Greg Byrne's Wildcat Wednesday
From the Vault: Best Season in Arizona Football History
By: Arizona Athletics
Release: July 07, 2005
Photo Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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First in a two-part look at the 1998 Arizona football team that finished with a school-record 12 wins and No. 4 national ranking. Today's feature reviews the regular season; tomorrow the Holiday Bowl matchup with Nebraska.

(From the 1999 Arizona Football Media Guide)

Game 1: Arizona 27, Hawaii 6
McAlister, Smith Outshine Rainbows

HONOLULU - Arizona senior Chris McAlister took the opening kickoff back 100 yards and the Wildcats never looked back in their season-opener at Hawaii. Sparked by McAlister's return, the Wildcats beat the Rainbow Warriors 27-6 in front of 33,804 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu.

Wildcat head coach Dick Tomey named Ortege Jenkin as the starting quarterback, but as planned used Keith Smith at the start of the second quarter. Smith's entry sparked UA to its second touchdown as he hooked up with Jeremy McDaniel on the right sideline for a nifty 17-yard TD.

No. 24 Arizona put more points on the board late in the third quarter as Smith found junior wideout Dennis Northcutt for a seven-yard touchdown pass. The Wildcats scored their final touchdown midway through the fourth quarter when Kelvin Eafon blasted through the right side from behind Yusuf Scott and Manuia Savea to score from five yards.

Smith completed 17-of-22 on the night for 218 yards and two touchdowns. Northcutt caught eight passes for 91 yards and a touchdown, as well as returning seven punts for 70 yards with a long of 29.

McAlister broke up two passes and did not allow a completion in coverage, plus disturbed punter Chad Shrout, causing a kick of only 18 yards. McAlister also lined up at tailback on the first play from scrimmage on a lateral for 12 yards.

Game 2: Arizona 31, Stanford 14
Offense, Defense Roll Over the Cardinal

PALO ALTO, Calif. - No. 21 Arizona used a bruising effort on both sides and improved its record to 2-0 for the first time since 1995 with a 31-14 win at Stanford in front of 30,096 fans.

While the Wildcats' offense rolled up 511 yards of total offense, Arizona's defense held Stanford to only 60 yards on the ground and 347 yards of total offense.

Tailback Trung Canidate returned to action and underscored his value as a feature back with 21 carries for 100 yards.

The QB rotation of Keith Smith and Ortege Jenkins worked for the Cats as each completed 8-of-14 passes, Smith for 130 yards and Jenkins for 158 yards. Dennis Northcutt hauled in five catches for 160 yards and a touchdown. Jeremy McDaniel grabbed seven balls for 70 yards and a touchdown.

Arizona started slowly but took the lead after forcing a Cardinal punt with 3:18 left in the half. UA took over at its own 26-yard line.

Jenkins hit Northcutt on a 44-yard gain and a first down at the Stanford 34-yard line. The Wildcats converted twice again before he connected with McDaniel on a fade to the corner of the endzone.

Marcus Bell led the Wildcats with 10 tackles. Chris McAlister, Kelvin Hunter, Eli Wnek and Rafell Jones all were in on five tackles. McAlister also broke up four passes including his first interception of the year.

Game 3: Arizona 35, Iowa 11
UA Halts Ground Attack, Outflies Hawkeyes

TUCSON - No. 16-ranked Arizona's wide receivers, Jeremy McDaniel and Dennis Northcutt, had a nice night against Iowa in helping to lead the Wildcats to a 35-11 victory.

The Wildcat quarterbacks completed more than 60 percent of their passes for almost 300 yards in front of 52,634 fans at Arizona Stadium. UA's defense held the Hawkeyes to 28 net rushing yards.

Northcutt hauled in five passes from Ortege Jenkins and Keith Smith for 157 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown. He also had a catch for 56 yards, but did not score on the play.

McDaniel also caught five passes for 108 yards. He did not score a touchdown, but did catch a pass for 76 yards from Jenkins. Smith completed 7 of 8 attempts for 167 yards and the touchdown to Northcutt. His only incompletion was dropped by an Arizona receiver. Jenkins was 4-of-10 passing for 118 yards.

