Arizona Daily Wildcat October 23, 1997
The Grades are In
The season began with the hope that
sophomore Keith Smith would lead Arizona football back to the promised land,
but Smith struggled through the first three games before leaving the UCLA
game with a shoulder injury. At that point, Smith had completed 42 of 90
passes for 489 yards and three touchdowns and four interceptions. With Smith
injured, redshirt freshman Ortege Jenkins stepped in and has performed remarkably
well, throwing for nine touchdowns and just two interceptions while completing
51.6 percent of his passes. The offense has averaged just under 30 points
in Jenkins' three starts, up from 20 in the four games previous.
This may be the Wildcats strongest
and most consistent position. Sophomore Trung Canidate, who moved from special
teams/defense to tailback over the summer, has been outstanding despite
nagging ankle injuries. Canidate is 16th in the country in rushing with
107.3 yards per game and has scored three touchdowns on runs of 96, 67 and
66 yards. Junior Kelvin Eafon has been a huge success in his absence. Eafon
rushed for 151 yards and three touchdowns against Washington, and averages
4.3 yards per carry.
With the emergence of Jenkins at
quarterback has come the instant progress of wideouts Dennis Northcutt and
Rodney Williams. The trio of roommates have provided a spark in the previously
dormant Arizona passing game as Northcutt and Williams have caught 38 and
28 passes respectively for 476 and 373 yards each. The two also have four
touchdown catches apiece. Since the installment of Jenkins, Williams and
Northcutt have combined for 37 catches, 553 yards and seven touchdowns.
Sophomore walk-on Brad Brennan also has performed well, with 20 catches
for 327 yards and three touchdowns.
The UA front five has performed
well with Ryan Turley, Edwin Mulitalo, Rusty James, Yusuf Scott and Jose
Portilla anchoring a solid wall. Arizona is third in the conference in rushing
offense and fourth best in sacks allowed. Tevete Usu and Bruce Wiggins have
also excelled in relief roles. If the line stays healthy, Arizona could
see its most successful rushing year in history.
The defensive front four has excelled
under the return of defensive coordinator Rich Ellerson and is leading the
conference in sacks with 28, but has been taken apart by UCLA's Skip Hicks
and Washington's Rashaan Shehee. Injuries have riddled seniors Mike Szlauko
and Joe Salave'a, yet they are first and third in the conference in sacks,
and Szlauko is third in tackles for a loss with 13.
Along with the play of the defensive
line, the linebacker corps also has a pair of standouts, senior Chester
Burnett and sophomore Marcus Bell. Burnett and Bell are second and eighth
in the conference in tackles, and Bell has also forced a pair of fumbles.
Senior Jimmy Sprotte and sophomore Dashon Polk have also done well in filling
in the third spot as the entire defense has had to adjust to the injuries.
Polk has also recovered a team-best three fumbles.
The Wildcat pass defense is among the
worst in the Pac-10, ranking 7th in pass defense efficiency. UA has given
up 10 touchdowns through the air and have only intercepted five passes,
compared to the 12 at this point last season. Junior Chris McAlister has
been the only bright spot for the secondary, but has not intercepted a pass
since Ohio State. Senior Kelly Malveaux consistently is picked on by opposing
offenses and has been burned for big plays on numerous occasions this year.
Neither David Fipp nor Rashee Johnson have stood out with their play, and
Fipp has dropped seven potential interceptions.
The kicking game lacks the consistency
needed to contend for the conference title. Punters Ryan Springston and
Chris Palic have been nothing short of inconsistent, and Mark McDonald and
Tim Ferlan still need to improve the placekicking. The kickoff strategy
is still a mystery. The coverage teams need work too, having given up two
kickoff returns for touchdowns.
Head coach Dick Tomey has been under extreme
scrutiny in recent weeks and speculation continues on whether he will get
the pink slip at the end of the 1997 campaign. Tomey maintains that his
team continues to do some good things, and will keep showing gradual success.
Offensive coordinator Homer Smith relies too much on the same old plays
and needs to add some well-planned variety and surprise to the Wildcats'
repertoire. The offense has performed well, but there is room for improvement.
Defensive coordinator Rich Ellerson has done well in restoring faith in
the Desert Swarm philosophy, but is still struggling to find a balance between
pass rush and pass defense.
The big play has hurt the Wildcats all
season and was a catalyst in each of Arizona's four losses. With just a
few breaks in each game, this team could very well be 5-2, but unfortunately,
what's done is done.
- compiled by Scottie Bricker and Joel Flom