Wary Dawgs visit wanting ‘Cats

And you thought only the shores of Lake Washington were feeling the slings and arrows of outrageous upheaval. The shroud of turmoil surrounding Arizona football in recent months has been so thick, the Ring of Fame circling Arizona Stadium has been rumored to be sub-letting.

Washington (3-2, 5-4) at Arizona (0-5, 1-8)
Saturday, November 8 - 3:00 PM (PST) – No live TV
Arizona Stadium – Tucson, AZ (capacity 56,002)
Series All-time: Washington leads, 14-4-1
Last Meeting: October 12, 2002 - Washington 32, Arizona 28
Line: Washington by 16

Almost a year ago to the day, more than forty Wildcat players congregated in UA president Peter Likins' office to air complaints of verbal abuse and tactics by then-coach John Mackovic. Likins later met with AD Jim Livengood, who in turn met with Mackovic. The beleaguered head man then held a press conference at McKale Center, tearfully renouncing his old ways, and promising a new start.

The Wildcats would go on to win two of their last five games, including an upset win over arch-rival ASU. And Mackovic's job - though it seemed everyone in Tucson had a pool running on when he would be canned - lived to see another day.

Mike Hankwitz
(Getty Images)
Though he would replace half of his staff in a vain attempt at a quick fix, holders of "Week Six" ended up victorious, after Arizona had dropped their fourth game in a row. Mackovic was finally let go on September 28, and defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz – who Mackovic hired from Texas A&M last spring to ditch the double-eagle flex – is still in search of that first victory, having seen Arizona extend to a school-record eight-straight defeats as the interim head coach. It is Hankwitz' first such assignment, though he has a 33-year coaching résumé. This is also his second tour at Arizona, having coached the Wildcat secondary from 1973-76.

And the architect of the Texas A&M "wrecking crew" starts with a molehill to try and rebuild a mountain with. Last week he removed tailback Clarence Farmer from the team for conduct detrimental to the team, and suspended sophomore fullback Gilbert Harris and RS-freshman guard Keith Jackson for academic reasons. They joined star wide receiver Andrae Thurman, who became an academic casualty in August.

The Wildcats are down to 69 scholarship players – they took 13 walk-ons to Corvallis last weekend and got drilled, 52-23.

"But we didn't go up there just to show up," said Hankwitz. "I thought we played hard. We still have to learn that it's just not going out and playing hard, it's executing effectively." It wasn't that long ago when Arizona was spinning PAC-10 offenses around with their unique flex defense. And what Husky fan could forget Ortege Jenkins' leap-by-the-lake in 1998? Even three years ago the Wildcats seemed OK, opening their 2000 PAC-10 schedule with three straight wins, the culmination a triple-overtime thriller over Washington State at Arizona Stadium on October 14.

That was last time Arizona would win a league contest in the friendly confines – the current streak reads 37 months and 13 games – and they've gone 3-23 in conference play since. They've lost 15 of their last 17 games overall. "You just have to keep pushing ahead," Hankwitz says of the state of his team. "We can't worry about who we have and who we don't have. Let's take what we've got and learn to compete and make the best of it."

And with high-flying USC coming to town next week, you have to figure that the Wildcats are pointing squarely at this Saturday as the one chance they have left this year to break the long home drought. It's Washington's first trip to Tucson after three straight meetings in Seattle – the Huskies eking out three victories by a combined 10 points.

Hankwitz sees an opportunity, and thinks his players will seize it. "I think our players will really be excited about this week," he says. "We've played our best two games at home (versus TCU and UCLA), and it will be homecoming with a big crowd."

"Our players will be able to play off that. Let's take what we've got, go to work, and then go out and play.

"We're going to keep pushing ... we have a chance to win some games here at the end." And if the Huskies aren't ready to do the same, they could find themselves witnessing a dance on the big "A" that makes their impromptu Oregon celebration look like a Mephisto waltz.

TEAM STATS:  16.3 points (10th PAC-10),
             293.6 yards (9th PAC-10, 119.2 rush, 174.3 pass)
             12-19 in Red Zone offense (.632, 10th PAC-10) 

RUSHING:     Mike Bell 103-589-3 TD (5.7), long 53
             Nic Costa 18-84-1 TD (4.7), long 43             
PASSING:     Kris Heavner 79-155-10 (.510), 969 yards, 6 TD 
RECEIVING:   Biren Ealy 37-497-3 TD (13.4), long 53
             Ricky Williams 27-406-2 TD (15.0), long 52
             Lance Relford 16-218-1 TD (13.6), long 79

Slow starts have plagued Arizona all season – in their eight setbacks, the Wildcats have failed to score in the first half seven times. New offensive coordinator Mike Deal – who worked previously for Mackovic at Illinois and Texas - came on the scene this past February from the Scottish Claymores of the NFL-Europe. He has had to simplify things with a depleted offensive line, a true freshman starting quarterback, and a razor-thin running back corps.