Kyle McCann completed 18-of-36 for 274 yards and Scott Mullen was 7-of-11 for 116 and a touchdown for Iowa, but UA put a damper on the one-dimensional attack with interceptions by Scooter Sprotte and Kelvin Hunter.

Wildcat linebacker Marcus Bell earned the first Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week honor of his career against the Hawkeyes with an 11-tackle (five for losses), two-sack performance.

Game 4: Arizona 35, San Diego State 16
Cats Explode for 28 Points in First Half

SAN DIEGO, Calif. - No. 16 Arizona traveled to San Diego to play before a rush-hour crowd of 23,811 people at Qualcomm Stadium and a national television audience on ESPN.

Aztec receiver Damon Gourdine took the opening kickoff back 76 yards, but Chris McAlister made the tackle in time at the Arizona 21-yard line and the Wildcats held SDSU to only a field goal.

The teams traded punts, and a 51-yard return by Dennis Northcutt gave the Wildcats great field position at the SDSU 19-yard line. On the first play of the drive, Keith Smith hit Jeremy McDaniel for a touchdown.

After another Aztec punt and more good field position, Smith ran for a 16-yard gain, and again for a 20-yard touchdown to put Arizona up 14-3. On Arizona's next possession, Smith scored again, this time on a 30-yard scramble around the left side. Arizona scored its final touchdown of the first half on its next possession when Jim Wendler plunged in from five yards out. It was not only the first touchdown of Wendler's career, but also the first carry.

Defensively, Scooter Sprotte's two interceptions helped bail UA out of trouble. He also had four solo tackles and nearly had his third interception of the game in the third quarter when he broke up a pass. Marcus Bell led all players with 13 tackles, eight solo. He also recovered a fumble and broke up a pass.

Game 5: Arizona 31, Washington 28
Leap by Lake Collars Dawgs

SEATTLE - Ortege Jenkins scored on a highlight-film scramble with four seconds left to give No. 14 Arizona a 31-28 win over No. 20 Washington in front of 71, 469 fans at Husky Stadium.

The sophomore quarterback was flushed from the pocket and ran for the end zone. Three defenders converged on Jenkins at the 2 yard line. Jenkins leaped and flipped over the defenders before landing on his feet for the winning touchdown.

Jenkins' miracle flip was the culmination of a 13-play, 80-yard drive and came after a nice UA goal-line stand (two tackles by freshman Keoni Fraser) which thwarted a UW try for a touchdown. The Huskies missed the field goal.

Jenkins finished with 111 passing yards and a touchdown on 10-of-19 completions. Keith Smith was 9-of-14 for 146 yards and a touchdown. Trung Canidate led the Wildcats on the ground, gaining 87 yards on 15 carries.

Defensively, Marcus Bell earned Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week honors for his 21-tackle (11 solo) performance. He also blocked an extra point. Peter Hansen, a 6-foot-8 quarterback, played on special teams and blocked a Husky field goal attempt.

Game 6: UCLA 52, Arizona 28
Cats Play 50 Minutes, Bruins Ruin Last 10

TUCSON - Arizona's only blemish on an otherwise perfect season came during the fourth quarter against UCLA in front of 58,738, the fourth-largest crowd in Arizona Stadium history.

The No. 10 Wildcats went toe-to-toe for 50 minutes against the No. 3 Bruins, trailing only 31-28. However, the Bruins scored on three consecutive offensive plays in the fourth quarter to win 52-28.

With about 12 minutes left, the Bruins took to the air, and Cade McNown hit Danny Farmer for a 64-yard touchdown. The Wildcats were forced to punt on their next possession. Keith Brown took the handoff on UCLA's first play and ran 54 yards for the touchdown.

Arizona took the kickoff, but Keith Smith was intercepted by Tony White at the Wildcats' 25. On the next play, Brown ran it in, this time from 20 yards out. UCLA rolled up 229 yards in the fourth and fateful quarter.

Ortege Jenkins had his best numbers of the season statistically, completing 14-of-30 for 260 yards and a touchdown. Dennis Northcutt caught eight passes for 103 yards, and Jeremy McDaniel grabbed seven balls for 126 yards and two touchdowns.

Game 7: Arizona 28, Oregon State 7
Basic Football Style Lifts Cats Over Beavers

CORVALLIS, Ore. - No. 16 Arizona turned to some time-written football axioms to recover from the whipping of the previous week, beating Oregon State, 28-7, before 30,021 fans in Parker Stadium.

