UA senior nickelback Zaharius Johnson attempts to recover a UNLV fumble late in the third quarter last night.
Monday September 24, 2001
Johnson ties school record in victory
A two-week layoff had no effect on the UA football team, as it rolled to a 38-21 victory against UNLV at Arizona Stadium Saturday night.
In just his third start as a collegian, junior quarterback Jason Johnson led the charge for Arizona (3-0), completing 18 of 30 passes for 247 yards and three touchdowns.
Johnson spread his passes around, connecting with nine different receivers by the end of the first half. It was the first time an Arizona quarterback hit that many receivers since Keith Smith did so against Penn State in UA's 1999 season-opening loss.
"The Arizona offense mixed the pass and the run really well and overwhelmed us," UNLV head coach John Robinson said. "They threw the ball well."
For the first time in his 25 years of coaching, Robinson opened a season 0-3, while the win marks the second time in the last seven years that Arizona began 3-0.
After a fourth quarter letdown against Idaho two weeks ago, when the Vandals almost came back from a 29-0 deficit, the Wildcats defense tightened to stave off another late comeback attempt.
While the Rebels managed two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, the Wildcat defense responded with a 40-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by UA sophomore cornerback Michael Jolivette.
While the defense held fast late, the spread-out Arizona offense built an early lead. Arizona never trailed.
The Wildcats scored on their first possession of the game - an 11-play drive capped by a 14-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Bobby Wade - the first of two scores for the speedy wideout.
"That's big - coach Mackovic always talks about us trying to set the tempo." Wade said. "The offense was able to set the tempo tonight with the opening touchdown."
ERIC M. JUKELEVICS
Junior middle linebacker Lance Briggs makes an open-field tackle on UNLV quarterback Jason Thomas during Saturday's game in Arizona Stadium.
The UA offense dominated the first half of play, racking up 333 total yards, compared to UNLV's 96.
The Wildcats took a surprising aerial approach by attacking the Rebel's only preseason All-American in the secondary, senior cornerback Kevin Thomas.
Thomas, compared to former NFL star Deion Sanders because of his ability to shut down one side of the field, was picked on all night by Johnson.
"I knew they were going to test me and I didn't have my A game tonight," Thomas said. "We had a good game plan and we hoped the quarterback wouldn't through good balls. He's up there, he got my respect."
Mackovic wasn't expecting to have so many balls thrown to Thomas's side.
"Suprisingly, we thought he was going to play on one side of the field all night and we got quite a few things set up on the other side," Mackovic said. "But as it turned out he just happened to be the one who was involved with some of the things going on. I also told the team earlier in the week that we are not going to shy away from him. We have a lot of respect for him and he is a good player."
Rebel junior quarterback Jason Thomas, a pre-season candidate for the Heisman Trophy, didn't fare as well as his UA counterpart, completing just 5 of 17 passes for 123 yards.
"Jason Thomas is trying very hard to produce," Robinson said. "Things are just not falling for him right now."
But the Wildcats also used their ground attack - in eye-opening fashion - as UA freshman running back Tremaine Cox busted a long touchdown late in the first half.
With 3:16 left in the second quarter, Cox - on a trap play - ran 80 yards untouched to put the Wildcats up, 21-7. He finished the night with 111 yards on eight carries, a game high.
"That trap that Tremaine hit was a full blitz, man, it was a safety blitz," Mackovic said. "It was a perfect play for that. I thought Tremaine had the best game, but he did have one run for 80 yards."
The run was a career best for the Tucson native, who had gained only 24 total yards in his previous two games.
Mackovic said, however, he wasn't happy with the overall performance of his three running backs. Sophomore running back Clarence Farmer (11 carries for 35 yards) and junior Leo Mills (12 carries for 34 yards) both had an uncharacteristic night.
"I wasn't satisfied with the running game average less· than five yards per carry," Mackovic said.
The Wildcats finished their non-conference schedule 3-0 and now play the next seven weeks without a break.
"We have a lot of experienced players, but we also have a lot of youth," UA senior wide receiver Malosi Leonard said. "It's good to see that we got our three wins under our belt and now we are going to take that confidence and that momentum and take it into conference."