Cats Meet No. 6-Ranked Unbeaten Ducks
Oct. 1, 2001
- The Arizona Wildcats (3-1, 0-1 in the Pacific-10 Conference), continue league play and close a four-game home stand against the No. 6 (AP, No. 8 ESPN/USA Today) Oregon Ducks (4-0, 1-0) in a nationally televised game at 7:18 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6, in 56,002-seat Arizona Stadium. The game will be cablecast over Fox Sports Net affiliates with Steve Physioc, Tom Ramsey and Lewis Johnson describing the action. A crowd in excess of 50,000 is expected.
Some Game Themes -
It's UA's highest-ranked opponent since opening the season at No. 3 Penn State in 1999, and for the second consecutive season UO could be UA's highest-ranked opponent. (It was No. 7 a year ago)... Can Arizona rebound from a whipping by Washington State?.. Can Arizona's defense do what it nearly did last year -- hold the Ducks' renowned offensive attack at bay (season-low 260 yards)?... Can Oregon hold UA's offense in check as did WSU for most of that game?.. Can UA break its six-game Pac-10 losing streak, and streak of four consecutive home league losses?.. UA completes a four-game home stand while Oregon is in the middle of a three-game road swing... Oregon started UA's current league losing streak last year....
-- Oregon leads the series, 14-12. The Ducks have a two-game winning streak including a 44-41 victory in the last game played in Tucson (1999). UA's most recent victory in Arizona Stadium came the previous year in a 38-3 romp. The Ducks have won six of the last seven games. Seven of the last 10 games have been decided by a touchdown or less, and five of those by five points or less. UA is 8-4 in games played in Arizona Stadium.
-- Arizona: John Mackovic (Wake Forest '65), first year at UA (3-1) and 14th season as a collegiate head coach (88-65-3). He became the first new UA coach to open 3-0 since Jim Young did so in 1973, when Mackovic was UA's offensive coordinator and UA started 5-0. He has not coached against Oregon. The Cougs beat Mackovic's first Illinois team, 44-7, in the 1988 season opener. Oregon: Mike Bellotti (California-Davis '73), sixth year at Oregon (53-22), 11th year overall (81-47-2). Bellotti is 5-1 against Arizona.
-- Arizona spotted Washington State 28 unanswered first-quarter points, snapped back with 21 of its own, then like Sisyphus rolled the rock up the hill for the rest of the way, whence it rolled back down again. The toil added up to a 48-21 loss, the Cats sixth consecutive in Pac-10 play. Scratch the first nine minutes and maybe it was a game, since UA did some things right, but the game is 60 minutes. The Cougs managed the 28-0 lead on 13 total plays, the first a 36-yard interception return for a score 70 seconds into the game. An onsides kick helped WSU take the ball in UA territory for its third touchdown drive. Its fourth score came on a short field after one of three Jason Johnson interceptions was returned to the UA 7 yard-line. After Arizona shook out some cobwebs and drew to within a touchdown, WSU answered with an improbable 18-play, 87-yard drive to lead at the half, 35-21. That drive opened with UA stopping the Cougs for a three-and-out, but a holding penalty on third down negated that effort and a 27-yard draw-play run on 3rd-and-19 hurt again. UA, once in gear, scored on an 80-yard drive with Clarence Farmer's 31-yard run, scored on a two-yard fumble return by Austin Uku after a jarring sack by Johnny Jackson, and scored on an 87-yard drive capped by Johnson's 23-yard toss to Bobby Wade. But UA could not sustain enough offense to penetrate Washington State's red zone, while WSU scored five touchdown in five penetrations. Both teams averaged 5.0 yards per play, but WSU had 84 and Arizona 53 plays. It added up to 421 yards for the Cougs, 266 for UA. The scoreboard bore a similar ratio.
Arizona Head Coach John Mackovic
UA's 26th head coach, John Mackovic (Wake Forest '65) assumed leadership in December 2000 and quickly demonstrated his intent to take Arizona football in a new direction. Notably it's been a turnaround, as he snapped a school five-game losing streak and gave the program new life with three consecutive victories to open his tenure. The opening victories this year mad him the first new Arizona head coach to open 3-0 since Jim Young did so in 1973 when Mackovic was an offensive coordinator on the staff. (Young went on to a 5-0 opening mark, UA's best.)
