Cats Open 2003 Season vs. Traditional Foe UTEP
Aug. 25, 2003
The Game - The University of Arizona (0-0) and visitor Texas-El Paso (0-0) renew an old rivalry in opening both teams' 2003 season on Saturday, Aug. 30, in 56,002-seat Arizona Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:05 p.m. The two teams first met in 1916 and later were conference brethren in the Border and Western Athletic Conferences. The game will be televised in El Paso as a radio simulcast.
Some Game Themes - Arizona aims to snap a four-game home losing streak, having last won at home Sept. 28, 2002, vs. North Texas... UTEP could pin a school-record tying fifth consecutive home loss on the Cats, set by the 1957 and 1966 Wildcat teams... UA works to continue its non-conference success under John Mackovic, who's 6-1 outside the Pac-10 in his two years... The Miners aim to snap a five-game losing streak and have not won on the road since November 2000 (at Rice), a string of 15 losses... UTEP seems poised to break the skein, just three years removed from a WAC co-championship and bowl appearance that same year... Both teams enter the game with some uncertainty at quarterback... The Cats try to improve their running game against a team that often loads the box...
The Series - Arizona leads the series 37-11-2 and has won the last 11 contests, including at 34-21 victory in the most recent meeting, in Arizona Stadium in 1999. That's the longest streak in the series. UA is 20-6-1 in games played in Tucson. UTEP last won in Arizona Stadium in 1957 (51-14)...UTEP's last victory over UA came in El Paso in 1970 (33-17)... From the end of World War II to 1978 when UA entered the Pac-10 Conference, the two teams played in 32 of 33 seasons...
The Coaches- Arizona: John Mackovic (Wake Forest '65), third year at Arizona (9-14) and 16th season as a collegiate head coach (94-78-3). Mackovic has not coached against the Miners. Texas-El Paso: Gary Nord (Louisville '79), fourth year at UTEP (12-23) and fourth year overall. He coaches against Arizona for the first time.
Arizona Out of Camp - Every team in America oozes optimism at this time of the year, and Arizona is surely one of them. The Wildcats concluded training camp last week in good physical shape and eager to go. A trend throughout was the give-and-take of live drills, with the offensive unit dominating one day and the defensive unit sparkling the next. Offensively, the Cats have stressed developing situational insight for the young quarterbacks - the ability to lead the team down the field within the flow of the multiple-pro system - and strengthening the Cats' running game. Defensively, the newly adopted (in spring) 3-4 scheme appears to have given that unit a boost of exuberance and more confidence in its ability to adjust. New coaches on both sides of the ball showed John Mackovic made some fine choices in rebuilding his staff in the last eight months. Though some positions remain in contention, personnel issues should carry into the early season. John Mackovic is not a depth-chart aficianado, and those listed on UA's version are guys who should play - 'starters' are not the key for the savvy leader. Everyone wants to know who will take the first snap as quarterback, but no one in UA's camp cares if it's A or B as long as he can help get the team a victory. Some other questions: UA's defensive line will be a factor, but will it be positive? Can the receiving corps emerge as the dynamic factor it was in 2002? Can a new special teams coach give UA more of the big plays on its side of the ledger? Will Arizona - a near unanimous pick to record a lackluster season - surprise people?
Noting the Miners ...University of Texas-El Paso ** Enrollment: 17,232 ** Colors: Dark Blue, Orange & Silver ** Conference: WAC ** 2002 Record: 2-10
Head coach Gary Nord, who led UTEP to its first-ever WAC title in 2000 and earned league coach of the year honors, was offensive coordinator and QBs coach on UTEP's staff from 1997-99 before his appointment. He has an offensive background and previously served as coordinator at Oklahoma and Louisville... The Miners return 16 starters... Tailback Howard Jackson rushed for 844 yards a year ago, some 300 more than the entire UA team, while tailback Matt Austin earned WAC All-Freshman honors from The Sporting News...Jackson also averaged 22.0 yard per kickoff return... Redshirt freshman QB Jordan Palmer's older brother, Carson, drew some raves last year. The younger Palmer is battling sophomore Orlando Cruz for the top role. Cruz missed spring after a 2002 knee injury... UTEP has some DL depth, led by senior Dan Kerr, who has started for three years...Rover Tim Woodard is the Miners' top returning tackler, with 108 stops and team highs of 11 tackles and 4.5 sacks last year...FG kicker Keith Robinson connected on eight tries in 12 attempts last year, including two from 54 and 59 yards. The latter helped beat Rice... UTEP expects strength on the offensive line, where guard Robert Clayton (23), tackle Trey Darilek (30) and center Chris Kerr (22) - all seniors -- have a combined 75 starts... UA freshman volleyball player Enobong Ibok's brother, Ibok Ibok, is a junior defensive end for the Miners and is a two-year letterman with two starts in 2002 and the listed starter this year... UA freshman offensive tackle Peter Graniello's brother, Ben, is a junior listed as the left guard starter for UTEP's offensive unit...
