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Arizona teams have had a history of calling off the dogs early in games against lesser teams, but with a very young team and two new quarterbacks, the Wildcats stayed with the offensive game plan longer than many of those past teams might have done on night when the opponent was clearly overmatched. It is Arizona's largest margin of victory in a season opener since the Wildcats beat Utah State 49-3 in 1992.
The biggest question surrounding this game was who would start at quarterback and how would the two young players perform? Both Nic Costa and Ryan O'Hara performed well. Costa was 6-10 for 110 and one passing td and one rushing score. O'Hara wasn't quite as sharp but was a respectable 8-16 for 119 yards and a touchdown.
"Nic showed that he's been around a little longer," said John Mackovic. "Ryan showed he has tremendous potential."
It was interesting to note that Costa tried to stretch the field throughout the game. One of the biggest knocks on Costa in the spring and early part of training camp was that he relied too much on short passes. That wasn't the case early on as Costa looked for the deep receiver on numerous occasions.
Costa showed his speed and running ability on the very first play of the game when rolled out, tucked the ball away and sprinted 27 yards. Three plays later Costa showed off his arm and found a wide-open Ricky Williams for a 42-yard touchdown.
"The first play was a designed bootleg, but it wasn't a designed run," Costa said. "I could have passed it where the receiver would have no blockers, or I could keep it where I had plenty of blockers. I think I would have scored had he not tackled me by my facemask."
Costa wasn't finished. The very next drive the sophomore led the team on their second 80-yard drive. Costa looked to make a mistake when he hit Steve Fleming underneath, short of the first down, but the tight end broke a pair of tackles and sprinted 27 yards to get into Miner's territory. Farmer's first carry resulted in a first down and then the Wildcats caught a break. Bell attempted to leap the pile at the goal line.
O'Hara's debut was not quite as spectacular as Costa's but it was a solid performance nonetheless. O'Hara failed to move the team on his first drive and the Cats punted for the first time, but caught a break when Gary Love caused a fumble that was gathered in by Biren Ealy. Four plays later Clarence Farmer broke two tackles on his way to an eight-yard score.
O'Hara showed his big play ability in the second quarter. Already leading 21-0, O'Hara went for broke, and hit Lance Relford in stride. Relford caught the ball, stiff armed Tim Woodard and ran the final 20 yards for a 79-yard score.
The one knock on O'Hara was a pair of interceptions. The first pick came when Aaron Francis stripped Michael Jefferson near the sideline. The second proved to be more damaging. The redshirt freshman passer failed to see Joe Fleskoski lurking over the middle. Fleskoski picked off the pass and dashed 39-yards for the Miners' first and only score.
One of the few disappointments was the failure of the defense to fully debut the 3-4 defense. The Cats used a five defensive back alignment that was more reminiscent of a 4-2-5 for the entire game. Despite only a partial unveiling of the defense, the unit performed very well, limiting the Miners to just 275 yards of total offense and more impressively, no scores.
"We did a pretty good job flying around to the ball," said Joe Siofele.
Six different players scored touchdowns as the Cats spread the ball around. An emphasis was placed on a balanced attack and the Cats did just that. Of the 69 offensive plays, the Cats ran the ball for 231 yards and passed for 229 yards. The Cats carried the ball 17 more times, but many of those rushes came with the outcome already decided.
"It shows that we have a versatile offense," said Mike Bell who scored in the second quarter. "We have a lot of weapons."
Bell proved he was indeed one of those weapons. The sophomore running back rushed for 119 yards on just 13 carries. In addition to the score, he had a 53-yard run where he was eventually pulled down by Woodard after being slowed down by Marshall Sanford.
"I should have just trusted my instincts and kept running," said Bell, who tried to change directions when Sanford tried to bring him down. "He had the angle but I probably could have outrun him."
It was especially good for Bell since he was hampered all last season with an injured toe. Bell never got on track, even when he assumed the starting role with the injury to Clarence Farmer.
"It feels real good right now," confessed Bell.
The night was not so good for Farmer. Farmer looked good at times on his injured knee, but could never get it going. He had the touchdown run and a few other decent gains, but finished with just 20 yards on eight carries before leaving the game for precautionary measures with a hurt shoulder.
Gilbert Harris had the Cats' sixth touchdown. He capped a 95-yard drive at the start of the third quarter with a one-yard plunge.
The Cats win their home opener for the third time under Mackovic, but they know the time to celebrate is short-lived with LSU coming to town.
"We can enjoy this tonight," said Andre Torrey. "But tomorrow we go back to work."
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