The Wildcats' 3-0 non-conference record in 2001 give him one of only three undefeated non-conference seasons Arizona has enjoyed in the past 11 years.
Mackovic draws on 17 years' experience as a collegiate head coach, athletics director or professional head coach, and from 15 additional seasons in coordinator or assistant positions in the trade. Further, he has three recent years' experience in the media as a college football analyst for ESPN. The transition year has progressed extremely well and given Arizona a mentor with extensive offensive acumen and a strong network of colleagues in the allied professions. His professional and organized approach in assembling a staff, recruiting his first class and establishing the coaching processes for the 2001 Wildcat program has been exemplary.
Mackovic took over for 14-year Arizona coach Dick Tomey and switched gears in placing a primary focus on the passing game and its contemporary derivations. That being said, he determined that UA's strong tradition of defense is a useful tool, and his vision of Wildcat football involves putting the same aggressive forces to work while UA attacks with the ball. It's a swell development for Arizona partisans and has been in evidence on the field in 2001.
UA's first three games of the Mackovic era have demonstrated his play-calling ability and taste for unpredictability, such as the 1st-down, 99-yard pass play by Jason Johnson from his own end zone after a sudden-change possession against Idaho. It was the longest play in UA history and came off in de rigueur fashion. Arizona throws the ball as advertised. Still, a weekly wrinkle here or there has resulted in new plays which catch the defense off balance, such as a simple trap play that RB Tremaine Cox turned into an 80-yard score against UNLV. Unpredictability has quickly become an Arizona offensive trait.
Mackovic, 57, carries a 13-year collegiate record of 88-65-3. He took three of his last four teams (University of Texas) to bowl games and has led nine teams to winning records with eight bowl trips overall as a head coach. In 32 years of coaching he has held three college head coaching positions and one top National Football League spot (Kansas City, 1983-86, 30-34-0 record), served as offensive coordinator at three different Division I-A schools and worked as an assistant under former Dallas Cowboys' legend Tom Landry. He has Arizona bloodlines as Young's four-year offensive coordinator from 1973-76, heydays for prolific Western Athletic Conference offensive displays.
He has worked with and helped to develop such noted offensive players as Arizona's Bruce Hill and Theo Bell, Purdue's Mark Hermann, the Cowboys' Danny White, Illinois' Jeff George and Ricky Williams of Texas. Moreover, his emphasis on the total student-athlete can be underscored by eight national academic/citizenship honor winners including defensive end Eli Wnek's recent selection to the AFCA Good Works Team. Plus, Mackovic has fostered classroom progress which gave him nine overall first-team Big 12 All-Academic honors his charges earned during his tenure at Texas. Quite soon several UA players should join that list.
Mackovic is no stranger to honors. At Wake Forest as a quarterback he won the Atlantic Coast Conference Gold Medal Award and earned Academic All-America honors his senior year. Later at WFU as head coach in 1979 he earned Walter Camp Foundation National Coach of the Year, The Sporting News College Coach of the Year, AFCA District Coach of the Year and Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year. At Illinois where he also served as athletics director, he earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors in 1988 and 1989. At Texas in 1995 he was Southwest Conference Coach of the Year and a national award finalist. In 1996 he was Big XII Coach of the Year by the Austin American Statesman after taking the Longhorns to victory in the inaugural Big XII title game over Nebraska.
Mackovic has endowed an athletics scholarship in the name of his daughter, Aimee, at the University of Arizona, just as a similar endowment continues in his name at the University of Texas.