HB Mike Bell
With the departures of Farmer and Harris, Mike Bell is the only back left with experience, but he's had a terrific individual season so far. The sophomore ran for a career-high 182 yards against Cal two weeks ago, and followed that with a 106-yard effort against Oregon State. "He really hits holes hard," says Hankwitz. "I'm really pleased with the way he's performed." Bell, who of the top-20 PAC-10 rushers has the best per-carry average at 5.7, ran for 69 yards in Husky Stadium a year ago. Sophomore backup Gainus Scott recorded his first career carries last week, gaining 10 yards on six totes. 230-pound sophomore Sean Jones, who has two career carries, will start at fullback, and Beau Carr scored in last year's meeting on a one-yard dive.

Going into fall, Ryan O'Hara and Nic Costa were expected to engage in a pitched battle for the starting quarterback spot. Costa, more of a runner at 5-foot-11, started the first three games, then the slender 6-6 O'Hara would relieve. But the pair combined to hit on only 43-percent of their passes, so 19-year old Kris Heavner - who found a touch of success in the 59-7 debacle at Purdue - took over the reins prior to the TCU game, and the Johnson City, TX native has started ever since. Heavner threw for 276 yards in a 13-10 OT loss to the Horned Frogs - still his best output of the season.

QB Nic Costa
Arizona lost their biggest threat back in August when the senior-to-be Thurman was ruled ineligible. Senior receiver Lance Relford didn't play last week, still battling back and thumb problems. Relford, who is questionable, has 42 career catches. Junior Ricky Williams had a productive day against Oregon State in Relford's stead, snaring five balls for 65 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Biren Ealy has been Heavner's favorite target, with 37 receptions for nearly 500 yards and three scores.

The suspended Jackson was starting for senior guard Reggie Sampray, who missed five games with a knee injury. Sampray returned last week, a welcome sight for the depleted line. Sophomore tackle Tanner Bell has been fighting a knee injury most of the season. He warmed up last week but couldn't go, so walk-on John Abramo got the starting nod on the right side. Only Kili Lefotu and third-year center Keoki Fraser have been mainstays all season – still, the revolving door has given up only 15 sacks all year, including just three over the last four games.

GAME OUTLOOK: With all the trouble the Wildcat defense has had stopping anyone - and considering Mike Bell has become such a weapon, averaging 127 yards per game over the last three - expect tons and tons of Bell to help shorten the game. It could make things easier for the freshman Heavner, and keep Arizona (and the homecoming crowd) in it.

TEAM STATS:     37.1 points (10th PAC-10),
                444.1 yards (10th, 182.8 rush, 261.3 pass)
                34-41 in Red Zone defense (.829, 9th PAC-10) 

TACKLES/TFL:    Joe Siofele 61/6.0
                Darrell Brooks 58/1.5
                Clay Hardt 58/5.0    

PASSES DEF/INT: Michael Jolivette 7/2 
                Clay Hardt 4/1
                Zeonte Sherman 4/0 
SACKS:          Matt Molina 4.0
                Joe Siofele 3.0
                Andre Torrey 3.0

Hit hard by graduation, and the introduction of the A&M base 3-4 to a group that was reared in "Desert Swarm" philosophy, it's been a tough grind for the Arizona defense. They've given up 22 rushing touchdowns and almost four yards per rushing attempt, and have allowed third down conversions at a league-worst 45 percent.

Pass-rush specialist Matt Molina leads the front four – his four sacks and 7.5 tackles-for-loss lead all Wildcat defenders. JuCo transfer Andre Torrey has three sacks from the edge – Torrey had 12 sacks a year ago at Laney Community College in Oakland. Carlos Williams starts his 19th game for Arizona at tackle – he and senior nose tackle Carl Tuitavuki have combined for 46 tackles. Sophomore Marcus Smith is the REB at 235 pounds, and has 24 stops on the year.

MLB Joe Siofele
Middle linebacker Joe Siofele is the clear leader of the bunch. Siofele has 165 career tackles and 12 sacks in a stellar four-year career. Weakside ‘backer Kirk Johnson missed the first two games, but has averaged six tackles per game since returning. Rover Clay Hardt and free safety Darrell Brooks each have a team second-best 58 stops, and both have a pass interception. Hardt and Johnson both had seven tackles in last year's game at Husky Stadium, and Siofele had eight.

The corners are quick but on the small side. Senior Michael Jolivette has 12 career interceptions, even though a knee injury cost him most of his junior year. Gary Love is known more for his exploits as a returner, though a fractured foot suffered last year in Husky Stadium has him purely at corner. He's still looking for his first career pick after switching from wide receiver two years ago. Sophomore strong safety Lamon Means has 48 stops, one pick and one forced fumble.

