Greg Byrne's Wildcat Wednesday
Football Season Review
By: Arizona Athletics
Release: January 05, 2006
Photo Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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Season in Review

Consistency and improvement were the keys to Arizona in 2005 and sometimes they were present (Oregon State and UCLA) and sometimes they weren’t (Stanford and Washington). Overall the direction of the Wildcat football program took a big step forward in 2005 and laid a foundation on which the 2006 team can build. The overall record came in at 3-8 for a second consecutive season, but five of the eight losses over the course of the year were by seven points or less. For a second straight season Arizona won a Pac-10 road game (at Oregon State) and upset a top 25 team (No. 7 UCLA). Individually, the Wildcats found a touted but untested freshman QB that proved he could get the job done in Willie Tuitama. UA had another true frosh emerge as a pass catching threat in Mike Thomas and, while plagued with injuries throughout the year, saw some special plays from the defense, including a six interception game at Oregon State.


Forget Old Mother Hubbard

The cupboard for Arizona is anything but bare for next season. The Wildcats return 10 players on offense that started four or more games in 2005 and 12 on defense with the same credentials. In the skill positions on offense, UA returns its three most productive receivers (Mike Thomas, Syndric Steptoe, and Anthony Johnson), the starting QB (Willie Tuitama), fullback (Brandon Lopez) and starting tight end (Brad Wood). Defensively, the loss of four-year starter and leading tackler Darrell Brooks as well as sackman Copeland Bryan will be tempered with the return of three-fourths of the defensive backfield (Antoine Cason, Wilrey Fontenot and Michael Johnson), all three starting linebackers (Dane Krogstad, Ronnie Palmer and Spencer Larsen) and five regular starters on the D-line (Yaniv Barnett, Lionel Dotson, Paul Philipp and Jonathan Turner), as well as medical hardship senior end Marcus Smith.

Offensive Returners (Yr in 2006)
WR Syndric Steptoe, Sr. 37 rec., 493 yards, 49.3 avg., 1 TD, 73 rushing yards
WR Anthony Johnson, Sr. 32 rec., 419 yards, 38.1 avg., 3 TD
WR Mike Thomas, So. 52 rec., 771 yards, 70.1 avg., 5 TD, 40 rushing yards, TD
WR BJ Dennard, Jr. 7 rec., 72 yards
WR Mike Jefferson, Sr. 4 rec. 64 yards
OL Peter Graniello, Jr. 10 starts in 2005, 21 career starts at LT
OL Erick Levitre, Sr. 11 starts in 2005, 12 career starts at C
OL Tanner Bell, Sr. 11 starts in 2005, 18 career starts at RT
OL Joe Longacre, So. 4 starts in RS freshman season at RG
OL Adam Hawes, Sr. 3 starts in 2005 for JC transfer at LG
TE Brad Wood, Sr. 27 rec., 304 yards, 6 TD
TE Travis Bell, So. 4 rec., 42 yards, 2 TD
QB Willie Tuitama, So. 82 of 142, 1,105 yards, 221.0 avg., 9 TD, 5 Int.
QB Richard Kovalcheck, Jr. 125 of 220, 1,351 yards, 168.0 avg., 10 TD, 11 Int.
FB Brandon Lopez, So. 4 rec., 35 yards
RB Chris Henry, Jr. 34 att., 119 yards, 3.5 avg.
Defensive Returners
CB Wilrey Fontenot, Jr. 51 tackles (36-15), 2 Int, 6 PBU
CB Antoine Cason, Jr. 50 tackles (38-12), 2.5 TFL, 3 Int, 5 PBU
SS Michael Johnson, Sr. 60 tackles (40-20), 4.5 TFL, 4 Int, Def. TD, 4 PBU
NB M. Hollingsworth, Sr. 41 tackles (26-15), 6 TFL, 2 sacks, Int, 4 PBU
LB Spencer Larsen, Jr. 51 tackles (29-22), 2.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 PBU
LB Ronnie Palmer, So. 38 tackles (18-20), 2 TFL, 1.5 sacks
LB Dane Krogstad, Jr.  38 tackles (29-9), 4 TFL, 2 sacks, PBU
LB John McKinney, Sr. 25 tackles (16-9), 5.5 TFL, 0.5 sack
LB Akin Akinniyi, Sr. 17 tackles (15-2), 1.5 TFL, 2 PBU
DE Jonathan Turner, So. 27 tackles (13-14), 4 TFL, 1.5 sacks, PBU
DE Marcus Smith, Sr. 7 tackles (3-4), FR
DL Yaniv Barnett, Jr. 27 tackles (15-12), 3 TFL, sack, 2 PBU
DL Lionel Dotson, Jr. 21 tackles, (10-11), 3 PBU, 1 FF
DL Paul Philipp 3 tackles (3-0), 2 TFL,  FF
Special Teams Returners
PK Nick Folk 7 of 11 FG, long 51 yards, 31 of 33 PAT, 38 of 53 KO TB
LS Sy Tomerlin Played in eight games, punt snapper
LS Garen McHone Played in all 11 games, place kick snapper
KR/PR Syndric Steptoe 20 PR, 221 yards, 11.1 avg. TD, 19 KR, 484 yards, 25.5 avg.
KR BJ Dennard 6 KR, 127 yards, 21.2 avg.