Mackovic's Turnaround Tradition
If Arizona continues its improvement from a 5-6 finish in 2000, it should be no surprise. John Mackovic has stepped forward at each stop in his 17-year head coaching career, to improve the program. For that matter, in his first stint at Arizona as offensive coordinator (1973-76), he was part of a staff which improved UA from a 4-7 club to successive 8-3, 9-2 and 9-2 seasons. At Texas, the Longhorns were 5-6 the year before his arrival. His six-year mark: 41-28-2 with three bowl appearances. At Illinois, the Illini finished 4-7 before he arrived. His four-year mark: 30-16-1 with four bowls. At Wake Forest, the Demon Deacons were 1-10 the year before he took over. His three-year mark: 14-20 and WFU's first bowl appearance in 30 years. At Kansas City of the NFL, he took over following a 3-6 mark in a strike year and eventually led the Chiefs to a 30-34 record and their first playoff appearance in 15 seasons.
Cats Break Streak, Hope to Break Another
John Mackovic helped UA end an ignominious streak in the opener, snapping a five-game losing skein with the 23-10 victory at San Diego State. The next obstacle -- his first Pacific-10 Conference victory. Frankly little is being made of it internally since UA's new program is only one game into Pac-10 play, but Arizona faces an 0-6 mark in its most recent league games, four of those losses at home. Both are school low-water marks. Three of the losses were by four points or less and UA had chances in all. The games in the streak:
Oregon and Match-up Notes...
University of Oregon, Eugene, Ore.: Enrollment 17,350... Colors - green and yellow... Conference - Pac-10... In 2000: 10-2
The Ducks have it going with a high ranking, an unbeaten season, a Heisman Trophy candidate, a Thorpe Award candidate, a Biletnikoff Award candidate, two big-play RBs, a 23-game home winning streak, a 20-2 record in its last 22 games, break-away return specialists, etc... Oregon enters the second week of a three-game road swing... The aforementioned Heisman guy, of course, is he of the skyscraping New York City billboard, quarterback Joey Harrington. Among other things, Harrington has helped engineer eight fourth-quarter comebacks during the past three seasons including against USC in UO's Pac-10 opener two games back, marching UO 51 yards in 44 seconds for a winning field goal... Harrington has thrown for 5,094 yards and 40 touchdowns in his career. On the other hand -- 2001 -- here's how Harrington matches against UA's Jason Johnson in passing figures this year:
134 Att, 79 PC, 947 yards, 8 TD, 2 interceptions, 59.0% completion rate, 19.7 cpg, 135.04 efficiency,
117 Att, 72 PC, 911 yards, 7 TD, 4 interceptions, 61.5% completion rate, 18.0 cpg, 139.85 efficiency
...Harrington's thrown his last 92 passes (58 completions) without an interception... The Ducks intercepted four passes against Utah State and have nine for the season, led by cornerback Steve Smith with four. He picked off three against USC this year and is tied for the national lead at 1.0 per game... Wide receiver/returner Keenan Howry suffered a wrist injury in the Utah State game and was questionable early in the week. He's No. 3 in the Pac-10 in punt returns and has 19 receptions for 198 yards and two scores. UO's leader in receptions is Jason Willis with 20 for 249 yards. He suffered a possible concussion and his status was unknown early in the week... Oregon's leading tacklers are free safety Ketih Lewis (42 hits) and linebackers Wesly Mallard (39) and David Moretti (32). The Ducks are 93rd in Division I-A in total defense and UO coaches likely would prefer those guys on the sideline more. (Same goes for Arizona LB Lance Briggs (39 tackles), CB Michael Jolivette (22) and LB Ray Wells (18)..... TB Maurice Morris popped for 175 yards at USU... Onterrio Smith leads the club with 6.1 yards per carry -- on 37 attempts... Arizona's defense held Oregon to a season-low 260 yards in total offense last year, but the halftime score of 14-10 in favor of UO held up as UA was thwarted on a last-minute drive.
Another Game Theme...
Arizona losses to Oregon put a halt to some UA momentum or otherwise marred a season or two in the last decade. Last year the Ducks snapped a four-game UA winning streak and started it on its slide of five losses to end the year. In 1999 the Ducks broke a three-game UA winning streak. In 1997 Oregon beat UA in the season opener, 16-9. In 1995 the Ducks spoiled UA's bid for a bowl appearance with a November victory that dropped the Cats to 5-5. In 1994 the Ducks snapped Arizona's four-game Pac-10 winning streak in late October and affected its eventual bowl appearance....
