Homecoming 2001: A look at Arizona

Nobody said this would be easy, but Arizona coach John Mackovic wouldn't have it any other way. After Dick Tomey resigned in the wake of five straight losses after a 5-1 start to end a topsy-turvy 2000 season, Arizona Athletic Director Jim Livengood last December turned not to an infusion of youth, but to an old Tucson hand (and College Football's resident ‘Mr. Fixit') to turn Wildcat fortunes around.

Saturday, October 20 -- 3:35 PM Husky Stadium
Last Meeting: November 4, 2000 – Washington 35, Arizona 32
Series All-Time: Washington leads, 12-4-1

Mackovic, Arizona's offensive coordinator from 1973-76 when the Wildcats were still in the WAC, has spun magic at Wake Forest (leading them to their first bowl in 30 years), Illinois (four bowls in four seasons), the NFL (where he led the Kansas City Chiefs to the playoffs) and Texas (three straight bowls) before a disastrous 1997 season led to his firing –- one that left him bitter enough to not seek another coaching job.

That is, until the Arizona job opened up.

"We had one off season in Texas," Mackovic recalls, "and I was hurt (by the firing), so I told everyone I was retired. I felt we had done the things that were asked of us and we had put our program at Texas in not only a competitive but also a winning position. I just didn't know if I wanted to continue."

"It's been a long wait, but I finally feel like I'm home again."

"Home" started heavenly for Arizona, winning their first three non-conference games against lesser competition (SDSU, Idaho, and UNLV), though the Vandal game served notice that the Wildcats had some defensive holes (allowing the Vandals 29 fourth-quarter points to make a handy game suddenly haphazard).

Well, if Idaho served the notice, their three PAC-10 opponents delivered it to them with a sledgehammer. 149 points, 1,443 yards, and three humbling losses allowed later (stretching Arizona's conference-game losing streak to eight), the ‘Cats are reeling. Injuries, both minor and major, have waylaid the once-proud Desert Swarm defense. They have allowed eight first-quarter touchdowns during their three-game swoon, and the offense could only manage 43 first-half yards in 25 plays while serving as the perfect tourniquet for a badly bleeding Oregon State.

But coach Mackovic has seen both ends of the spectrum. "That's why I get hired," says Mackovic of his fifth head-coaching job in a 32-year career. "I get hired to come into jobs that aren't pretty, and put it back together."

"We have a lot of things to do to prepare for Washington. We have to be sure that we can get the guys working on the things that we feel they can have some success with because we have not had a lot of success in the last three weeks. We need to hammer out some things and build around that."

"There will be better days ahead. Not everyone sees that. But I know that."

Arizona, in the middle game of a three-year series playing Washington in Seattle (the Huskies, in turn, are in Tempe next week for the second of three straight visits to Arizona State), clearly needs this hurdle to keep fast-fading bowl dreams alive. The Wildcats must win three out of their remaining five games to become bowl-eligible.

One thing the homecoming Washington fans will be grateful for –- they no longer have to worry about Ortege Jenkins being there to leap that hurdle.


Offensive coordinator Rick Dykes comes to Arizona from Texas Tech, where he had (and used) the luxury of Byron Hanspard and Ricky Williams to lead the Red Raiders to three-straight 400 yards-per-game seasons. And he's got a good head start on establishing the same system at Arizona with sophomore tailback Clarence Farmer.

Rogers-Puyallup junior Jason Johnson (6-2, 210) returns home as the full-time signal caller. In the shadows of Jenkins and Keith Smith, Johnson had thrown 11 passes prior to this season. He's had his share of highs and lows –- his 99-yard heave to Brandon Marshall against Idaho stands alone as the all-time PAC-10 record (and obviously ties the NCAA modern-day record), while he has been picked off five times over the last three games. Johnson is a prototype drop-back passer in Arizona's pro-set –- something a little foreign to Arizona fans remembering the Smith/Jenkins option years. He took a pounding against OSU last week, but coach Mackovic doesn't foresee a change -- yet. "I'm not interested at making a change at quarterback at this point," said Mackovic on Sunday, "But we need some better play at the position." RS-Freshman John Rattay (6-3, 200), who transferred from Tennessee last year after spring drills, solidified the backup role with a two-touchdown fourth-quarter performance against Oregon, and would get the first look should things continue to go awry for Johnson.

