Greg Byrne's Wildcat Wednesday
Football Opens Home Slate vs. NAU
By: Arizona Athletics
Release: September 10, 2005
Photo Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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Some Game Themes

Arizona hosts in-state rival Northern Arizona in its first home game of the season ... Can the Wildcats overcome the miscues on both sides of the ball that plagued them against Utah in the season opener? ... Will Northern Arizona be able to trip up the Cats for the first time since 1932?


Last Time Out

Utah struck gold in a seven-minute span in the third quarter, then hung on to beat a rallying Arizona club, 27-24, in Salt Lake City. Several Wildcat errors proved lethal, along with some solid running by Utah. The Utes averaged 5.9 yards per rush, including a 59-yard scoring run by Brent Casteel that snapped a 10-10-tie early in the third quarter.  An Arizona fumble near midfield gave Utah a short drive for a field goal two minutes after Casteel's big run and a Richard Kovalcheck pass into coverage was returned 24 yards for another turnover score by Eric Weddle five minutes after that to make it 27-10 in the Utes' favor. Arizona fought back with two solid scoring drives, the first capped by a Kovalcheck to TE Brad Wood 21-yard TD pass and the second ending on a Gilbert Harris 4th-down plunge to make it 27-24 with 9:23 remaining. UA's defense held to get the ball back for another crack at it, but punted on 4th-and-5 from the Utah 42-yard line. The Utes ran enough time off the clock and punted deep to give UA the ball for a last time with only 28 seconds left and a full field to travel. After one first down, a final Kovalcheck throw was intercepted as time wound down. The big plays, including a 47-yard shovel pass for a score by tailback Quinton Gather, gave Utah an edge in total offense, 446 net to UA's 391 -- the second-best total for UA in Mike Stoops' tenure. UA had more first downs (25/19), better third-down efficiency (43% to 31%), more passing yards (287/220) and cashed in on all three of its red zone opportunities (one FG, 2 TD). The miscues were certainly part of the difference. Kovalcheck's 21 completions (37 att) and passing yards (255) were career highs, Mike Bell rushed for a 5.5 average and 99 total yards on 18 carries and freshman receiver Mike Thomas debuted his break-out potential with seven catches for 92 yards and a score. But The Utes rushed for more yards (226) than any Arizona opponent in the past 16 games. (Cal - 327 yds, Oct. 25, 2003.) Syndric Steptoe continued his playmaking production with 162 total yards (90 receiving, 70 KOR, 2 rushing). Middle linebacker Dane Krogstad (15) and other LBs contributed 30 tackles, while safety Darrell Brooks had 11 hits. An ankle injury to DE Copeland Bryan, the Cats best pressure man, on the first series kept him out of action the rest of the game and hurt UA's defensive game plan.


Quick Hits From Utah

- Sophomore LB Dane Krogstad tallied a career-highs with 15 tackles, nine solo stops and two TFL against the Utes.

- Sophomore QB Richard Kovalcheck recorded career-highs in both completions (21) and yards (255) in the loss.

- Junior TE Brad Wood tied his career-highs in receptions (3), TDs (1) and longest reception (21). His 49 receiving yards were the most in his UA career.

- Former walk-on Adam Austin completed his first collegiate pass attempt in the second quarter.

- Arizona passed for more yards than an opponent in a game for the first time since Sept. 11, 2004 against Utah (nine games).

- Arizona tallied more first downs than an opponent in a game for the first time since last season’s opening contest against NAU (10 games).

- The 21 second-half points scored by Arizona against Utah were the most in the final 30 minutes of a game since UA posted 23 in a 52-23 loss at Oregon State on Nov. 1, 2003 (14 games).


Arizona vs. NAU - The Series

Arizona and its neighbor to the north will meet up for the ninth time since 1931 ... The Wildcats own a 7-1 advantage in the series and have won the last six straight ... This year’s game will be just the third contest between the two in the last 57 years, but it is also the third game pitting the in-state schools against each other in the last four seasons ... Arizona defeated NAU 37-3 in the opening game of the 2002 season and again 21-3 last season ... Arizona is a perfect 6-0 against the Lumberjacks in Arizona Stadium, 1-0 against NAU in Flagstaff and 0-1 in Phoenix.


