Aug. 28, 2001
TUCSON - After nearly nine full months of preparations, head coach John Mackovic and the Wildcat football team will face the challenge of a real game,as the Cats leave Tucson Wednesday afternoon for a date with San Diego State on Thursday.
Mackovic, hired in early December in the wake of former coach Dick Tomey's resignation, has installed a multiple-pro passing attack, kept UA's continuity with the double-eagle flex defense and handled himself with aplomb in community appearances to help drum up more Wildcat support on the heels of successive 6-6 and 5-6 seasons. Now, the time has come to coach in his first game as UA's mentor.
"We'll look different on offense," Mackovic said at his weekly news conference Monday. That's one note opposing coach Ted Tollner of San Diego State was concerned about, since Mackovic has spent the last three years working as an ESPN college football analyst and the UA program can offer no videotape of Mackovic's style, nor much tape of junior quarterback Jason Johnson operating Mackovic's system. Johnson will see his first significant playing time and his first collegiate start against SDSU.
UA will kickoff with the SDSU Aztecs at 7:05 p.m. Thursday in Qualcomm Stadium, a game to be cablecast nationally by ESPN2.
Arizona will hold a walk-through type practice in Tucson shortly after noon, then fly to San Diego. Mackovic has opted to forego a walk-through in Qualcomm, typical for many teams on the road.
"I like to go to the hotel, relax, then play the game," he said of UA's plans. "I've done it that way for years."
NOTES...Junior offensive tackle Darren Safranek has been cleared to play and is the likely starter on the right side after several days of limited practice because of a sore shoulder. He missed spring practice after surgery and his return, along with senior center Steven Grace and junior left tackle Makoa Freitas, is a factor cited by Mackovic for Arizona's improvement up front. Grace and Freitas missed most of the 2000 season and spring with injuries, but should be be leaders of a unit believed to be one of Arizona's strengths... UA's overall health is good after the full preseason, although senior defensive end Eli Wnek remains sidelined in a cast (foot fracture)... Senior DE Austin Uku (knee) remains questionable but will make the trip to San Diego... Defensive end Tyrone Brown, a sophomore from the San Diego area who was signed as a tight end in 2000, has left the team but could remain in school, Mackovic said Tuesday...