Farmer (6-1, 215) has a rare combination of balance and speed, somewhat reminiscent of UCLA's DeShaun Foster at an earlier stage. His 666 yards last season was an Arizona freshman record, and he was named a first-team Freshman All-American in several publications. He has 585 yards so far this season, averaging 5.4 yards per attempt. Farmer had a career-high 158 yards against the Ducks. RS-Freshman Tremaine Cox (5-11, 195) is the local hope. The Tucson speedster has a 10.5 100-meters to his credit, and fired off an 80-yard TD scamper against UNLV. Junior Leo Mills (5-11, 214) had a career day against Washington last year, rushing for 185 yards and two touchdowns, and accounted for 282 all-purpose yards. Sophomore H-back Anthony Fulcher (5-11, 200) has a TD receiving, and averages 5.8 yards on his 12 carries, including a 36-yard scamper.

All defenses gear for junior WR Bobby Wade (5-11, 194). Wade, who also returns as many kicks as kickers will allow him to, has catches in 26 straight games; he leads the Wildcats in receptions for a second-straight year, plus he has a 58-yard punt return (SDSU) to his credit. Wade returned a punt 60 yards for a score against the Huskies last year. Wade and senior Malosi Leonard (6-1, 210) share 47 receptions, four touchdowns, and over 600 yards between them. Senior Brandon Marshall (5-11, 200) is also a threat –- he with the aforementioned 99-yard strike -- averaging over 22 yards per reception. Sophomore Andre Thurman (5-11, 185) has two scores on the year and averages over 15 yards per catch. Junior tight end James Hugo (6-6, 255) isn't too much of a receiving threat, but does have a 12-yard TD catch against UNLV to his credit.

Two new right-side offensive line starters were introduced in the Oregon debacle –- RS-freshman Keoki Fraser (6-2, 293) and sophomore Brandon Phillips (6-7, 278). Fraser is the younger brother of senior nose tackle Keoni Fraser. Their replacements -– senior Kevin Barry (6-5, 315) and junior Darren Safranek (6-7, 292) could be back in their normal roles here, though don't be surprised if they are shuffled. Safranek suffered a shoulder stinger against OSU, but should be OK to go here. The PAC-10 is full of big-time centers, and senior center Steven Grace (6-3, 293) is no exception. Grace missed most of last year after a second-team All-Conference season in 1999. The left side is more stable with junior Makoa Freitas (6-4, 295) and sophomore Reggie Sampray (6-4, 295). Still, with all the shuffling, the unit has only given up nine sacks on the year, though some of that can be attributed to Johnson quick throw-aways.

Simply put, the double-eagle flex defense of Larry Mac Duff is more of a double-depletion. Mac Duff, who masterminded the double-eagle during his first tenure as Arizona's defensive coordinator under Dick Tomey, was lured back to Tucson by coach Mackovic after a four-year stint with the New York Giants. With the medical roll call growing, and the PAC-10 offenses rolling over it, even Mackovic acknowledges a change might be needed. "The PAC-10 has seen this defense a lot," says Mackovic, "and we're seeing good game plans against it. We're short on people, and we're no longer matching up. We have to make changes, whether personnel or otherwise. Whatever it is, we can't stand still." Arizona has allowed an un-Wildcat looking 400 yards per game, eighth in the conference.

The defensive line is razor-thin due to the injury reaper -- Arizona hasn't started the same set of defensive ends in any game so far this year. Senior nose tackle Keoni Fraser (6-1, 285) returned last week from a one-week absence with a concussion, though in a limited role. Converted tight end Eli Wnek (6-3, 250) has been cleared to practice, and could see some duty at his DE spot this week after being out with a stress fracture since August. DE Austin Utu has been in-and-out of the lineup, and missed the Oregon game with a knee strain. Utu scored a touchdown against Washington State, on a two-yard fumble return. RS-freshman DE Fata Avegalio (6-3, 236) has missed time with knee and elbow problems and is questionable here, too. Senior Alex Luna (6-1, 240) had to come back a week early from a knee scope because there were no more bodies left. A tough warrior, he popped his stitches during the Oregon game and still played the whole way. Luna has seen time at inside linebacker, too. Junior Young Thompson (6-2, 293), from Pago Pago, has filling for Fraser. Thompson has two sacks so far in 2001. Senior tackle Anthony Thomas (6-2, 290) has 13 solo stops on the year, including one sack. Senior DE Johnny Jackson (6-4, 245) leads all Wildcat defenders with four sacks -- despite all the hurts, the line ranks second in the conference with 17 sacks, though only four in PAC-10 play.

