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Front row center: Five simple goals for Saturday

Shane Dale
Assistant Sports Editor
By Shane Dale
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday September 23, 2003

Unlike the previous two weekends in which UA fans had reason to believe its team would be competitive, last Saturday's game at Purdue was a no-brainer: The Wildcats were going to be pummeled.

And they were worse than in weeks before.

But that doesn't mean Arizona shouldn't set small, reasonable, baby-step-like goals for itself heading into this Saturday's game against another ranked team, Texas Christian. Here's this weekend's "to-do" list:

Start O'Hara again and leave him in this time

John Mackovic ran the smart/stupid gambit on Saturday. He finally gave the only UA quarterback with serious potential, freshman Ryan O'Hara, the opportunity to make his first collegiate start. Smart. Then he benched him in favor of sophomore Nic Costa just before halftime. Stupid.

After Costa performed his standard futility act, Mack stuck O'Hara back in. Smart. Then, after O'Hara threw an interception, he benched him again, this time in favor of that third-string guy. Stupid.

Yes, O'Hara was pretty bad. He threw more incompletions than receptions, was sacked three times, fumbled three times and threw a pick.

Yep, he's a freshman.

But what exactly did Mackovic accomplish by sidelining him before halftime? Nothing, except rob O'Hara of more chances to mature, which won't happen on the bench.

No matter how bad this Saturday's game against TCU gets, Mackovic needs to start O'Hara and stick with him for 60 minutes. It's painfully obvious to everyone by now except Mackovic that the Wildcats are going nowhere this year. Mackovic must MUST give O'Hara the chance to build on the natural talent he most definitely possesses if he expects the QB to be of any use to the team in 2004.

Run the ball at least 30 times

The Wildcats predictably fell behind early to Purdue and predictably, Mackovic promptly decided to abandon the running game. Yes, Clarence Farmer and Mike Bell were once again unproductive. But Arizona needs to keep the defense guessing beyond the first quarter. That they didn't is the primary reason Arizona's QBs were sacked and turned the ball over so many times.

Even if Arizona's running backs manage only two yards a carry, O'Hara or whoever Mackovic decides to get cute with this weekend needs a little bit of time behind the line to throw. That won't happen if TCU is permitted to expect a pass on every down.

Arizona's tailbacks were given the ball nine times in the first half against Purdue. That doesn't cut it. When you abandon the running game early on, you play right into the opposing defensive coordinator's hands and risk your QBs' lives.

Give Farmer and Bell preferably Farmer the chance to ease the pressure off the QB, and this time, give them more than the first ten minutes of the game to do it, no matter how bad the bleeding gets.

Time for Relford to wake up

With the absence of the academically ineligible Andrae Thurman, sophomore wide receiver Biren Ealy has become Arizona's go-to man in the passing game. The problem is, he's been the Wildcats' ONLY man in the passing game the last two weeks. He's made seven catches apiece in his last two games for a combined 175 yards, and scored Arizona's only touchdowns against Oregon and Purdue.

Meanwhile, senior WR Lance Relford has been MIA the last three weeks. After scoring on a 79-yard catch in Arizona's opening game, Relford has caught five passes for 40 yards since.

Relford needs to relieve Ealy of the double-coverage he'll soon be seeing on a regular basis if another receiver doesn't step up soon. If Relford's not the man for that job, Mackovic needs to demote him and find someone who is.

Avoid more than two turnovers/sacks

Arizona proved against Oregon that it can get its ass whooped without a lot of giveaways and sacks. Last Saturday, the Wildcats proved they can be spanked even harder by doing both those things.

The Wildcats fumbled the ball six times against the Boilermakers (losing two), threw an interception and were sacked four times. This makes for an extremely weary defense that remains on the field nearly two-thirds of the game and is constantly backed up in its own territory.

Keeping the turnovers and sacks to a minimum like the UA did against the Ducks will give the defense a fighting chance to keep the Horned Frogs to under 50 maybe 40 points on Saturday. Punting and playing the field position game is 100 percent better than punishing your "D" by making them come right back onto the field after a turnover.

Light scoreboard before halftime

For the first time in three games, Arizona scored a touchdown before the fourth quarter last Saturday. Now comes the next step: scoring before halftime.

In all seriousness (sadly), anything even a desperation 55-yard field goal as time expires in the second quarter would be a positive. Arizona desperately needs something that'll keep UA fans in their seats after halftime and give them something to cheer about going into the third quarter.

The 40,000 strong who show up to every Wildcat football game, no matter how bad the team is, deserve that much. And a little fan support down the stretch couldn't hurt Arizona's chances of keeping the game mildly entertaining.

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