Arizona in the Polls
The Wildcats received two votes in the coaches poll and one vote in the AP poll this week. Arizona was ranked most recently at No. 23 ESPN/USA Today, No. 24 AP with a 5-2 record a year ago, but dropped out on Oct. 29 after a loss to UCLA. Oregon is No. 6 in the media poll and dropped two spots in the coaches poll to No. 8 after last week's victory at Utah State, 38-21.
Injury Report for Oregon Game
Defensive end Alex Luna (knee vs. UNLV) had surgery to remove cartilage Sept. 23 and is questionable for the Oregon game. LB Ray Wells strained his shoulder vs. WSU and is questionable for Oregon, as is CB Michael Jolivette (thumb) and WLB Joe Siofele (wrist). Reserve DT Bobby Ramsey (concussion) is doubtful for Oregon. Defensive end Eli Wnek (foot fracture, has not played) and defensive end Fata Avegalio (dislocated elbow at SDSU, missed two games. Avegalio returned against WSU. Wnek is in a boot and out for another week or so. Defensive end Austin Uku (knee) missed the first two games but played since. Lost Potential Starts due to Injury: 4 (Wnek).
Graphic Impact Player of the Game(s)
Coaches award three Graphic Impact Player of the Week mementoes for team-supporting efforts. SDSU: SS Brandon Nash, defense, QB Jason Johnson, offense, Andrae Thurman, special teams. Idaho: FS Jarvie Worcester, defense, LT Makoa Freitas, offense, Lance Briggs, special teams. UNLV: DE Johnny Jackson, defense, WR Malosi Leonard, offense, Clay Hart, special teams. WSU: Under discussion.
Arizona Game Captains
Here are the game captains to date: San Diego State: SS Brandon Nash, WR Malosi Leonard, SS Zaharius Johnson, C Steven Grace, DE Eli Wnek. Idaho: FB Mike Detwiler, LB Lance Briggs, FS Jarvie Worcester, WR Lance Relford, DE Alex Luna. UNLV: TE Peter Hansen, CB Jermaine Chatman, DT Anthony Thomas, OT Makoa Freitas, OG Kevin Barry. WSU: WR Bobby Wade, SS Brandon Nash, DE Austin Uku, C Steven Grace, PK Sean Keel.
Jason Johnson's Efficiency
UA quarterback Jason Johnson suffered the ignominy of three interceptions against Washington State (and backup Cliff Watkins joined in with one), a factor which carved a chunk from his pass efficiency rating. Still, it's not bad for a first-year player, albeit a junior. He has shown composure, accuracy and understanding of the Cats' multiple-pro passing attack in his four-game starting career. He's 27th nationally in pass efficiency rating at 139.80. He's completed 62 percent of his passes (72 for 117) and thrown seven touchdown passes against four interceptions (two were tipped balls). One of his TD tosses was a school and Pac-10 record 99-yarder to Brandon Marshall. The completion percentage and general effectiveness have put a new dynamic in UA's offense. Johnson has shown he can stay in the pocket and take a hit, plus get rid of the ball.
Offensive Line Continuity
In its first four games last year, UA started four different OL units. This year, Arizona's starting offensive line has worked together through camp and in each game, with starters Makoa Freitas, Reggie Sampay, center Steven Grace, Kevin Barry and Darren Safranek from left to right. The group did not play together last year due to injuries that caused Grace (shoulder) to miss 10 games and Freitas (foot) to missed eight. The group continues the challenge of pass protection and tough running in Pac-10 play. The line has allowed only six sacks in 129 passing attempts, within goals set by offensive coaches. UA's running game has shown some promise through four games, though a 3.7-yard average per rush is of concern. The line has blocked for a couple of 100-yard individual efforts (Clarence Farmer, 18-118 vs. Idaho, Tremaine Cox, 8-111 vs. UNLV) but managed to accumulate only 101 team yards against WSU.
Rushing-Defense Tradition Continues?