It looks as if senior WLB Joe Siofele (wrist surgery-doubtful) is unable to go, thus Arizona will also find itself just as thin at linebacker. Junior Lance Briggs (6-2, 232) is the engine that makes the double-flex go, his 58 total tackles leading the conference. Briggs hasn't escaped the injury bug either -- a cast protects his fractured left hand -- yet he still leads the Wildcats in tackles-for-loss. Sophomore Matt Molina (6-2, 225) may be pushed into Siofele's role, though junior JuCo Ray Wells (6-1, 224) was moved from the inside to start there last week, and true freshman Kirk Johnson (6-0, 205) was called upon for his first career start in Wells' normal spot. Wells is a track hurdler and has made 24 stops -- his lone TFL was a sack. Backups Pat Howard, Scott McKee and Shelton Ross have all missed games with assorted ailments, though all are expected to participate on Saturday. If Ross is healthy enough, the senior could get the call inside opposite Briggs.

The only place Arizona has fielded consistency is in the defensive backfield. Sophomore CB Michael Jolivette (5-11, 180) picked off passes against Idaho, WSU, and OSU; returned a fumble 40 yards for a score against UNLV; and is second on the team in total tackles -- a sign that the 'Cats defense has allowed some larger plays. Jolivette already has eight career INTs in his young career. Senior CB Jermaine Chatman (5-11, 184) leads the Wildcat DBs in passes defensed, and has two career picks. Junior free safety Jarvie Worcester (6-0, 205) has 90 career tackles, and recorded interceptions against both Oregon schools. Senior strong safety Brandon Nash (6-1, 217) picked off Marques Tuiasosopo last year, and has 65 career tackles since moving from wide receiver three years ago (he missed the 1999 season). Nash returned a fumble 57 yards for a score against San Diego State. Senior Zaharius Johnson (6-0, 198) and sophomore David Hinton (5-11, 172) will see time in nickel and dime sets.

Junior place-kicker Sean Keel (6-0, 201) hasn't seen the field a lot, only hitting three of his seven FG attempts so far. Keel was outstanding last year, though, hitting on 13-of-17 with a long of 44-yards. Sophomore Ramey Peru (6-1, 190) beat out senior Chris Palic -- he of well-practiced roll-out rugby kick -- for the punting duties and has averaged 38 yards per kick, though only four have been put inside the 20. Most place-kickers keep the ball from Wade, choosing to kick it to WR Gary Love or Andre Thurman instead. Senior TE Peter Hanson was named second-team All PAC-10 purely from his unique talent of leaping his 6-8 frame behind the line and blocking kicks. Hanson has seven such successes in his career. The long-snapper is backup OL John Vorsheck (6-4, 299), who is also nursing a shoulder injury. Vorsheck was unable to punt snap last week, so RS-freshman Ben DalMolin (5-11, 209) may assume that duty.

Washington coach Rick Neuheisel is 2-0 lifetime against his counterpart John Mackovic, his Colorado teams of 1996-97 beating Mackovic's Texas teams . . . when Mackovic was Purdue's offensive coordinator in 1977, the Boilermaker defensive line coach was Randy Hart . . . This will be the fifth time Arizona come to Seattle as Washington's homecoming opponent. The Huskies have won the previous four, by an average of 40-16 . . . Sean Keel's 3rd-quarter field goal against the Beavers avoided Arizona's first shutout since the 1991 Washington juggernaut hung a 54-0 trophy on them . . . Why punt? Washington is 7-of-8 in fourth-down conversions so far this season . . . With the win over Washington last Saturday, UCLA is now 14-4 in their previous 18 against ranked opponents, including 4-0 this season. Tailback DeShaun Foster now leads the nation in rushing, averaging 162.6 yards per game . . . With their 45-39 loss to Washington State, Stanford is in the midst of facing four opponents with a combined 21-1 record. Cardinal punt returner Luke Powell leads the nation in that category, averaging 22 yards per attempt . . . After Miami destroyed Florida State in Tallahassee, Oregon now has the longest current home winning streak in the nation, 23-straight and counting . . . Washington State is the PAC-10's runaway leader in sacks with 26 (4.5 per game) . . .

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