Departing Starters

The Cats lose, on offense, running back Mike Bell, guards Kili Lefotu and John Abramo, and sometime fullback starter (and No. 2 tailback) Gilbert Harris. On defense the Cats lose All-Pac-10 safety Darrell Brooks and second-team all-league DE Copeland Bryan. Other key departing seniors include second-team All-Pac-10 punter Danny Baugher, four-year letterman safety Lamon Means and four-year letterman (fullback and LB) Sean Jones. The Cats also lose sometime starters in linebacker Randy Sims, fullback Pedro Limon and jumbo tight end/tackle Brad Brittain, plus scout teamers in defensive tackle Greg Tate and safety Andrew Ford.


Lineup Notes

Tanner Bell and Marcus Smith will be back on medical hardship years -- Bell for 2004 and Smith in 2005... The linebacking corps was supposed to be Palmer, Larsen and Krogstad after spring ball, but injuries to each played a role in 2005, causing the three to play only one game side by side -- the season finale at ASU. That gave Marcus Hollingsworth a shot at some serious action and also gave backup Akin Akinniyi (senior) enough action to make him a veteran for the next go-round... Michael Johnson took Lamon Means job after seven games and made an impact, earning honorable mention all-league, as did Steptoe, Folk, Graniello and Mike Bell... Corners Cason and Fontenot have 22 consecutive starts and have played every single scrimmage play in that span... Others with full-season starting roles in 2005 were Brooks and Barnett on defense, plus Levitre and Tanner Bell on offense. Steptoe, Mike Bell and Wood were constant No. 1's who gave way in a couple of games to formation starts by others, while Graniello and Turner missed one start each.


Postseason Pac Honors

WR Mike Thomas was feted with Co-Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors ... FS Darrell Brooks was tabbed first-team All-Pac-10 ... DE Copeland Bryan, CB Antoine Cason and P Danny Baugher all garnered second-team honors ... RB Mike Bell, OL Peter Graniello, PK/P Nick Folk, SS Michael Johnson and WR Syndric Steptoe were all honorable mention ... Brooks was the lone first-team All-Pac-10 player in the conference to also earn first team all-academic honors from the Pac-10 as well ... Others recognized for their academic achievements by the Pac-10 were Spencer Larsen (second  team), Akin Akinnyi (HM), Nick Folk (HM), Richard Kovalcheck (HM) and Erick Levitre (HM).


