s 2004 opponents posted an 89-52 record last year, including a 5-3 record in bowl games.