Miscellany of Late...
...Junior tight end Steve Fleming is cited by ESPN analyst Mel Kiper as one of the most underrated players in the country at his position... Fleming, with three receptions in his career, is the lone veteran at tight end and could be a big factor for UA in 2003...
...Arizona's five 400-yard passing games in the past two years under John Mackovic is the Pac-10's highest total, and the Cats' six 400-yard passing games since 1996 rate No. 9 nationally...
...Down the stretch in 2002, punters Danny Baugher and James Molina each kicked. Entering this season the job may still be in question. Each kicked well (in the mid-40s) during fall camp, but the guy who can boot it that far regularly, with hang time, in real games will be the choice. Still, John Mackovic said he's not averse to going to the bullpen at this position during games...
...UA had minus rushing figures last year (-17 vs. WSU, -23 vs. OSU, -5 vs. Cal) for the first time since it joined the Pac-10 for the 1978 season. Don't count on it happening this year, if off-season emphasis bears fruit. Offensive coordinator Mike Deal, the line coach, worked diligently to install a core of running plays on which UA will rely...
...The team's final scrimmage of camp was held last Thursday, but was more of a controlled situation with limited live tackling. The defense, with interceptions by Lamon Means, Zeonte Sherman and and Marcus Hollingsworth, had the upper hand, although QB Nic Costa showed some evasive running skills when flushed, and QB Ryan O'Hara enjoyed some good throwing sessions...
...Halfback Beau Carr reported Friday after successfully completing some off-the-field work. Carr had a couple of starts a year ago and should be a solid addition to what already appears to be a good running backs corps...
...UA's largely young returning receiving corps brings a total of 53 career receptions for 608 yards (11.5-yard average) and two touchdowns into the offensive mix. Senior Lance Relford (26-353) is the career leader of the expected group, that includes soph Biren Ealy, junior Ricky Williams, redshirt freshman Mike Jefferson, freshman Anthony Johnson and redshirt freshman Ryan Eidson. True freshman receiver Syndric Steptoe also is expected to wet his feet as a returner....
Arizona Head Coach John Mackovic
UA's 26th head coach is in his 20th year as a collegiate head coach, athletics director or professional head coach, plus adds another dozen years in the game as a coordinator or assistant to give the Wildcats a mentor with more than three decades of established leadership.
Arizona's passing game has dramatically improved under his direction and this year he turned considerable attention to both the Cats running game and the Wildcat defense. His work in hiring new coordinators and some other key new coaches on both sides of the ball was an off-season highlight.
Mackovic's recruiting success in his initial years in Tucson has provided Arizona some outstanding young talent, many of whom may be heavily relied on this season. Among last season's freshman class of 21, UA played 11.
Mackovic's first Arizona team unveiled a sophisticated offensive attack that produced a 2,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher and a near 1,000-yard receiver, while his second club developed a 3,000-yard passer and 1,300-yard receiver. The 2002 club established a number of high-water offensive marks and historical UA top 10 ratings. He developed an untested quarterback, Jason Johnson, into a leader who helped post five 400-yard passing games in Mackovic's brief UA tenure, and the team has exceeded 400 yards in total offense 10 times in Mackovic's two years.
Off the field, the Wildcat mentor has established high standards for academic performance and citizenship, and backed them up with a fair but disciplined hand. Successive players have earned spots on the America Football Coaches Association Good Works Team - Eli Wnek and Johnson - and the latter won the Woody Hayes National Scholar Athlete Award in 2002. Both were Verizon Academic All-District VII honorees. Arizona recorded a program-high four first-team Academic All-Pac-10 selections in 2001 and backed that up with two more citations a year ago. Overall, 13 players were first or second-team selections or honorable mention Pac-10 All Academic in his two years. His focus on the total student-athlete has been underscored by nine national academic/citizenship honor winners during his collegiate career.
