Injured Cats give Ducks a game

Last year Oregon strolled into Tucson and put a 63-28 thrashing on the Wildcats. With a host of injuries and an offense looking to get back on track, many felt that this year's meeting would have similar result. Nobody told that to the Wildcats. Despite missing a number of key players, the Wildcats gave the Ducks a scare before the 7th ranked team pulled away for a 31- 14 win.

The defense fought hard while Michael Jolivette, Andre Torrey, Marcus Smith and Darrell Brooks looked on in street clothes. To make matters worse Lance Briggs suited up but did not play in the game as he nursed an injured ankle and Clay Hardt was unable to finish the contest after re-aggravating his injured ankle.

To compensate the defense spent most of the game in a 3-4 defense, using their linebacker depth to try to contain the Duck offensive attack . The scheme was especially effective early as the Ducks mustered just 79 yards of offense in the first quarter. The offense adjusted to the scheme but never moved the ball as easily as they did the year before.

"The injuries are not an excuse, but you have to consider it," said Bobby Wade. "If we have to play a whole season with this team we'll be fine. We'll be able to compete. That's the defending Pac-10 champions we played. Just staying in the game is a positive we can take."

The Wildcats clearly missed Clarence Farmer as well. With the junior runner nursing an injured knee, the Cats turned to redshirt freshman Mike Bell. Bell, who was coming off a solid outing against North Texas, could not get it going against a good Duck defense and finished the game with just 54 yards on the ground.

"I think Mike Bell did a great job for his first start and getting all of the carries," said quarterback Jason Johnson. "Their defense is great against the run and it was not going to easy."

Bell did help the Cats as a receiver on the first drive. The Cats wanted to avoid a quick start by the Ducks and got on the board first themselves. After holding the Ducks on the first drive, the Wildcats took over inside Oregon territory after a Duck penalty on the punt. On the first play from scrimmage Johnson found Andrae Thurman for a 21-yard gain. Three plays later Bell took a swing pass 18-yards to give the Cats a 7-0 lead.

"That's Arizona football," said Wade said of the quick start. "That's the type of football we know we can play."

Oregon answered thanks in large part to Onterrio Smith. Smith ran at will on the Cats, racking up half of Oregon's 80 yards. He capped the drive with a two-yard scoring run. The Cats shot themselves in the foot on the drive as the Cats deflected one ball at the line that still found its way to a receiver and committed a personal foul deep in their own territory that put the Ducks inside the Arizona ten.

Smith rushied for 145 yards and two scores during the game.

The Cats responded with a great defensive series where the Cats sacked Jason Fife inside his own five-yard line. The Cats went to work and it was the Bobby Wade show. Wade retained the Wildcats' possession of the ball when he batted away what looked to be a sure interception. Wade had two key catches, one on a third and long, then showed great concentration on a 17-yard touchdown pass that Johnson threaded through two Duck defenders.

Wade and Thurman were Johnson's main targets all night. The pair caught 17 of the team's 23 receptions, with Wade grabbing 12 by himself. With Farmer out, he had a bull's eye on him, but Wade had 151 yards receiving.

"Bobby Wade really stepped it up today," said Johnson. "He's an unbelievable leader for this team."

The Arizona defense looked like the old "desert swarm" defense throughout the rest of the first quarter and deep into the second quarter. The Wildcats swarmed to the ball and kept the Ducks from getting the big play.

All that changed late in the second. Fife moved the ball on the Wildcats finding wide-open receivers not once, but twice on successive throws. Fife lofted one to Jason Willis for a 26-yard gain and two plays later found Terrence Whitehead all alone at the 10-yard line. On the next play Smith broke an arm tackle at the line of scrimmage and coasted in for the tying touchdown.

Oregon took the lead for the first time with just :39 seconds remaining in the first half. With the wind at his back, Jared Siegel knocked home a 53-yard field goal . Oregon got into Arizona territory quickly when Fife found Smith with a perfectly thrown shovel pass. After that the Wildcats were able to keep the pressure on Fife and force the Ducks to settle for three.

Oregon started the second-half scoring with just six minutes left on the third quarter. Neither team did much until Keith Lewis thwarted and Arizona drive with an interception of a long bomb inside the Duck ten. Although Wade popped the ball loose after the interception, Oregon recovered the fumble and grabbed momentum from the Cats. Again using Smith, the Ducks marched down the field. With all day to throw, Fife patiently waited for Keenan Howry to get open and hit the All-Conference receiver for a 33-yard touchdown.

The Ducks took a 31-14 lead when Fife connected with Whitehead on a nine-yard score. But the Cats stormed right back with the hurry-up offense. The Cats marched down the field, using big catches by Wade, Thurman and Ricky Williams. Williams got the team inside the Duck 10, but the Wildcats red zone woes continued. After a penalty and a sack, Johnson found Wade at the two-yard line on third down. Facing a fourth and goal at the two, Johnson was chased from the pocket and threw a low pass to Thurman who was ruled to have trapped the ball in the endzone.

The Ducks leave Tucson as the team to beat in the Pac-10, while the Cats take away some hope. Despite missing a ton of players due to injuries, they gave the number seven team in the country all they could handle for three quarters. "I am so proud of this team," confessed Johnson. "We showed that we are never going to stop fighting."

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