UTEP game provides hope

Usually, a 42-7 victory is pretty much all the definition you need in terms of dominating victories. In the case of the UTEP season-opener, it places Arizona right where most would expect. Still uncertain, and with the brutal portion of the slate looming. But it also provided a little of something else. Hope.

Arizona was supposed to handle UTEP, and it did exactly that. But Arizona has opened the season in the past with routs that weren't all that impressive because it didn't look particularly good in the process.

You know what, the UA looked all right Saturday night. It was efficient on offense, generating the majority of its 446 yards in the first half en route to a 35-point lead at the break. Quarterbacks Nic Costa and Ryan O'Hara looked like players with upside, although Costa appeared to get the upper hand overall. He guided Arizona to scores on the opening two drives. His first play from scrimmage was a 27-yard bootleg. He also showed good touch, completing 6-of-10 passes for 110 yards and one touchdown, a 41-yard strike to Ricky Williams.

O'Hara wasn't quite as polished, but looked like someone with all kinds of potential. His final numbers: 8-of-16 for 119 yards and a 79-yard TD reception to Lance Relford. O'Hara also threw two interceptions, one that led directly to UTEP's only score. As the game progressed, O'Hara appeared to lose some focus, but after the interception he remained in the game, perhaps as a confidence boost.

Costa's added experience in the program, albeit brief, appears to be enough to give him the nod in the early stages, although it's likely both QBs will see the field on a consistent basis.

In the running game, Clarence Farmer banged up his shoulder, but it was the performance of Mike Bell who turned heads. Bell rushed for 119 yards on 13 carries, thus providing Arizona with offensive balance.

The Wildcat defense held UTEP to 275 yards. Texas El-Paso seemed capable of moving the ball a little, but drives would inevitably bog down. This might be the MO of the UA defense all year long: minimize the big plays and make teams perform efficiently to score.

Arizona head coach John Mackovic was especially pleased with the way the secondary attacked the ball. It remains to be seen whether the UA will stay with five defensive backs or revert to the oft-discussed 3-4 alignment on a more consistent basis. It will have more than its share of tests from here on out.

The special teams unit was its usual mixed bag. Nice work on the depth of kickoffs and coverage in general—Arizona attackers laid out punt returners on a couple occasions, utilizing the more lax regulations in the new non-Halo era—but actual punting suffered mightily at times and the one attempted field goal missed the mark, although not by much.

For Arizona, this was the walk in the park, and the UA negotiated the track very well. It did what it was supposed to do. It limited penalties, it generally kept the turnovers at a minimum, in all it turned in a solid, well-coached effort. Whether this team has enough talent this year to parlay that into a string of victories remains to be seen, but it didn't do the types of little things that tend to hurt against tougher competition. If Arizona plays smart and plays within itself, it looks like it can be representative. That's not such a bad thing in what has been universally considered a rebuilding year. And representative performances can build confidence down the road.

Arizona is a team that needs a lot of that. But after game one, if it has anything, it at least has hope.

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