Mackovic is the first UA coach to win his first two season openers since Jim Young in 1973 and 1974, when Mackovic was the offensive coordinator in Tucson. He is just six victories shy of the 100-victory level, and is the Pac-10's leader in career victories. He has a track record of program improvement at each stop along the way.
As the District 9 representative on the Board of Trustees of the American Football Coaches Association, Mackovic, who will turn 60 in October, has a voice heard nationally.
Mackovic at a Glance: ï¿½ 16th year as a collegiate head coachï¿½ Overall collegiate record: 94-78-3 (.546)ï¿½ Career bowl teams: Eightï¿½ Arizona record: 9-14ï¿½ Pac-10 Record: 3-12ï¿½ Arizona Road Record: 4-6ï¿½ Arizona Home Record: 5-8ï¿½ Walter Camp Foundation National Coach of the Year, 1979ï¿½ Conference Coach of the Year: ACC ('79), Big Ten ('88, '89), SWC ('95)
The Last Time Against UTEP - Oct. 16, 1999, Tucson
Arizona celebrated its 100th year of football with a 34-21 victory over the Miners, marked by the Cats' 396 rushing yards - its best effort in 18 years. But UA had to win the game on its Football Centennial with a bit of verve, as UTEP jumped to a 14-0 lead just minutes into the second quarter on the second of two Rocky Perez to Lee Mays touchdown pass plays. Arizona tailback Trung Canidate became the school's third 3,000-yard rusher by spearheading the effort with 202 yards on 27 carries, including a 60-yard touchdown run, the eighth of his career of 60 or more yards. His long run cut into the lead, then UA safety Greg Payne returned an interception 34 yards for the tying score. The Miners, who averaged more than six yards per play, tied the game at 21 apiece in the third quarter, before UA answered with a couple of good drives down the stretch. UA wide receiver Dennis Northcutt accumulated 193 all-purpose yards, while backup quarterback Ortege Jenkins took over for an injured Keith Smith and rushed for a career-high 83 yards. Arizona overcame 10 penalties.
Cats' Schedule Tough in Non-Conference Action
Arizona's 2003 schedule was known to be tough ahead of time - the Cats will face 10 bowl teams. The Aug. 17 Associated Press preseason college football poll backs it up. Texas-El Paso was not ranked (nor was Arizona), but Louisiana State (14), Purdue (19) and Texas Christian (25) made the chart. Arizona's other early opponent, Oregon, earned votes. Pac-10 Conference affiliates USC (8), Washington (17) and Arizona State (22) also earned preseason Top 25 status in the AP poll.
Costa or O'Hara?
With either of the expected two options under center - sophomore Nic Costa or redshirt freshman Ryan O'Hara -- Arizona will feature a new guy at quarterback this year. Both are expected to play near equal amounts in the early season until one-quarterback head coach John Mackovic is satisfied he's found a leader. Costa played sparingly as a redshirt freshman in 2002. He had moments -- he set a mark for the third-longest pass play and fourth-longest play in Arizona history with a 92-yard scramble and TD throw to Andrae Thurman against UCLA last year. Both guys are mobile and can be evasive if flushed from the pocket. Costa is one of the team's strongest players (585 squat, 415 bench, 365 power clean) and ran a 4.41 40-yard dash this year. O'Hara, at 6-foot-6, gets a bigger view of the field and also is an athletic player. Mackovic did a remarkable job with then newcomer Jason Johnson in 2001, then Johnson went out and made an even bigger impression in 2002. He made a mark his first two years only as the placekicks holder. Now the head guy, offensive coordinator Mike Deal and quarterbacks coach Jeff Hecklinski get to focus on a sophomore or freshman. Too, true freshmen Kris Heavner and Richard Kovalcheck were impressive in camp. The Cats have a good situation under center, albeit marked by inexperience. The leader will be called to help UA meet specific game goals - average 42 percent or better on third-down conversions, score 35 points, have a touchdown pass to interception ratio of 2.5/1 and average no more than one pick per 35 attempts.
