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O'Hara deserves starting QB nod

Shane Dale
assistant sports editor
By Shane Dale
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday September 16, 2003

It was impossible to gauge how well freshman quarterback Ryan O'Hara would perform on a collegiate level until his first appearance two weeks ago against Texas-El Paso. But despite the story that the less-than-impressive stats may tell, the first three games of the 2003 season have told us all we need to know about who UA's QB of the future is ÷ or certainly should be.

While other aspects of the game ÷ throwing a perfect strike on a passing route; calling an audible when the play clock is running down; executing a play-action fake that causes the defense to hesitate ÷ can be gradually learned and implemented, field awareness is something that quarterbacks are either born with or will never have.

O'Hara has the intangibles that sophomore Nic Costa seems to lack.

If O'Hara is rightfully named Arizona's starting quarterback for its final nine games, he will not put up amazing numbers. Logic strongly suggests that he will throw more interceptions than touchdowns, and likely will not throw for more than 200 yards in a game more than once or twice. There will be times this season when every Wildcat fan will watch O'Hara make a blatant mistake and cringe in horror.

That's not the point.

There's no college football NIT. The Wildcats are going nowhere but home after their visit to Tempe in November. Turn out the lights on 2003, Īcause the party never started.

Like Steve Buscemi said in Armageddon: It's time to embrace the horror.

O'Hara has a much better chance than Costa to lead Arizona to bowl games in coming years. But in order for that to happen, O'Hara needs as much real game experience as he can get with this year's dismal team.

Last year's Heisman winner, Southern California QB Carson Palmer, didn't put up Earth-shattering numbers in his first year as a Trojan. Palmer, who appeared in all 13 of USC's games his freshman year and started the final eight, threw just seven touchdowns and had almost as many interceptions with six, while completing a very mediocre 55 percent of his passes.

What's important to note is that Palmer actually got the chance to start in his freshman season. In his final year at USC, he threw for 33 touchdowns and posted a 63 percent completion percentage. When all was said and done, Palmer shattered 21 USC and five Pac-10 passing records.

Is O'Hara another Carson Palmer? Probably not. But John Mackovic owes it to himself, the team and all UA fans to find out.

O'Hara has an awareness about him that Costa lacks. He knows where his receivers are on the field ÷ and notably, has to work this year without Arizona's academically ineligible number-one receiver. More importantly, he knows where the opponents' defensive linemen are.

Undoubtedly, being six and a half feet tall is a bonus, but sight and awareness are two distinctly different things. O'Hara has the benefit of both.

He has a long way to go before he makes the passes he's expected to make, and even a few that he's not. But he's a freshman. And few freshmen qualify as Heisman Trophy candidates.

In the midst of Saturday's embarrassment against the Ducks, O'Hara provided a spark that Costa didn't. Before O'Hara entered the game in their last possession of the first half, the deepest the Wildcat offense made it downfield was its own 41 ÷ and it was a good kickoff return that got them that far. O'Hara not only led the Cats past the 41, but drove them into Duck territory each of his first two drives.

Sure, he completed fewer passes than he didn't. But 16 incompletions is better than, say, 13 incompletions and three interceptions. O'Hara's still far from a precision passer, but he knows enough to typically throw the ball in areas where only his receivers have a chance to make the catch. When he misses his target, he usually misses everything. For now, that's a good thing.

The awareness and pocket presence O'Hara possesses should translate into more playing time ÷ like about 60 minutes a game. Mackovic sorely needs to give him the opportunity to fine-tune his skills and combine them with his God-given talent.

O'Hara has the natural instincts that make a reliable, productive and winning field general. Given a chance to shine, the mechanics will follow.

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