NAU and Arizona - The Last Time Out

Arizona opened its first game under Mike Stoops with a 16-play, 80-yard drive on the opening possession and went on to defeat Northern Arizona 21-3 in Tucson last season ... Mike Bell scored a TD from two yards out on the opening drive to hand UA a 7-0 lead. He rushed the ball eight times for 35 yards on the opening drive and finished the contest with a game-high 124 yards on 30 carries and two scores ... Leading just 7-3 after three quarters, the Wildcats pulled away with a pair of scores in the final frame ... Darrell Brooks intercepted NAU’s Jason Murrietta to help set up Bell’s second TD of the game in the fourth quarter and former QB Kris Heavner hit Syndric Steptoe on a 13-yard pass at the 5:40 mark for the final score of the game ... True freshman Antoine Cason made an immediate impact in his UA debut and garnered Pac-10 Player of the Week honors with a game-high 13 tackles, two forced fumbles, a PBU and an interception ... The contest marked the first time since 2002 (North Texas) that Arizona kept an opponent out of the end zone for six points.


Noting the Jacks

Northern Arizona heads south with a 1-0 record after defeating Division II foe Adams State 52-13 on Sept. 1 ... Leading just 7-6 at half, the Lumberjacks exploded for 45 second-half points in the season opening victory ... Junior QB Jason Murrietta threw for 195 yards and three TDs and senior Tucsonan Philo Sanchez rushed for a game-high 75 yards and a TD in the win ... NAU was picked to finish sixth in the Big Sky Conference in polls by both the league’s head coaches and its media members ... The Lumberjacks return eight starters on offense and five on defense from the 2004 team that finished 4-7 ... Murrietta, the 2003 Big Sky Player of the Year  (3,472 yards and 29 TDs), is coming off a 2004 season that saw him throw for 2,495 yards and 16 TDs ... Sanchez takes over at the starting RB spot after backing up Roger Robinson last season. Sanchez rushed for 216 yards and two TDs his junior year ... All five offensive linemen return for NAU this season ... On defense, senior Bruce Branch returns from a medical redshirt season to anchor a young unit that returns just five starters from last season... Head coach Jerome Souers enters the game against Arizona with a 41-41 record in Flagstaff.


Arizona In Home Openers

The 2005 season is the first in four seasons that Arizona’s home opener is not its season-opener (at SDSU in 2001) ... This season will mark the second-straight that Arizona will open its home slate against NAU ... UA is 16-1 over the last 17 years in its home opener (the lone loss came in 2000 against Ohio State).


Five Plus

Mike Bell’s opening game effort of 99 yards on 18 carries against Utah last week marked the 10th time in his 37-game career he has averaged five or more yards per carry. The senior tailback accounted for 95 percent of the Wildcats’ rushing yards gained against the Utes (99 of 104) and 86 percent of the rushing first downs for UA in the game (6 of 7). On 12 first down carries alone, Bell averaged an impressive 6.7 yards per tote and went 10 or more yards for another first down five times.


Converting on Third Down

After opening the first half against Utah a dismal 1 for 6 on third down conversions, the Wildcats stepped it up in the final 30 minutes. Arizona converted 5 of 8 chances on  third down in the second half, including key chain-movers on all three touchdown drives. Arizona finished the contest 6 of 14 on third down (43 percent), a number that UA would like to improve upon this year but still far better then the 30 percent success rate last season.


Red Zone Numbers

The Wildcats were a perfect 3 for 3 in red zone chances against Utah in the season opener. With the success against the Utes, Arizona is a perfect 10 for 10 in Red Zone opportunities dating back to the Oregon State game on Oct. 30 last season. Since that games against the Beavers, the Wildcats have scored five rushing TDs, three passing TDs and have kicked two field goals inside the 20-yard line.