GAME OUTLOOK: Arizona sold out in trying to stop Steven Jackson last week, and let Derek Anderson burn them for 308 yards and four touchdowns. Washington's 44-percent success rate at third-down, combined with the Wildcats' 45-percent allowance, looks to be a bad combination – at least on paper. It wouldn't surprise to see Arizona stack the front again – especially if Paus is the starter. They might want to dare him to pass.

PLACEKICKING:  Bobby Gill 2-8 FG (long 44), 15-16 XP
               Nicholas Folk 0-1 FG, 4-4 XP
PUNTING:       Danny Baugher 53-42.6 (long 62), .132 inside the 20
KICK RETURNS:  Syndric Steptoe 26-17.4 (long 41), 0 TD
               Marcus Hollingsworth 6-19.0 (long 26), 0 TD
PUNT RETURNS:  Syndric Steptoe 11-4.2 (long 15), 0 TD

P Bobby Gill
This could prove to be an interesting battle. Washington's kicking game has left plenty to be desired – but Arizona's kicking unit has been downright brutal. Senior Bobby Gill was in a 2-for-8 slump, and was replaced last week by Nicholas Folk. Arizona decided to try a fake on Folk's first-ever attempt, but the redshirt-freshman was smothered for a one-yard loss. Folk could get the nod again on Saturday - Gill is 9-for-19 on his career with a long of 47 yards.

Sophomore Danny Baugher has had a decent season, averaging 42 yards per punt, but had one blocked last week - the ball scooting out-of-bounds at the Arizona two-yard-line, resulting in a Steven Jackson touchdown on the next play.

Syndric Steptoe and Marcus Hollingsworth – both true freshmen – are back deep. At 17 yards per kick return, the Wildcats are ninth in the conference – by just a yard under eighth-place Washington. Steptoe also returns punts, but has only averaged five yards per attempt.

GAME OUTLOOK: For one of the few times this season, the Huskies could be looking at holding the kicking advantage – though Knudsen has had trouble with Paus holding. Charles Frederick will be the wild card – if he's able to return kicks, Washington has the advantage there, too. Neither team has blocked any sort of kick the entire season.

How do we match-up against the ARIZONA Wildcats ?
Category ARIZONA Wildcats UW HuskiesNational LeaderPac-10 Leader
119.22 92 6 135.67 70 5 NAVY 309.56 USC 167.33
174.33 94 9 271.44 23 4 TEXTECH 500.78 WSU 300.56
293.56 110 9 407.11 36 3 TEXTECH 601.44 USC 443.22
16.33 107 10 28.44 51 5 OKLA 45.11 USC 40.22
182.78 88 10 115.67 29 6 OHIOST 49.44 USC 68.22
Pass Eff.
145.6 102 10 125.03 65 6 NEB 77.73 OSU 96.59
444.11 105 10 354 48 5 OKLA 245.33 OSU 306.89
37.11 112 10 24 54 5 LSU 9.56 USC 19.44
35.19 69 9 38.25 24 4 UCF 43.8 USC 43.24
5 115 10 12.54 21 1 TOL 19.2 UW 12.54
17.26 109 9 18.84 87 8 CLEM 28.7 ASU 22.38
-0.44 85 9 -0.22 75 6 NEB 1.89 USC 1.44
261.33 102 7 238.33 81 4 PENNST 129.89 UCLA 199.44
93.88 110 9 122.5 72 5 OKLA 171.54 USC 154.18
Source: NCAA.org

KIBBLES AND BITS: Apparently, the Beavers are still enamored at seeing yellow hankies litter their Reser Stadium carpet. The PAC-10's penalty leaders committed 17 more infractions for 141 yards against the Wildcats last week ... Arizona has been out-scored 49-0 in their last two second-quarters combined ... Former UA head coach Larry Smith is the color analyst for the Fox Sports Arizona replays of Wildcat games ... Reggie Williams needs 29 catches to become the PAC-10's all-time leader, currently held by Stanford's Troy Walters ... Arizona has only sold out five non-ASU November home games in the last 18 years. They've averaged 42,366 at Arizona Stadium this year ... In a 12-game season, teams aren't truly "bowl-eligible" until they achieve seven wins (with the exception of Cal, who MUST win seven because they are playing a 13-game schedule). Currently, there are only two PAC-10 teams that have reached the mark (USC, WSU). Bowls are allowed to take six-win teams (again, except Cal), if there are no seven-win teams available to pick from ... kudos to the Bears' Adimchinobe Echemandu for his 1,000-yard season, one year removed from an ACL tear ... Washington State's Scott Lunde has 18 catches in the Cougars' last two games ... Oregon State's Kirk Yliniemi nailed a 54-yarder against Arizona last week, making him a perfect 5-for-5 from beyond 50 yards in his career ...

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