The Cats won the turnover battle, established the run, and shot down the run - a handful of ploys most coaches hang in a shellacked frame on the wall.

Led by linebacker Marcus Bell, who finished with 12 tackles (nine solo), Arizona held the Beavers to only 21 yards rushing. OSU checked in with only 167 yards in total offense - an opponent season low.

Arizona ran the ball a season-high (tie) 53 times for 228 yards and four touchdowns. Sophomore Leon Callen led the way with his best game of the year, 107 yards on 16 carries. He scored his first touchdown of the season on a 36-yard run in the fourth quarter.

Kelvin Eafon was another key for the Wildcats with some superb red-zone work. The senior bulldozed through the Beavers defense for three touchdown runs of one, four and two yards. Eafon finished the day with 84 yards on 13 carries.

Arizona quarterbacks Keith Smith and Ortege Jenkins combined for 148 yards on 16-of-24 passing, as the Wildcats executed their game plan of short, conservative passes.

The Wildcats took advantage of two OSU fumbles to set up short-field scoring drives.

Game 8: Arizona 45, Northeast Louisiana 7
More Firepower Leads Cats Past Northeast Louisiana

TUCSON - No. 14 Arizona rushed for more than 250 yards and passed for nearly 200 more to earn its seventh win of the season, 45-7 over Northeast Louisiana, before 39,218 fans at Arizona Stadium.

Running backs Kelvin Eafon and Trung Canidate each rushed for two touchdowns, while Keith Smith threw for two and Ortege Jenkins tossed another. Cornerback Chris McAlister capped it all with a 68-yard touchdown on the first punt return of his career. UA averaged 7.1 yards per play on offense. The Arizona defense sacked Northeast Louisiana quarterbacks a school-record nine times for -52 yards.

Smith completed 10-of-13 passes for 136 yards. Jenkins was 7-of-12 for 62 yards. Canidate carried the ball 12 times for 91 yards, while Eafon rushed 10 times for 70 yards.

Defensively, Marcus Bell led the Wildcats with eight tackles, two for loss, a sack and two passes broken up. Daniel Greer sacked Vige three times and finished with six tackles. Barrett Baker, Arizona's special teams captain, blocked the first punt of his career in the third quarter.

Game 9: Arizona 38, Oregon 3
Near-Perfect Cats Put Ducks Down

TUCSON - The Cats put on some straight-face masks and in a battle for a major bowl berth, No. 13 Arizona whipped No. 12 Oregon 38-3 in front of a Halloween crowd of 44,931 at Arizona Stadium.

A goal-line interception by cornerback Chris McAlister thwarted UO's first drive and UA drove 80 yards to set the tone. Brad Brennan sparked the Wildcats' rout with a 48-yard catch-and-run from Keith Smith for the punctuation.

UA did what UCLA had done a few weeks earlier - blast a good team with a splurge of points. The Cats ran 24 plays for 286 yards on their first four possessions of the second half for four scores.

The Wildcats got going on the fourth play of the half with a 71-yard scoring run by Trung Canidate. Later, his 61-yard burst set up another score.

UA's kicking game was a big key. Dennis Northcutt's punt returns of 53 and 14 yards helped set up two scoring drives, while UA punter Ryan Springston and the coverage units contained Oregon's return specialists to a 6.3 mark on returns.

Canidate finished with 180 yards, his highest total of the year at the time, on 17 carries. Kelvin Eafon added 67 yards on 14 carries and three touchdowns.

Arizona's defense held then-Heisman Trophy candidate Akili Smith to only 168 yards on 13-of-25 passing. He was intercepted twice.

Game 10: Arizona 41, Washington State 7
Cats Run Through, Around Cougars

TUCSON - Back in the groove at No. 10, Arizona ran its fewest plays of the year but made them count (8.8 per) and built a 24-7 lead by the half, then kicked into overdrive to cruise to a 41-7 victory over Washington State before 47,761 fans at Arizona Stadium.

WSU put together its best drive of the night to take an early 7-3 lead. But Arizona showed its big-play capability two plays into its next possession, as Trung Canidate blew through a hole on the right side and scored on a 75-yard run.