Red Zone Success

Date     Opp                              Rush TD           Pass TD            FG

Oct. 30 Oregon State (1 for 2)*    1                      0                      0

Nov. 6   at Washington (2 for 2)   2                      0                      0

Nov. 13 at USC (1 for 1)              0                      1                      0

Nov. 26 Arizona State (3 for 3)    1                      1                      1

Sept. 2  at Utah (3 for 3)              1                      1                      1

Totals   10 for 10                        5                      3                      2

* Arizona missed a field goal on its first RZ attempt against OSU, but converted on a touchdown in the fourth quarter.


Frosh Catch On

True freshman receiver Mike Thomas snagged seven receptions for 92 yards in his debut game at Utah, giving him the modern record for a first-year Arizona player. Here’s how his effort stacks up against the top Arizona career receiving leaders and their first games, and the best previous effort:

No. 1    Bobby Wade (1999-2002), 230 rec ?-3351 yds      

            Debut: 2-12 at Penn State, 1999

No. 2    Dennis Northcutt (1996-1999), 223-3252

            Debut: 0-0 in 1st game (CB); 1-14 vs. WSU four G later, 1996

No. 3    Theopolis Bell (1972-75), 153-2509

            Debut: 0-0 in 1st game; 2-35 vs. UCLA in 2nd game, 1972

No. 10   Vance Johnson (1981-84), 104-1014

            Debut: 6-96 vs. UCLA, 1981


Going All the Way

One aspect of UA's improvement up front is better depth on the offensive line. Yet in the opener at Utah, line coach Eric Wolford played his cards close to the vest with his starting unit -- left tackle Peter Graniello, left guard John Abramo, center Erick Levitre, right guard Kili Lefotu and right tackle Tanner Bell -- playing every single scrimmage down. For senior Lefotu, a 30-game career starter, it was business as usual. Graniello started every game and went most of the way at RT or RG a year ago, and earned Freshman All-America second-team honors. Abramo, a senior, had five starts and has been a factor as a two-year letterman. But Levitre has played sparingly in his three-years in the program and senior Bell has been nicked up during many seasons (starts in each) and, in fact, didn't practice much in the past week. Other guys are in the mix, notably redshirt freshmen guards Joe Longacre and Dillon Hansen, senior tackle Brad Brittain and true freshman center Blake Kerley. Brittain (6-5, 293) started the Utah game as a tight end in a jumbo formation, but suffered a leg injury and was in street clothes the second half. Hansen and Longacre play on kicking units.


True to Form

Arizona's first game showed that newcomers will contribute. True freshmen who played were WR Mike Thomas, LB Adrian McCovy, SS Brandon Tatum and DE Michael Shelton. Junior transfers Byron Smith (DT) and Michael Johnson (SS) played. Redshirts who played were OL Dillon Hansen (Fr.), LB Brandon Lopez (Fr.), OL Joe Longacre (Fr.), WR Gerold Rodriguez (Fr.), TE Travis Bell (Fr.), DE Johnathan Turner (Fr.), and DB Dramayne McElroy (Jr.).


Putting on the Hits

Senior safety Darrell Brooks moved closer to UA's top 20 chart for career tackles after his 11-hit effort at Utah. Brooks has 218 total tackles. No. 20 on the list is nose guard John Sanguinetti (1974-77) with 270. Two defensive backs are on the chart -- safeties Chuck Cecil (7th with 392) and Jeff Hammerschmidt (19th with 279). The leader is former middle linebacker Ricky Hunley with 566 -- an average of 12.9 per game over his four year career from 1980-83. Brooks has averaged 75 tackles in his last two seasons and with that production this year he would surpass former linebacker Chris Singleton with 282 for the 17th-best career total in UA history.


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 - 0-1, 0-0
* In Tony Mason’s first year Arizona was a member of the Western Athletic Conference

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