ARIZONA ON OFFENSE
The Wildcats will go with true freshman Kris Heavner at quarterback. Heavner took over mid-year and has had an up and down first season. Heavner has good size and a cannon arm. He has done a great job avoiding the sack this season. The big knock on him has been his decision making. He has thrown a lot of interceptions, often trying to force the ball into coverage. All too often his interceptions have come at the worst time, either in the redzone or in the flat where they can be returned for a long gain.
Speedy Nic Costa will get a couple of series to mix things up. Costa has great speed and has been able to make things happen with his legs. Defenses have to respect the run and that can lead to some yards in the air as well.
Mike Bell has come on strong as of late. With the exception of the USC game, Bell has been exceptional since Clarence Farmer's suspension. He has done a much better job running north-south and his speed in the open field is exceptional.
Behind Bell there isn't much. Beau Carr is injured and Gainus Scott is ineligible. To make matters worse, fullback Gilbert Harris, who can play halfback, was suspended last month for violating team rules.
The receiving corps has been depleted a bit as well. Senior Lance Relford is unable to go with a broken finger and that hurts this young unit. Sophomore Biren Ealy is one of the better young receivers in the Pac-10. Despite an offense that has been anemic at times, Ealy has over 500 receiving yards. Across from him is Ricky Williams. Williams has been a big play guy. Mike Jefferson and Syndric Steptoe will also see a lot of time at wideout.
One position that has become a strength is tight end. Steve Fleming is one of the best pass catching tight ends in the conference and Matt Padron and Clarence McRae give the Cats two solid blockers. Padron is becoming a more reliable target in the past few weeks and has emerged as a short yardage go-to guy.
The offensive line has played well, despite being a patchwork unit. Injuries and suspensions have really depleted the unit, but they have played well as they have all season the past month or so.
ARIZONA ON DEFENSE
The defense has been up and down all season. The defensive line lacks depth and that is the major reason that the team had to switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3. Arizona had to move its outside linebackers, many of whom were DE's last season, back to the defensive line. Marcus Smith has been on a tear since having a cast on his had removed. He gives the Wildcats a good outside pass rusher and offenses have something new to prepare for. The interior line lacks depth, but there is talent there. Carl Tuitavuki and Paul Phillip have been solid and freshmen Cliff Stanford and Sean Pack have played well after being pressed into action.
The linebacking corps has played well. The Cats employ two traditional linebackers and a rover back that is more like a safety. Joe Siofele and Pat Howard have done a nice job at the linebacker spot. Siofele is a big backer who is very quick despite being almost 250 pounds. Kirk Johnson and John McKinney have also provided solid play as back-ups.
The real story of the defense has been rover Clay Hardt. Hardt had always been seen as too slow to be a traditional safety, but he has thrived at rover. Hardt is a big hitter who is the emotional leader of this team. The longhaired wild man has no regard for his safety and throws his body all over the field.
Arizona's defensive backs are talented, but have been up and down. Safeties Lamon Means and Darrell Brooks are one of the better young units in the Pac-10 and there is a lot of depth at the spot. The corner back spot is not as lucky. Seniors Gary Love and Michael Jolivette have a lot of ability, but they have struggled at times against some of the nation's best receivers. They shut down UW's Reggie Williams, but USC's Mike Williams and LSU's Michael Clayton had huge games against them.
The scheme often has the defensive backs give up big cushions to the receivers. Early in the season this wasn't the case, but a series of big plays made the coaching staff re-think this.
ARIZONA SPECIAL TEAMS
The punter is good; the rest of the unit is shaky. Danny Baugher has been a very reliable punter. He averages just under 43 yards a kick and has made good ones when the game is on the line. The field goal unit has not been so lucky. The team has bounced between Bobby Gill and Nicholas Folk and neither has been consistent. As a team they've made just 2-of-10 field goals. The return teams have been nothing special. They average just 17.1 yards on a kickoff return and 5.5 yards on punt returns. Opponents average almost three yards more in each category.
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