Arizona held its first three opponents to an average of 92 rushing yards per game, good enough to rate No. 24th nationally, then WSU posted 138 yards and hurt on some big runs. Still, Arizona is in the Top 25 in rushing defense, a hallmark of Wildcat clubs for the past dozen years. Opponents are gaining 2.7 yards per attempt. UA held San Diego State to 41 net yards rushing on 29 attempts, an average of 1.4 yards per carry. WSU's Dave Minnich (30-121) and Idaho's Blair Lewis (21-110) are two of five backs to hit the 100-yard mark against UA in the last 17 games. Defensive coordinator Larry Mac Duff is back on the job after a stint with the New York Giants. One of his long-standing priorities has been stopping the run.
Turnover Margin In Cats Favor -- Barely
Four interceptions against WSU cost Arizona not only some points but some standing in national turnover figures. The Cats dropped from 26th to 45th in turnover margin and hold a slim 8 to 9, .25 per game) edge in turnover margin. CB Michael Jolivette picked off a WSU pass and UA recovered its seventh fumble (No. 9 nationally), to stay on the positive side for the season. The fumble recovery turned into the Cats' third fumble return for a score -- 2 yards by DE Austin Uku. CB Michael Jolivette returned a poor lateral 40 yards for a score against UNLV. SS Brandon Nash returned a fumble 57 yards for a score vs SDSU. UA recovered two fumbles against UNLV. A week earlier the Cats recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass against Idaho. The Cats lost one fumble. UA recovered three San Diego State fumbles to balance a tipped-ball UA interception, plus blocked a punt for a safety.. The interceptor at San Diego State fumbled on the return and UA recovered, in effect negating that turnover. UA suffered an over-the-head snap on a punt that was illegally kicked through the endzone by punter Ramey Peru to give SDSU a scoring possession at the UA 1 yard-line.2001 Turnovers Arizona 8, Opponents 9 .25 margin
Spreading the Field With a Baker's Dozen
After three games showcasing its new offense, things got a bit tougher in Pac-10 play. Arizona had completed passes to eight or more receivers in each game until WSU limited UA's corps to five different players. The nine players catching a ball vs. UNLV was the biggest single-game corps since the 1998 season opener (9 at Penn State). So far this year 13 players have receptions. It's a trend likely to continue because the Cats play several more wideouts, backs and tight ends who are involved in the passing game. Redshirt freshman tight end Steve Fleming, a scout team quarterback last year, caught his first ball against WSU. The baker's dozen who have caught passes includes receivers Malosi Leonard, Bobby Wade, Andrae Thurman, Brandon Marshall, Lance Relford and Gary Love, tight ends James Hugo, Justin Levasseur and Steve Fleming, and backs Clarence Farmer, Anthony Fulcher, Mike Detwiler and Leo Mills. Wade (19-227), Leonard (15-186) and Thurman (13-221) lead the way in receptions, although Marshall's school-record 99-yard catch-run against Idaho put him close in yardage lead with eight for 173 yards. Wade leads with three touchdown receptions.
Sacking and Protecting the QBs
UA added three sacks against Washington State to its collection and has 16 this year. Catching WSU's Jason Gesser was difficult but he did not hurt the Cats with his legs (-25 net rushing). LB Lance Briggs, DE Johnny jackson and DT Keoni Fraser sacked Gesser, including a 17-yard loss on Jackson's play, which caused a fumble Austin Uku returned two yards for a score. UA did a good job of containing UNLV's mobile Jason Thomas and sacked him three times, with two by Jackson and one by DT Young Thompson. A week earlier UA had seven sacks in the Idaho game, its most since a school-record nine at UCLA in 1999. Briggs and Alex Luna had one and shared another to lead the way. Luna, Jackson and Michael Jolivette had one apiece in the opener. Opponents have six sacks (two at SDSU, none by Idaho, one by UNLV, three by WSU). The latter is well within parameters set by offensive coaches, who insist on pass-protection success of one sack per 17 passing attempts.
Kicking Game Notes...
