The Wildcats got back on the
winning track last week in their season opener. Behind 120 yards rushing by
sophomore Mike Bell, Arizona beat UTEP 42-7. The Wildcats get set to host No. 13
LSU Saturday night at 7 p.m. PDT. Fans in Baton Rouge can catch the game on TBS
at 9 p.m. CDT.
On offense, the Wildcats return
seven starters from a squad that put up 333 yards and 19 points a
At quarterback, the duo of
sophomore Nic Costa and redshirt freshman Ryan O’Hara must replace the departed
Jason Johnson and all of his 3,327 yards and 16 touchdowns. Both quarterbacks
played in the season opener against UTEP and were efficient as O’Hara completed
8-of-15 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown while Costa was 6-of-10 for 109
yards and another score. The more mobile of the two quarterbacks, Costa also had
three rushes for 33 yards and a touchdown.
“We wanted to get our quarterbacks
trained,” Mackovic said coming out of fall workouts. “The quarterbacks have
developed a feel for many of the things we do, and in strategy situations,
they’re coming along. I’m comfortable but not satisfied.”
First year offensive coordinator
Mike Deal, along with Mackovic, feel the main area of focus heading into 2003
was the running game as Arizona looks to improve on a attack that averaged just
43.8 yards-a-game on the ground last season.
“We set off in spring ball to get
our running game back together,” Mackovic said. “We shifted to more downhill
running plays and made a lot of strides. You’re never too old to learn, and we
changed one or two things on power plays that helped.”
The changes were evident against
UTEP as the Wildcats rushed for 234 yards. Bell had 120 yards on just 13 carries
to go along with a touchdown. The return of senior Clarence Farmer, who ran for
over 1200 yards two seasons ago, should also bolster the Arizona rushing
Arizona returns four starters on
the offensive line and hopes to stay healthy after an injury-plagued 2002
campaign. In only three games were the Wildcats able to start the same front
Senior right tackle Brandon
Phillips leads the Wildcat O-line and along with junior left tackle Chris
Johnson; who earned the Most Improved Player award for spring practice; gives
Arizona a solid foundation up-front.
Starting 10 games in 2002, senior
Andrae Thurman returns as the top returning receiver for the Wildcats. Thurman
took advantage of playing on the other side of record receiver Bobby Wade a year
ago hauling in 61 catches for 915 yards and three touchdowns.
With Thurman now the top wideout,
senior Lance Relford and sophomore Brien Ealy will be looked to for immediate
contributions. Relford and Ealy both got off to good starts as Relford had three
catches for 88 yards and a touchdown. Ealy recorded four catches for 46 yards in
the Wildcats season opener. Sophomore Ricky Williams rounds out the receiving
corps as he had 47 yards receiving on three catches and a touchdown against
The Arizona defense was horrible a
year ago. As a unit, the Wildcat defense allowed nearly 400 yards and 26 points
a game. To try and build on last season’s poor showing, Mackovic brought in Mike
Hankwitz to take over as defensive coordinator.
Hankwitz’s began his overhaul of
the Wildcat defense by switching to a 3-4 defensive alignment; something
Mackovic said will benefit Arizona in Pac-10 play.
“It’s a better match versus the
Pac-10,” Mackovic said. “We see a lot of three- and four-receiver alignments,
and with the flex, that stretched us and put our run defense in trouble. The 3-4
gives us two linebackers in the middle of the field and two safeties in the
middle of the field.
“We can roll coverages and match
up. I felt that opposing quarterbacks could ‘read’ us too easily. This kind of
defense hopefully will help.”
Arizona returns just one starter on
a defensive line that gave up 161.8 rushing yards a game last season. Junior
Carlos Williams, who had 27 tackles and a sack last season, is the leader up
front for the Wildcats. Junior Vince Feula and sophomore Brad Brittain fill out
the rest of the Wildcat defensive line.
Having only one returning
linebacker from last season, the Wildcats must rely on several young players.
The one returning linebacker,
senior Joe Siofele, is coming off a career year in 2002. Siofele is the leading
returning tackler for the Wildcats (66 stops in 2003). He also led Arizona in
sacks last season with five and a half.
Sophomore Copeland Bryan and Marcus
Smith will man the outside linebacker position while junior Patrick Howard will
play alongside Siofele inside.
Perhaps the most experienced
position on the Arizona defense is the secondary as the Wildcats return three
players who started at least seven games in 2002. The secondary should also be
bolstered by the return of senior Michael Jolivette, who missed 10 games last
season due to a knee injury.
Jolivette, along with Gary Love,
are penciled in as Arizona’s starting cornerbacks. Love had 39 tackles in 2002
and led the team with five pass break-ups.
At free safety, sophomore Lamon
Means is coming off an impressive spring that saw him named outstanding
defensive player. The emergence of Means has allowed Clay Hardt to move over to
free safety after playing three years at the strong safety spot.
On special teams, senior
Bobby Gill is back after a 2002 season in which he connected on 63-percent of
field goals with a long of 47 yards. Sophomore Danny Baugher and senior James
Molina will share the punting duties.