Ryan Finley and Maxx Wolfson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
5-game losing streak overshadows strong start
Following a 5-1 start, the 2000 UA football team finished its season in disappointing fashion, losing five straight games and finishing the season without attending a bowl game.
"The end of season is like an open wound - we can't close it," junior kick blocker/tight end Peter Hansen said. "Our record didn't even display the kind of team we were."
For the second straight season, the Wildcats lost to in-state rival Arizona State before UA head coach Dick Tomey resigned, citing increasing "public debate" regarding his job future. Here's how the Arizona Daily Wildcat believes each position fared in the 2000 season:
Senior Ortege Jenkins didn't finish his Wildcat career in stellar fashion, throwing 12 interceptions and just nine touchdowns in his first - and final - season as UA's No. 1 quarterback. Jenkins, who battled Keith Smith for nearly three seasons as a starter, was criticized for hasty throws and allowing too many sacks.
"I feel bad for him," Hansen said. "He's been used to playing with older guys his whole career. Our whole offense is about as young as you're going to get. It was definitely tough for him. If it wasn't one thing, it's another."
Tomey stuck behind Jenkins throughout the season, claiming that the senior's ability to run the ball and take hits had made him into a seasoned veteran.
Unfortunately for the fifth-year senior, Jenkins will likely be best remembered for 1998's "Leap at the Lake" against Washington rather than leading UA to a Rose Bowl .
The likely high-point of the Wildcats' offensive attack was the emergence of UA's "three-headed monster" of running backs, consisting of sophomores Larry Croom and Leo Mills and freshman Clarence Farmer.
"It took time to see which back would emerge," offensive lineman Kevin Barry said. "All three did a good job and it was hard to pick which one should carry the ball."
Farmer, a freshman from Booker T. Washington High School in Houston, was the unlikely star of the three backs, leading the team with 666 total yards.
Mills began the year slowly only to log 100-yard games against Washington State and Washington and finished the year with a team-high 5.1 yards per carry.
Croom - who had nearly half as many carries as both Farmer and Mills - finished the year with 257 yards on just 64 attempts.
All in all, the Wildcats' running backs - without senior Leon Callen, who quit the team prior to the season - were the high-point of a low-octane offensive attack.
Wide receivers/tight ends
What can be said about the wide receiver position? Despite getting off to a slow start with the loss of senior Brad Brennan, the Wildcats' wide receivers managed to make the best of their little time in the spotlight.
"(Jenkins) didn't have senior Dennis Northcutt or senior Jeremy McDaniel to throw the ball up to," Hansen said.
Sophomore Bobby Wade managed to average 13.9 yards per catch in his 45 receptions all season. Brennan was second on the team with just 15 receptions. Tight end Brandon Manumaleuna was the odd man out this season, managing just 13 receptions and one touchdown, coming against Arizona State.
This season, UA's receivers were only as good as their quarterback.
Arizona's offensive line finished the 2000 season with just two preseason starters intact. All-Pacific 10 Conference center Bruce Wiggins - who battled high-ankle sprains all season - should have been the anchor of the Wildcats' line.
Added injuries to Makai Freitas, Barry and Steven Grace left the line looking more like a M.A.S.H. unit than a front line.
"I think we had a good line and did our best protecting O.J.," Barry said. "We have a good unit coming back next season."
Two bright spots - freshman center Reggie Sampay and sophomore tackle Darren Safranek - will prove to be building blocks for future Wildcat lines.
The strongest overall unit for the Wildcats was the defensive line, led by second-team All-Pac-10 selection winner Joe Tafoya.
Tafoya, who was selected team MVP and defensive captain by his teammates, led the Arizona defense with six sacks and 18 tackles for a loss.
"Joe was the most deserving guy we've got," Hansen said. "He's the toughest guy there is. There was always something nagging him or some injury. He was always out there fighting. It was the easiest vote (the players) have had all year."
Stopping the run was the strength of the defensive line, which held opposing running backs to a stingy 2.1 yards per carry.
The defensive line was able to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks throughout the season finishing the year with 41 total sacks.
The most memorable moment of the season came against Stanford when senior defensive end Idris Haroon picked up a fumble and did his best impersonation of Jenkins, somersaulting into the end zone for a touchdown.
The switch of sophomore Lance Briggs from offense to defense this season paid of huge dividends for the Wildcat defense.
"Lance is an unbelievable athlete and that is what a linebacker needs to be," junior safety Jarvie Worcester said. "He was an intricate part of our defense and I think he adjusted to the defense well."
Briggs, a native of Sacramento, Calif., led the defense with 113 total tackles during his first stint on the defensive side of the field. Two veterans - seniors Antonio Pierce and Adrian Koch - both had their best seasons as Wildcats.
The Wildcats' linebackers started the season in impressive form but were unable to finish games against UCLA and Washington.
Two players, Worcester and freshman Michael Jolivette, stood out in UA's defensive backfield this season. Jolivette, a redshirt freshman from Houston, had five interceptions and 42 tackles in his first season as a Wildcat but wasn't the same after receiving a bone-rattling hit against Oregon.
"He is a solid player and matured a lot during the season," Worcester said.
Worcester, despite playing in just nine games, had two fumble recoveries and 26 total tackles.
While teams managed to find weaknesses in UA's shorter, younger corner backs, the Wildcats did a respectable job of stopping some of the Pac-10's top offenses. UA's defensive backs weren't as bad as they were in 1999. It's a start.
What is a "rugby punt"? When senior punter Chris Palic rolls left or right in an attempt to boot the ball. In 2000, the Wildcats' special teams managed to buoy a lackadaisical offense. In his first full season as a starter, sophomore place kicker Sean Keel was 13-for-17 in field goals, connecting on 11-of-13 kicks between 30 and 50 yards.
"We struggled last year with the kicking game," Hansen said. "But this year, (Keel) was unbelievable."
On kick returns, Wildcats Andrae Thurman, Bobby Wade, and Gary Love managed put UA in good field position to score.
Palic, who started the season as the conference's best punter, finished the season with an anemic 37.1 yards-per-punt.
There's not much to say about UA's coaches, except that most - if not all - won't be returning for another season. An embattled Tomey said he could no longer handle the pressure put on him by an impatient Tucson and abruptly resigned following a Nov. 24 loss to Arizona State.
"I think it is an unbelievable coaching staff, but things just did not go our way this season," Worcester said. "I do not want to put a number on their performance."
Other UA coaches - offensive line coach Charlie Dickey and secondary coach Dune Akin - managed to overachieve despite having limited experience to work with.
Offensively, the Wildcats were conservative and ineffective, despite having a senior quarterback. Defensively, UA showed flashes of brilliance but finished the season road-weary from spending the majority of the season on the field. Another forgettable season in Tucson.