Arizona did not attempt a field goal against WSU, the first time a kicker hasn't given it a go since the Ohio State game 14 contests back... WSU had a 141-60 edge in return yards against Arizona, 40 percent of that on INTreturns rather than special teams play... Arizona had a 30-yard field goal attempt by place kicker Sean Keel blocked against UNLV, though he later connected on a 20-yard attempt. He's 2 for 5 on the year and one was a career-long 44-yard kick against Idaho. He missed his first 2001 field goal attempt at SDSU, striking the upright from 30 yards. He missed from 43 against the Vandals. He's 20 for 30 in his career. He had one PAT kick blocked and missed a PAT against Idaho... Punter Ramey Peru's best outing was a 41.2 average and 39.0 net figure against UNLV. In the Idaho game he kicked for a 38-yard average and helped UA record a 37.4 net punting figure... UA's kickoff return coverage allowed 109 yards on three plays by UNLV, including an opponents' season-best 55-yard return by Dominique Dorsey... UA used a long punt return by Bobby Wade (58 yards) to set up a score against the Aztecs, and a 16-yard return by Wade against UNLV to give it scoring-drive starting position at UA's 40 yard-line ... Peru has three punts inside the 20 yard-line and had two others inside the 25. He does not have a touchback kick, less than half his punts have been returned (10 of 23) and opponents average 4.7 yards per return... Andrae Thurman blocked a punt at the goal line to give UA a safety at SDSU... The team blocked two punts and three PAT kicks in 2000 and has blocked 43 kicks in the last 12 seasons.
Arizona has converted only seven of 24 third-down plays in the last two weeks -- (4-11 vs. WSU, 3-13 vs. UNLV) to drop its season conversion rate to 36 percent. Still, the Cats had a season-high 24 first downs against UNLV and 39 in the past two games... UA was eight for 16 in converting third downs against Idaho, its best this year. Opponents have a 34 percent third-down rate, thanks to the Cougars' 9-17 effort... UNLV converted only one of 13 tries. Notes... In UA's first drive against UNLV, it converted on 3rd, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 2nd down with Jason Johnson hitting four different receivers including Bobby Wade for the score... In one of the team's better drives at San Diego State, the Cats converted four first downs after starting at their own 6 yard-line in the fourth quarter, eventually moving the ball into Aztec territory followed by a Ramey Peru punt which requred a fair catch at the SDSU 19 yard-line. The 10-play possession used 4:30 on the clock. While a ball-control effort, it used five pass completions by Jason Johnson for 46 yards, illustrating that UA's offense has evolved from its recent traditions of 'hold-em, and slug it out.' The 1st-and-10 pass from UA's end zone by Johnson for 99 yards and a score to Brandon Marshall against Idaho further emphasized the shift in priorities.
Arizona Football Notes...
The McKale Center Ticket Office is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (520-621-2287). Single-game public tickets range from $6 to $22, or higher in priority areas. Arizcats.com offers online purchases.
Arizona Football On TV
The UA-Oregon game will be cablecast nationally by Fox Sports Net. Two additional games have been selected by FSN and other games may be selected for national broadcasts by ABC or cablecasts by FSN. Fox Sports Net Arizona produces other games, often for over-the-air broadcast on KWBA-58 in southern Arizona and KUSK in central Arizona.
Arizona Football On Radio
KNST 790-AM Radio is the flagship station for live Arizona football broadcasts on the Wildcat Sports Network. Brian Jeffries and Les Josephson call the play. Affiliates: KCTK-Phoenix, KVNA-Flagstaff, KBLU-Yuma, KTAN-Sierra Vista, KRLV-Las Vegas, KDAP-Douglas, KWRQ-Safford, KZUA-Holbrook, KIKO-Globe, KINO-Winslow. Internet broadcast: www.knst.com KNST also administers UA's Spanish broadcasts carried by XENY-Nogales and KXEW-Tucson, with Joel Bojorquez and Francisco Romero. KNST's broadcast is available by phone using TEAMLINE for about 10 cents per minute, by calling 1-800-846-4700.
John Mackovic Coach's Shows
Head coach John Mackovic's weekly radio and television shows are produced by KNST Radio, with host Brian Jeffries and the coach taping during 'Tuesdays in the Huddle With John Mackovic,' a public gathering at McMahon's Steakhouse at 12 noon Tuesdays. The radio show airs at 6 p.m. Tuesdays on KNST-790 AM and the TV segment is broadcast over the air at 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays on KWBA-58.