Running Game Improvement Expected
Arizona coaches put a great deal of focus on invigorating the club's running game during the offseason. Training camp showed the team should have some good weapons. Halfbacks Mike Bell and Clarence Farmer (the 2001 Pac-10 rushing leader), notably, looked good. Fullbacks Gilbert Harris and Sean Jones also had productive moments. Halback Chris Henry showed he'll be a contributor in his true freshman season. Arizona certainly intends to improve on its 43.8 yards per game average of last year. The return of halfback Beau Carr last Friday is another boost.
New Staff a Plus
Head coach John Mackovic hired five new assistants in the off-season, with one leaving after spring ball - making it six. It's been one of the good developments in the Arizona program. He secured two seasoned coordinators in Mike Deal on offense and Mike Hankwitz on defense, lured a coordinator to become inside linebackers coach in Craig Bray, attracted a young coordinator to become quarterbacks coach in Jeff Hecklinski, and signed on Mose Rison out of the NFL ranks to coach wide receivers. Rison joined the staff in early summer. Jay Boulware, running backs coach, will direct special teams. Returnees are tight ends coach Charlie Dickey (switch from OL), defensive line coach Marty Long, secondary coach Steve Bernstein and Boulware. New graduate assistants Dan Loyd (offense), a former Wildcat, and Frank Jimenez (defense) round out the staff. On paper and on the field it's a vibrant group with know-how, experience and a push-'em-hard demeanor. Hankwitz directs a 3-4 defensive scheme. The Cats had used the double-eagle flex since the early 1990s.
Senior Offensive Tackle Brandon Phillips
UA's senior leader up front is Brandon Phillips, who opened his UA career as a defensive lineman but switched in spring 2001 ball to become one of the Cats' most dependable along the offensive line. A solid camp for the sizeable Phillips (6-foot-6, 320) bodes well for UA's unit, despite some problems with injuries to other projected key guys. Junior center Keoki Fraser, junior tackle Chris Johnson, sophomore guard Kili Lefotu, and senior guard Reggie Sampay combine to give UA a projected starting unit with an average size of 6-4, 308. Juco transfer Tom Robinson, also recruited as a placements snapper, gives UA a big backup center (6-4, 317) and heads a largely untested reserve group. The line will be charged with meeting John Mackovic's objective of allowing no more than one sack per 20 passing attempts, plus rekindle the running game.
Sophomore Safety Darrell Brooks
Brooks earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors as a freshman cornerback a year ago. Under the new defensive scheme, he moves to free safety. A smart player - second-team Pac-10 All Academic - he made the change a seamless one. He joins with senior corners Michael Jolivette and Gary Love and sophomore strong safety Lamon Means to give Arizona a fine secondary. Senior free safety Clay Hardt adds fine experience, junior corner Luis Nunez had possibly the best fall camp, and coach Steve Bernstein welcomes additional depth in Jason Martin, Zeonte Sherman, Tony Wingate and Gary Shepard. Brooks, though, should be one of Arizona's best players.,Senior Cornerback Michael Jolivette
Arizona welcomes back cornerback Michael Jolivette, who missed 10 games a year ago with a knee injury. A second-team all-league selection as a freshman and honorable mention pick as a sophomore, he's tied with former safety Chuck Cecil for the UA career lead in PBUs, at 38. He has 10 career interceptions, two shy of the school's top 10 chart. His improvement from spring ball to fall camp this summer was outstanding. Arizona's new defense will give him and the other cover guys more help over the top and could set them up for some drive-breaking plays.
The Farmer and the Bell
Sophomore Mike Bell appears poised to show why he was picked as one of the top backs in the West out of high school, and senior sidekick Clarence Farmer looks like he's back from the knee injury which thwarted the 2001 Pac-10 rushing leader in 2002. Along with freshman speedster Chris Henry ( the California prep 100-meter champ last summer), the Cats have a trio of potential game breakers at halfback. Bell's improved strength and solid spring and fall practices earned him the nominal spot atop the depth chart, a development that could help take some pressure off Farmer. Halfback Beau Carr, who had had a couple of starts last year when Bell was limited by an ailing foot, has shown he can be a running game plus and complements the passing game. Fullbacks Gilbert Harris, Sean Jones and Pedro Limon give Mackovic, coordinator Mike Deal and running backs coach Jay Boulware a variety of options. Making the running game go and helping the young quarterbacks develop the passing game are keys for this half-dozen. Farmer's been there, and Bell and the young fullbacks had a taste last year. Arizona needs some chunks this time around. Farmer has a career rushing total of 2,204 yards, No. 7 on UA's all-time list, thanks largely to his 1,229 year in 2001.
