Arizona backfield heats up in win

By Craig Sanders
Arizona Daily Wildcat
October 28, 1996

Charles C. Labenz
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Arizona running back Kelvin Eafon (38) slides past Oregon State's Robert Ruffin during the Wildcats' 33-7 win Saturday night.


Oregon State brought a vastly improved defense, a pair of bruising running backs and wet and dreary conditions into Arizona Stadium on Saturday for its game against the Wildcats.

However, after the defense began to spring leaks in the second half and the offense stalled after the first drive, the team proved once again to be the same old Beavers.

Arizona rushed for a season-high 340 yards and amassed 491 yards of total offense in its 33-7 win against OSU. It was the Wildcats' fourth straight win against Oregon State.

"This was a good win for us because it was against a physical team," UA head coach Dick Tomey said. "It was a great time to establish a power running attack. This was the kind of game we needed to get ahead in and then we needed to be patient on offense."

The Wildcats (4-3 overall, 2-2 in the Pacific 10 Conference) did just that, using the Beaver defense as fodder for their struggling running game. In a game that was played in 39-degree temperatures and in front of what appeared to be half of the announced 43,716 crowd, Arizona took a pound-it-out attitude.

UA tailback Gary Taylor led the way with 95 yards on the ground and scored two touchdowns. UA fullbacks Kelvin Eafon and Charles Myles pitched in 70 and 64 yards, respectively, as eight different players rushed the ball for the Wildcats.

"Our coach really challenged us this week to run the football," Myles said. "He said we are going to get the chances and I think we took advantage of those chances."

UA quarterback Keith Smith was held to 19 yards rushing on 12 carries, but was able to throw for 151 yards and a touchdown. On a night when he completed 9-of-11 pass attempts and handed the ball off more than 40 times, Smith said he was happy to get the run support, especially against an Oregon State defense that sent linebackers after him on a majority of its plays.

"This was a great team win for us," Smith said. "After halftime we came together and played a focused game. The running game was able to open it up and that really took the pressure off of me."

It was the Beavers, though, who appeared ready to run all over the Wildcats. After Arizona stuffed OSU (1-6, 1-4) on its first three plays of the game, the Wildcats were penalized on the punt, giving the Beavers a second chance. Oregon State then moved the ball down the field on a seven-yard run by option quarterback David Moran, a 20-yard burst over the right side by 5-foot-11, 232-pound tailback Darron Kirkman and then 10-yard and six-yard runs by 5-11, 230-pound tailback Akili King.

Yet that was all the Beavers could muster.

Arizona, on the other hand, got a sign of things to come on its second drive. The Wildcats moved the ball to the OSU 41-yard line on a set of 11- and 12-yard runs by Smith. As the Beavers adjusted by bringing linebackers up to contain Smith, the running game exploded. Smith handed the ball to Taylor, who moved to the left, then darted back through the middle of the line and into the open field. He outran the defenders to the end zone.

"Smith just offers a threat all along the line," Tomey said. "That makes other teams adjust, and that just helps our running game."

Arizona added a field goal at 9:45 in the second quarter to make it 10-7, but the next two drives stalled and the Wildcats took that lead into the second half.

It was in the second half that the Wildcats began to assert themselves. Arizona used six plays to move the ball down to the Beaver 8-yard line, the biggest of them a 36-yard pass from Smith to wide receiver Jeremy McDaniel. The Wildcats then ran the ball for gains of 11, eight, seven, 10 and six yards. As the team tried to pound the ball into the end zone, though, Eafon coughed it up and Oregon State cornerback Robert Ruffin recovered on the 2-yard line.

That is when the defense stepped up. As King attempted to run through the line, UA linebackers Chester Burnett and Armon Williams captured him in the end zone for the safety.

"Our defense is beginning to assert itself," Williams said. "We are playing with the kind of intensity we need to win. We made a commitment to getting pressure on our opponent's backfield, and that is beginning to happen."

Oregon State sent a free kick from its own 20-yard line and Arizona began the next drive on its own 43. Facing a third down and eight, Smith went back to pass, scrambled to the right, ran back to the left, looked deep downfield and launched the ball. UA receiver Rodney Williams, who had slipped behind the secondary, caught it for a 55-yard touchdown.

"I was just running one way looking for people and there he was," Smith said. "I just decided to heave it up."

The extra point made the game 19-7 with 11:07 remaining in the third quarter. After that it was a battle of running games. Oregon State was led by Kirkman, who gained 110 yards on nine carries, but it was Arizona's ability to control the clock and continue to move the ball on the ground that decided the game.

"We made a commitment to running the ball," Tomey said. "We have a lot of different backs who all needed to play. We tried to give them a chance."

Most of those backs took advantage of those opportunities with big plays. Myles had a 28-yard run, Eafon busted loose for a 46-yard romp and freshman Leon Callen had a run of 15 on his way to 37 total yards for the night.