Staff Reports
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.


Running Back
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.


Wide Receiver
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.


Offensive Line
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.


Defensive Line
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.


Special Teams
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

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