ARIZONA 101:<br>Scouting the Wildcats

THERE IS A kind of enthusiasm that only a new coach can bring, and despite a 1-2 start, <b>Mike Stoops</b> has brought an emotional rush back to the Arizona program. Stoops' name and his attitude have put butts in the stands and recruits on the phones. More importantly, he has the Wildcat players believing in themselves again and excited about their prospects for the future.<br><br>

But even with the new attitude, the Wildcats still suffer from some familiar problems. Offensively, they continue to struggle to put up points. Defensively, they are learning to adapt to yet another new system, their third in as many years. So it comes down to how quickly a rookie head coach can convert John Mackovic's mixed bag of recruits into a cohesive unit. The Cougs should be pleased that they are getting an early crack at the new-look Wildcats, and they won't have to worry about the progress Stoops makes until the two teams meet again in 2007.

When: Saturday, September 25, 12:30 p.m.
Where: Arizona Stadium (56,500 capacity, averaging 51,000 so far this year)
TV: Live on ABC
Last Meeting: 2003, WSU won 30-7
Line: Cougs by 3
Forecast: Mostly Sunny, high of 93F, 20% chance of precipitation


Players to Know: Kris Heavner, QB: The coaches have brought Heavner into the newly installed west coast offense slowly, but he seems to be responding well, throwing for 472 yards and two touchdowns against just one interception this season. He has a suspiciously high 73 completion percentage, even for the limited amount of throwing he has done. It will be interesting to see if he can maintain his accuracy in the presence of WSU blitzes. Last year Heavner was under constant pressure by the Cougs and responded poorly, leading just one drive into WSU territory all day.

Mike Bell, RB: Arizona's leading rusher has been losing touches to backup Gilbert Harris because of fumble problems, but he still leads the team in rushing yards (203) and yards per carry (4.5).

Keoki Fraser, C: Fraser is one of the premiere centers in the conference. He leads an experienced group of linemen that remain the primary strength of the offense.

Overview: Offensive coordinator Mike Canales is a disciple of USC's Norm Chow. He successfully improved the passing attacks at North Carolina State and the New York Jets, but this is his first stint as a full offensive coordinator. He is looking to convert the Wildcats to an aggressive spread offensive, but not right away. So far his offense has been strewn with running plays (64% rushing vs. 36% passing plays) in an effort to control the clock and keep the defense fresh. The biggest asset he has to work with is a veteran offensive line that has eased the burden on skill position players. The starting front has 99 career starts between them.

Strategy: Due to a lack of offensive playmakers, the Wildcats have played slow-ball so far this year. They've kept the ball on the ground and have attempted to minimize the number of opportunities their opponents get at their young defense. Overall, the strategy has worked. Opponents have been limited to an average of 11.7 points and just 65 plays per game this season. After watching tape of Colorado's victory two weeks ago, expect Arizona to take this strategy to a new high, keeping the play calls conservative in an attempt to win with defense and special teams. Their offensive line is strong and they will try to wear down the Cougs in the Arizona heat. Nonetheless, the Wildcats have plenty of offensive weaknesses for the Cougars to exploit. Chief among them is a lack of threatening receivers. No active Wildcat has more than seven catches this year, and the group has netted just two receiving touchdowns in the first three games. The Wildcat runningbacks have also developed a tendency for fumbling so the Cougs should hit them as hard as they can, particularly when Bell has the football.


Players to Know:
Lamon Means, SS: The converted corner has excelled as a run-stopping safety, registering 23 tackles this year.

Marcus Smith, DE: Smith was Arizona's top linebacker last year but was switched to defensive end in the Stoops' 4-3 formation. He was expected to have a breakout year but has been fairly quiet, registering just one sack so far and no other tackles for a loss.

Antoine Carson, CB: Carson and his counterpart Wilrey Fontenot are both freshman and have been tested heavily by opposing quarterbacks, but both have responded well. They'll again be put under fire against WSU's pass-heavy offense.

Sean Jones, LB: Jones, a former fullback, is one of the more successful conversions on the team. He is quickly becoming playmaker on the weakside and ranks third on the team in tackles.

Overview: Coach Mike Stoops and brother Mark, the defensive coordinator, have the knowledge necessary to build a dominant defense. What they lack are the personnel to completely execute it. The Wildcat's starting corners are both freshman and they lack any serious pass rushers. Though the safeties have been strong, they have been hesitant to blitz for fear turning the games into track meets. Overall though, this group has performed quite well, surrendering just 11.7 points per game, and 4.4 yards per play. They have the potential to become one of the better defenses in the conference if they continue to improve.

Strategy: As with the offense, expect the ‘Cats to keep things close to the chest in an effort to frustrate the Cougars and minimize their number of possessions. This strategy could be compounded by the Arizona heat, which might play to the Wildcats advantage over the course of the game. Kickoff is set for 12:30, meaning the game will be played out in temperatures exceeding 90 degrees. It's up to the Cougars to remain patient and wait for the right opportunity to attack. Arizona will likely run zone coverage in an effort to contain the WSU receivers and pick-off errant throws. The flip side of this scenario is that the Cougar quarterbacks might not be under a lot of pressure. Arizona has managed just three sacks this year and hasn't blitzed much. If Alex Brink is at quarterback, coach Bill Doba would do well to keep him under close reign. Arizona's offense is not a major threat and 14 points could be enough to win if Brink protects the football. But if he makes haphazard throws or fumbles the football, the Cougars will give the Wildcats the opportunities they need to put more points on the board.

Kicker Nick Folk was 0-2 in last week's 9-7 loss to Wisconsin, missing from 43 and 47 yards out. While poor weather conditions were not helping him, it cannot be encouraging for Wildcat fans that Folk couldn't hit the mark when it counted most. Punter Danny Baugher maintains a respectable 41 yard average and has placed five of his 15 kicks inside the 20.

WSU: The obvious concern is QB Josh Swogger's knee (slight PCL tear). Doba says he likely will play, but Brink could also get the start. The Cougs will also be without defensive tackles Ropati Pitoitua and Steve Cook leaving them thin on the interior line. Several other players are banged up, but are expected to play.

Arizona: Receiver Anthony Johnson (knee) is the Wildcat's only significant injury casualty, but that loss is potentially offset by the possible return of receiver Brian Ealy (broken foot). The Wildcats lost second-string QB Ryan O'Hara because of family issues which makes freshman Richard Kovalcheck the current backup. Offensive tackle Brandon Phillips returns this week after serving a 3-game hiatus required by the NCAA to earn his 6th year of eligibility, which should give the UA offensive line an extra boost.

This is a must win game for the Cougs. Win it and a bowl game is likely, lose it and it suddenly becomes a very long road to the post season. Unfortunately, this Arizona team is better than the Cougs were hoping they would be. They would have beat 20th ranked Wisconsin last week if not for dumb penalties and poor kicking. Cougars should feel fortunate that they are not facing this team later in the season, when they have a little more experience in the new system. Stoops has rebuilt this team's confidence and they could pull off some big upsets before the year is out. But as it stands now, they haven't fully grasped the spread offense and are still pretty green on defense. They kind of have the look of Colorado, but with a little less talent at the skill positions. The X-factors will ultimately be the Arizona heat and the revived Wildcat fans, which will put the Cougars conditioning and perseverance to the test. If the Cougs can sustain their effort for four quarters and avoid turnovers, they should win a low scoring contest.

Cougfan Top Stories