Pac-10 FOY

Wide receiver Mike Thomas' selection as Pac-10 Freshman of the Year (co-honor with OSU guard Jeremy Perry) put him in some select company. The league began naming its top freshman in 1999 with its citation of USC's Kareem Kelly, followed by ASU's Terrell Suggs (2000), co-honorees Teyo Johnson of Stanford and Reggie Williams of UW (2001), Mike Williams of USC (2002), Brandon Browner of OSU (2003) and Zach Miller of ASU (2004). Thomas joins some serious former Cats on the charts since the Pac-10 began naming Players of the Year in 1975 (with RB Chuck Muncie of Cal as the first pick). Linebacker Ricky Hunley (1983), linebacker Bryon Evans (1986), safety Chuck Cecil (1987), defensive tackle Dana Wells (1988), cornerback Darryll Lewis (1990), defensive tackle Rob Waldrop (1993) and defensive tackle Tedy Bruschi (1995) are UA's other Pac-10 Players of the Year -- all on defense. Thomas is the first offensive selection for UA.


Pac-10 Top Squad

UA graduate safety Darrell Brooks' selection to the first-team defense unit of the 2005 All-Pacific-10 Conference squad represents Arizona's first top pick since a trio made the first units in 2002 -- wide receiver Bobby Wade, linebacker Lance Briggs and special teams stalwart Ray Wells. Briggs was a three-time pick, also making it in 2000 and 2001, while Wade was a first-team return specialist in 2000 and tailback Clarence Farmer made it in 2001. Those are the UA's picks for the first team in this millennium. 2005 second-team selection Antoine Cason, a cornerback, appears to have a good shot at the first unit in his third season next year, with seven career interceptions and an every-snap background to take into his junior campaign. Others looking to gain some recognition in 2006 include PK Nick Folk, OL Peter Graniello and SS Michael Johnson.


Quick Hits From 2005

- Senior RB Mike Bell posted the most successful season in his four-year UA career. Bell became the first UA running back to lead the team in rushing all four seasons he played and finished 2005 with a career-best 952 yards on 200 attempts and five TDs.

- True freshman WR Mike Thomas re-wrote the UA rookie record book with 52 catches for 771 yards and five receiving scores. Thomas also added 40 yards rushing and a running score in his first season at UA.

- True frosh QB Willie Tuitama proved to be good as advertised in just five games played. Pulled out of his redshirt season in the first quarter against Oregon on Oct. 22, Tuitama went on to pass for 1,105 yards and nine TDs in the final five weeks of the year.

- JC transfer Michael Johnson took over the starting strong safety spot midway through the year and finished second on the team in total tackles (60) and led all UA players with four interceptions, including three at Oregon State.

- Senior punter Danny Baugher led the nation in punting with a 47.5 yards per kick average before going down with a season-ending knee injury after attempting to return a blocked kick against Oregon. Despite the injury, Baugher was still named one of three national finalists for the Ray Guy Award.

- Baugher set a pair of Pac-10 and school punting records in 2005. Against NAU he set the single game record for highest punting average (59.7) and a week later helped set the record for highest team average (57.6) in a single game against No. 11 Purdue.

- After Baugher’s injury junior Nick Folk did double duty as the PK/P. Folk averaged 44.7 yards per punt in filling in for his down teammate and finished the year 7 for 11 on field goal chances and 31 of 33 on PAT chances.

- Folk’s big leg proved to be an asset on kickoffs. 38 of his 53 kicks were touchbacks and the opposition averaged just 19.8 yards on his 14 returnable kicks.

- Senior FS Darrell Brooks led the team in tackles for a second straight season, finishing with a career-best 93 total stops (62-31).

- Injuries took it toll on the Arizona linebacking corps. The projected starting lineup of RS-Fr. Ronnie Palmer, So. Spencer Larsen and So. Dane Krogstad did not take the field together as a unit all season because of a variety of ailments.

- The defensive line also had its fair share of injuries. Starting Sr. DEs Marcus Smith (leg, 9 games lost) and Copeland Bryan (ankle, 3 games lost) both missed significant time and So. DL Paul Philipp was never 100 percent. The injuries pushed So. DL Lionel Dotson, So. DL Yaniv Barnett and RS-Fr. DE Jonathan Turner into starting roles.