Canidate struck again later in the first quarter. The junior hit another hole, streaking for a 45-yard touchdown run to give the Wildcats a 17-7 lead.

Arizona finished its scoring in the first half in dramatic fashion. Cornerback Chris McAlister stepped in front of a Steve Birnbaum pass on the right sideline, and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown. He became the seventh player in NCAA history to return a kickoff, punt and interception for touchdowns in the same season.

Canidate rushed for 174 yards and two touchdowns on only 12 carries . Keith Smith rushed six times for 90 yards and neither he nor Ortege Jenkins were sacked. Through the air, Jenkins was 5-of-7 for 68 yards, while Smith was 6-of-10 for 88 yards. UA rushed for 368 yards.

Game 11: Arizona 27, California 23
UA Hangs on for Win in Penalty-Ridden Game

BERKELEY, Calif. - Arizona and California combined for 29 penalties and 307 penalty yards that slowed the pace of the Wildcats' 10th victory of the season, a 27-23 triumph in front of 36,500 fans at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley. The game gave Arizona a perfect 6-0 mark on the road in 1998 and it became the first team in school history to win 10 games during the regular season.

Cal's first punt was blocked by Wildcat cornerback Chris McAlister to set up a Keith Smith to Jeremy McDaniel touchdown throw.

Cal scored on a 41-yard run by Marcus Fields to tie the game, but a Golden Bears' miscue on their next possession hurt. After punter Ryan Springston dropped the ball inside Cal's 20, the Bears were stuck with poor field position, and UA came up with a forced fumble by Idris Haroon and a tackle of QB Justin Vedder by Joe Tafoya for a safety.

Arizona came out in the second half and scored on its first possession of the half, capping an eight-play, 65-yard drive with a 17-yard pass from Smith to Brad Brennan.

Trung Canidate gave Arizona the lead at 27-10 with a 54-yard run early in the fourth quarter, but Cal fought back with 13 unanswered points. UA had a big first-down run by Kelvin Eafon to eat the clock before giving the ball over to the Bears for some final desperation throws.

Game 12: Arizona 50, Arizona State 42
Canidate Runs and Runs...Devils Can't; But Throw

TUCSON - In one of the biggest games in school history, Trung Canidate had the best day any running back has ever had at the University of Arizona.

Canidate carried the ball only 18 times in Arizona's 50-42 win over Arizona State in front of 57,953 fans at Arizona Stadium. However, he averaged 16 yards per tote and rambled for a school-record 288 yards and three scores. The TD runs came on jaunts of 80, 66 and 48 yards.

Meantime, UA held ASU to 51 net rushing yards. Ryan Kealy ripped the secondary for 511 yards on 33 completions in 56 attempts. Each team missed twice on two-point conversion attempts.

Arizona took a 7-3 lead in the first quarter after Brad Brennan caught a 72-yard pass from Keith Smith and flew past the Arizona State defense for the touchdown. However, the Sun Devils battled back to take a 15-7 lead. Arizona scored again when Jim Wendler scored his second career touchdown on a one-yard dive early in the second quarter to close at 15-13.

The teams traded punts and with ASU starting at its own 12 yard-line, UA tackle Kenoni Fraser knocked a ball loose and linebacker Scooter Sprotte scooped and scored. Still, Arizona State scored on its next possession to take a 22-19 lead with 1:50 left in the first half. But moments later Canidate ripped off the first of his long runs, an 80-yard untouched cut-back.

The Sun Devils opened the second half with the ball, but were forced to punt. Chris McAlister burst through the ASU line to block the punt, setting up a short drive and an Ortege Jenkins 13-yard scoring run to put UA up 33-22. The Wildcats did not trail from then on, as Mark McDonald added a 21-yard field goal, and Canidate scored on 66 and 48-yard runs. ASU didn't stop scoring either and had a desperation pass knocked down by Kelvin Hunter as time expired. The 92 points scored by the two teams were the most in the series.

UA linebacker Marcus Bell turned in his second 21-tackle game of the season to easily cement his standing as the top tackler in the league in 1998.

Arizona won 11 games for the first time in school history and became only the fourth Pac-10 team to do so.

Coming Wednesday: Fourth Quarter Drives Help Cats Beat Huskers in Holiday Bowl

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