Arizona Wildcat preview

The University of Arizona Wildcats will enter the Coliseum to face the USC Trojans on Saturday fresh off of a win over fellow Pac-10 cellar dweller Washington. The win snapped a seven game losing streak and earned head coach Mike Stoops his first Pac-10 conference win. That's about where the good news ends for these rebuilding Wildcats who will come to Los Angeles to face a Trojan team ranked number one in just about every poll that counts and ready to avenge what some might call a lackluster win over Oregon State. The Wildcats have shown flashes of ability this year in nail biting losses to Washington State as well as undefeated Wisconsin. For most of the year, the defense has played admirably, considering the overall strength of the team, while the offense has been virtually nonexistent.

Wildcats on Offense

Quarterback - #8 Richard Kovalcheck

Richard Kovalcheck replaced an ineffective Kris Heavner in the season's sixth game and has been starting under center ever since. Since leading his team to 14 fourth- quarter points in that game against Oregon, Kovalcheck has orchestrated the offense in losses to California and Oregon State, as well as last week's win against Washington. For the year Kovalcheck is completing just 45% of his passes (48 completions in 105 attempts) for 635 yards. He has just two touchdown passes against four interceptions and has yet to show an ability to tuck the ball down and run. Just a red-shirt freshman, Kovalcheck is the quarterback of the future at Arizona and head coach Mike Stoops is getting him into the mix to finish out the year. He is still learning the speed of the game that goes along with college football and hasn't fared well against good defenses. Chances are that trend will continue against the Trojans, the best defense he'll see this year.

Running Back - #11 Mike Bell

Mike Bell has been the Wildcat offense this year. He's rushed 166 times on the year for 737 yards and five touchdowns. That works out to a 4.4 yards per carry average. He's a shifty runner with speed and can take the ball to the outside, but isn't afraid to pound between the tackles as well. Bell also involves himself in the Arizona passing attack, coming out of the backfield to catch 15 passe on the year for 70 yards. Bell needs only two rushing yards against the Trojans to reach 2,000 for his career, and while he'll undoubtedly reach that milestone, it will probably be his last happy moment on Saturday, as the Trojan defense is making a habit of punishing opposing running backs.

Wide Receivers - #1 Syndric Steptoe, #2 Ricky Williams, #83 Mike Jefferson

With two young quarterbacks in charge of distributing the football, the Arizona wideouts haven't had the type of season they're capable of. The group is led by Syndric Steptoe, who leads the team in the three major receiving categories. He's caught 21 passes for 351 yards and has three touchdowns. He's one of the fastest players on this Wildcat team, but shutting him down puts a huge burden on the rest of the Arizona passing attack. Ricky Williams has chipped in on the other side of the field, catching 20 passes on the year for 243 yards. Mike Jefferson completes the receiving trio. He's hauled in 13 passes for 175 yards on the year, including a 44-yard touchdown connection.

Tight End - #87 Steve Fleming

Steve Fleming has become a favorite target of Kovalcheck. On the year, he has 16 catches for 227 yards, but 10 of those receptions and 175 of those yards have come since Kovalcheck took the helm. While the opposing tight end had been something of a thorn in the side of the Trojan defense, USC has been increasingly productive at shutting down the effectiveness of this position in the past few games. Fleming will have to work extremely hard to get open against USC's attacking defense.

Offensive Line - #72 Tanner Bell, #59 Chris Johnson, #67 Keoki Fraser, #66 Kili Lefotu, #76 Peter Graniello

Senior and co-captain Keoki Fraser is the center and anchors this offensive line. Made up of two seniors (Fraser and Johnson), two juniors (Lefotu and Bell) and a freshman (Graniello), the line will look to open holes for their running back and protect their quarterback from arguably the nation's most fearsome defense. I'm guessing these guys won't want to be around when they review the tape of the game next week.