Senior Lineback Joe Siofele
Joe Siofele has played whip linebacker, defensive end and now inside Mike linebacker in his career. It's hoped the move inside will give UA a physical presence in the middle. He was third on the club with 66 tackles last year, the most by a lineman since 1989's Ken Hakes had 72. He'll team with Pat Howard, Kirk Johnson, John McKinney and Justin Stewart at the inside linebacker spots. Siofele led the club with 5.5 sacks in 2002.
Senior Placekicker Bobby Gill
Gill had a solid camp and kept the top role as placekicker. His career mark - all in 2002 - is 7-for-11, but he easily surpassed that rate in training camp live kicking drills. Mackovic feels Gill is poised for a superb season.
Running backs coach Jay Boulware was picked to be special teams coordinator in the off-season. Arizona wants to keep blocking kicks the way it has (six a year ago), keep the opponents from doing so (also six a year ago), and get some big plays in the return game. It looks like some new guys will get a chance to show their potential. Redshirt freshman receiver Mike Jefferson and true freshman receiver Syndric Steptoe are listed as the top punt returners, while senior halfback Clarence Farmer should get a chance to return kickoffs for the first time... Game goals for special teams in 2003 are solid - allow no blocks, have perfect execution, score or set up a score, no fumbles in the kicking game, make all field goals under 30 yards, average 22 yards on kickoff returns, hold opponents to 20 or less per return, have one game-breaker play each game, get a 38-yard net punting average, average 12 yards per punt return and make no stupid penalties. Do all those things and a team can win games.
Senior wide receiver Andrae Thurman, who was second to Bobby Wade (93-1389, 8 TD) last year with 61 catches for 915 yards, is not eligible for the 2003 season... Ditto for mid-year junior college transfer David Sharp...Junior nose tackle Vince Feula, the probable starter, also did not rejoin the team in fall camp...Sophomore defensive tackle Brad Brittain, a projected starter, left the team for undisclosed reasons shortly before camp... Junior defensive back Justin Jochum decided to take a proffered academic scholarship in the offseason and concentrate on his engineering studies...Coaches switched true freshman Ryan Kilpatrick to tight end last week, a move aimed for the future and some emphasis on his H-back potential... Offensive lineman Ismael Garcia, another true freshman, moved to the defensive line where he'll work at nose tackle, receiving some personal on-hands help from former defensive end Fata Avegalio. Avegalio, a potential line starter as a junior this year, could not continue his career because of a medical problem, but was kept on scholarship and will assist coaches as a volunteer student assistant...
The McKale Center Ticket Office is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (520-621-2287). Call 1-800-452-2287 toll-free. Season tickets are on sale until Aug. 29. Game tickets range from $7-$20 or more if in priority seating areas.
Arizona Football On TV
The UTEP game will not be shown on television in Arizona markets. Three UA games have been pre-selected for national cablecasts. UA local partner Fox Sports Net Arizona also will produce additional games. Games on FSN also will be distributed by Fox Sports Digital Nets.
Arizona Football on Radio
KNST 790-AM Radio (Clear Channel) is the flagship station for live UA football broadcasts on the Wildcat Sports Network. Brian Jeffries and Les Josephson call the play. Affiliates:KKNT Phoenix, KDAP Douglas, KVNA Flagstaff, KIKO Globe, KZUA Holbrook, KLAV Las Vegas, KWRQ Safford, KTAN Sierra Vista, KNOT Prescott, KBLU Yuma. KTOX-Needles, KVSL Show Low. KNST administers UA's Spanish language broadcasts carried by KXEW Tucson and XENY Nogales with Francisco Romero and Luis Fernando Perez. KNST's broadcast is available on the Internet for $6.95 monthly, through RealNetworks at arizonaathletics.com. Live GameTracker stats can be followed at arizonaathletics.com.
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 noon Tuesdays. The radio show airs at 6 p.m. Tuesdays on KNST-790 AM and the TV segment is broadcast at 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays on KWBA-58.