- Junior WR/KR Syndric Steptoe proved to be a multiple threat after finishing with 37 receptions for 493 yards, 8 rushes for 73 yards, 20 punt returns for 221 yards and 19 kickoff returns for 484 yards (a total of 1,271 all-purpose yards in 10 games). Against No. 7 UCLA, Steptoe became the first punt returner at UA to bring back a kick for a TD since Bobby Wade in 2000. He has 1,271 all-purpose yards in his three-year career, just 899 shy of UA’s all-time top 10.

- Junior TE Brad Wood led all players with six TDs in 2005. It was the most receiving TDs in a single season since Bobby Wade hauled in eight TD passes in 2002.


Upswings in 2005

Arizona made some significant improvement in 2005 in several statistical areas. Here are several:

Category 2005 2004 Change Note...
Scoring 22.9 ppg 14.9 ppg +8 points per game 29 ppg last 4 games; 13 more TDs
Passing 229 ypg 170 ypg +59 ypg 19 TDs passing
Offense 351 ypg 289 ypg +62 ypg 400 ypg last 4 outings
Net Punting 36.0 25.1 +.9 yards per punt Huge w/TB factor
Punting 44.9 42.9 +2 yards per punt Baugher/Folk shared
Third Down 39% 30% +9% 14 more sets of downs
Attendance 53,613 50,111 +7% bigger 96 % of capacity

Getting To the Point

Arizona scored 33 touchdowns (11 rush, 19 pass, 2 defensive, 1 punt return) in 2005, a 13-TD improvement over 2004’s final total of 20 scores (9 rush, 10 pass, 1 defensive).


DB’s Done

Arizona’s unquestioned leader on defense, FS Darrell Brooks wrapped up his Wildcat playing days at Arizona State on Nov. 25. UA’s leading tackler each of the last two seasons, Darrell finished 16th all-time at Arizona in total tackles with 295. His 204 career solo tackles fell just outside the all-time top 10 at UA, trailing Mark Jacobs and Lance Briggs’ 205 solo stops by just one for the No. 10 spot.  His final career totals:

Year UT AT TT Other
2002 39 11 50 3 PBU, 1 FR, 2 FF
2003 55 24 79 3 PBU, 1 FR, 1 INT
2004 48 25 73 9 PBU, 1 FF, 1 INT
2005 62 31 93 2 PBU, 2 FF, 2 INT
Totals 204 91 295 17 PBU, 5 FF, 2 FR, 6 INT

Bell Tolls

With 153 yards on the ground against UCLA on Nov. 5, senior Mike Bell became just the fifth player in school history to eclipse the career 3,000 yard rushing mark. His 952 yards total in 2005 pushed him all the way to fourth on the all-time rushing list.

Arizona Top Five All-Time Rushers

1 Trung Canidate (1996-99) 3,824 yards (604 att.)
2 Ontiwaun Carter (1991-94) 3,501 yards (805 att.)
3 Art Luppino (1953-56) 3,371 yards (513 att.)
4 Mike Bell (2002-2005) 3,163 yards (678 att.)
5 Hubie Oliver (1977-80) 3,096 yards (649 att.)


Hitting the Century Mark

Including a 117-yard effort in his final game at UA on Nov. 25, senior running back Mike Bell rushed for 100 or more yards in a game 11 times in his career. When doing so, he amassed 1,576 rushing yards, 12 TDs and averaged 6.7 yards per carry.

Mike Bell’s 100-yard Games

Date Opponent (Result)  Att  Yards  TDs  Avg.
Aug. 30, 2003  UTEP (W, 42-7)  13 119 1 9.2
37919 at Cal (L, 42-14)  19 182 1 9.6
Nov. 1, 2003  at Oregon State (L, 52-23)  25 106 1 4.2
Nov. 8, 2003  Washington (W, 27-22)  26 222 3 8.5
Sept. 4, 2004  Northern Arizona (W, 21-3)  30 124 2 4.1
Oct. 9, 2004  at UCLA (L, 31-17)  21
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