Wildcats on Defense

Defensive Line - #55 Marcus Smith, #92 Carlos Williams, #94 Paul Philipp, #56 Andre Torrey

The Arizona defense has made vast improvements over last year's squad and it all starts with the play of this front line. Andre Torrey leads the team with four quarterback sacks while Paul Philipp has added two, Marcus Smith has 1.5 and Carlos Williams has one. They've combined for 20 tackles behind the line of scrimmage (Torrey has 9.5 of them) and have forced three fumbles while recovering four. Torrey is the best of the group, and while not exactly a star on the national level, it'll be important to focus on keeping him away from Matt Leinart. The Trojan offensive line must control the defensive line of the Wildcats and allow the tailbacks to break into the second level against the much weaker linebackers.

Linebackers - #39 Dane Krogstad, #44 Pat Howard, #35 Sean Jones

Pat Howard leads the linebackers in tackles with 45, but ranks only fourth in the team. Dane Krogstad has come up with 35 tackles while Sean Jones is just behind him with 34. The linebackers are the weakest part of this Wildcat defense and should allow the Trojan tight ends and tailbacks to exploit the middle of the field.

Cornerbacks - #5 Antoine Cason, #3 Wilrey Fontenot

The defensive backfield is where you'll find most of the talent on this Wildcat team. Although both Antoine Cason and Wilrey Fontenot are just freshmen (Cason a true freshman, Fontenot a red-shirt), it's easy to see that both cornerbacks have the ability to become stars. Cason ranks third on the team in tackles, with 51, and has picked off four passes, most on the Wildcats. He also has the ability to read and react to the play before most of the offensive guys, picking up 5.5 tackles in the backfield. Fontenot has also done a nice job against the passing attack of the opposition, deflecting four passes and intercepting one. Last week, Fonteno picked up the first defensive touchdown for the Wildcats in 2004 with a fumble return against Washington. After being blanketed by both Oregon State cornerbacks and a heavy fog last week, the Trojan receivers must show once again that they are able to control a game against a quality secondary.

Safeties - #6 Darrell Brooks, #20 Lamon Means

Darrel Brooks and Lamon Means rank first and second on the team in tackles. It's party due to the fact that they are playmakers who find themselves around the ball in most situations, but it's most because the opposing players find themselves eight yards downfield before contact is initiated. They've each forced a fumble and sacked the quarterback on the year and while Brooks has picked off a pass, Means has recovered two fumbles. Both Brooks and Means will have their hands full with the talent the Trojans can put on the field at all of the offensive playmaking positions. Watching film of Dominique Byrd against Oregon State had to be as painful for them as having teeth pulled.

Wildcats on Special Teams

Kicker – #16 Nick Folk

Nick Folk has connected on all 14 extra point attempts, but he's been rather shaky on his field goal attempts. For the year, he's connected on only five out of nine tries. His long for the year is a 41-yarder against UCLA. On kickoffs, Folk has 11 touchbacks and is allowing opponents an average start at their own 25 yard line.

Punter - #43 Danny Baugher

Danny Baugher has gotten plenty of work this year for Arizona, averaging 40.8 yards on 60 punts. He's forced 15 fair catches and seven touchbacks, while having two punts blocked. If every one of his punts don't go out of bounds and Reggie Bush pads his Heisman campaign with another Matrix-style punt return, it's safe to say that there will be some heated dinner conversation at the Stoops house this Thanksgiving.

Kick Returner - #1 Syndric Steptoe

After having to kick through the weather at Washington State and Oregon State, Trojan kicker Ryan Killeen should be back to form in sunny Los Angeles on Saturday, booming kickoffs out of the endzone. Arizona has gone 79 consecutive games without a kickoff return for a touchdown and 45 games without a punt return for a score. Look for both of those streaks to continue as, after a few years of futility, the Trojans special teams has established itself as one of the best in the nation.

The Arizona Wildcats are a team searching for something to get themselves back on the right track in their final two games. A once proud Pac-10 participant boasting the Desert Swarm Defense, Arizona has been scraping rock bottom the past few years and is hoping that a new coach will lead them in a new direction. In time this team will be able to complete the turnaround and reestablish themselves on the national scene. But don't look for it to start Saturday. The Arizona offense and defense will struggle all night and will simply serve as the tenth stepping-stone on the Trojans' path to perfection.


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