The position has been a source of instability for the Wildcats. The team is on their second starter and two key back-ups have left the team. Redshirt freshman Richard Kovalcheck gets his second career start against the Beavers, but he still has a lot to prove. He saw his first action against Oregon two weeks ago and led the Wildcats to their lone scoring drives in the 28-14 loss at Eugene.
That performance got him the start against Cal, but this time he was less
productive. For the night he was just 13-31 for 159 yards and a pick. He had at
least five passes dropped and failed to lead the Wildcats to a score, despite
two trips inside the redzone.
Kovalcheck is a pretty standard drop-back passer. He's mobile enough to avoid a sack, but he's really no danger in the open field. He throws a decent deep ball, but does not have a real cannon for an arm.
So far he has made very good decisions. He has looked to his second and third options, even getting his tight ends involved. Neither of his interceptions were particularly bad. Against Oregon he threw a long bomb out of his endzone that was hauled in by a Duck DB. Coach Mike Stoops said after the game that it was more effective than a punt because the punt coverage team had been so bad all day. Against Cal he threw a hard pass that was tipped by the receiver and hauled in by the Bears.
A lack of redzone success was one reason former starter Kris Heavner was replaced by Kovalcheck. Heavner was able to move the Wildcat offense between the 20's but the team repeatedly stalled once it got close to the end zone.
If Kovalcheck plays poorly against Oregon State, the Wildcats won't hesitate to go back to Heavner.
In case of an emergency, the Cats will have to go with walk-on Adam Austin. The heady quarterback has never seen action and is a last resort for the Wildcats. He was thrust into the role after the departures of sophomore Ryan O'Hara and junior Nic Costa.
This has been a strength of the team, but not in the way the coaches originally envisioned. The staff felt that junior Mike Bell would be the focal point of the offense after his stellar sophomore campaign. Bell was the conference's leading returning rusher, but fumbles and injuries have somewhat limited his role in the offense.
Bell is a speedy slasher who can do a lot of things in the open field. He leads the club in rushing with 599 yards and a respectable 4.7 yards per carry, but has not had the breakout season that many expected of him. He
rushed for 98 yards against Cal, his best game since the Cats started rotating backs against Wisconsin.
The Cats have gone with a three-back attack since the second half against
Utah, but injuries have returned Bell as the primary back. Arizona was mixing it
up by throwing a few power runners into the mix. Gilbert Harris had been
particularly effective but the former fullback will likely miss the Oregon State
with a bad ankle sprain that kept him out against Cal.
Picking up the slack could be freshman Chris Henry. Henry has the power of Harris, with a sprinter's burst. The Wildcat coaches feel he gives them a third style for defenses to prepare for. Henry had his best outing of his career against UCA when he scored twice inside the five, something the Cats had been struggling with.
Fullback Pedro Limon doesn't get many touches. He's a bruising blocker who gets the occasional screen pass but isn't used as a ball carrier.
The Cats have been scrambling all year with the offensive line. Injuries and suspensions have led to several different line-ups. In an effort to preserve the redshirts of young players the Wildcats started a walk-on against the Bears. They won't have to go to those lengths this week, but they will still be missing sixth-year senior Brandon Phillips who has a broken bone in his leg that will keep him out at least two more games and probably longer.
The line is anchored by senior Keoki Fraser, a four-year starter who brings
with him a lot of experience and leadership.
It looks as if the guards will be former walk-on John Abramo and junior Kili Lefotu. Abramo has been injured off and on all season and if he is dinged the Cats will move tackle Peter Graniello inside and use super-sub Tanner Bell at tackle. Abramo missed the Cal game, as well as the first few games of the year, but is a reliable blocker when healthy. Lefotu has been an off and on starter since his freshman year, but has had an up and down season. At 315 pounds he has pretty good size for a guard.
Redshirt freshman Graniello and senior Chris Johnson should get the call at tackle. The lightly recruited Graniello has been a pleasant surprise this year. He has great size (6-7, 300) and has a bit of a mean streak in the trenches. Johnson is a powerful blocker, with a lot of savvy.
Bell can play any number of positions and walk-on Erick Levitre will be used as well. The Cats would like to avoid using any of their true freshmen although several will dress if needed in an emergency.
This unit has been a big disappointment this season. A lot of players appeared to be ready for breakout seasons, but their performances in the spring and fall camp have not translated to game action. The group has failed to make plays and has been plagued by drops all season.
The closest thing the Cats have to a "go-to" receiver is sophomore Syndric
Steptoe. The 5-7 Steptoe lacks the height of a traditional deep threat, but he's
been the team's lone playmaker. He leads the Cats with three touchdowns and 19
catches, but averages just 47 yards a game.
Biren Ealy has been the poster boy for the disappointing unit. He missed the first month of the season with a foot injury, then after getting back in the line-up he was suspended for undisclosed reasons. On top of that he was
recently issued a warrant for a failure to appear in court after a misdemeanor. Ealy was in uniform against Cal but did not play. The coaches have not said if he will go against Oregon State.
Ricky Williams is a possession receiver who is usually reliable. Anthony Johnson is a big, speedy receiver but like the rest of the group he has had trouble hanging on to the football. Mike Jefferson has big play ability, but has not gotten consistently open.
This had been a vastly underused group until Kovalcheck took over. Senior Steve Fleming has all the tools to be a great pass catching tight end but was basically ignored until last week. Kovalcheck found him four times and looked his way two other times. Fleming had the team's longest pass reception when he took a crossing pattern 48 yards before getting caught from behind.
Senior Clarence "Bam" McRae is a bruising tight end used more for his blocking than his pass receiving. When the Cats do throw his way it is usually for short yardage. His five catches have averaged just 7.4 yards apiece.
Brad Wood is a bit undersized and is used as more of an H-Back. He has good hands, but hasn't been involved much in the passing game. His first career catch came two weeks ago when he hauled in a 21-yard score against Oregon.