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Both QBs shine in season debut

KEVIN B. KLAUS/Arizona Daily Wildcat
UA head football coach John Mackovic confers with sophomore quarterback Nic Costa during Saturday's game against UTEP. Costa ran three times for 33 yards and a touchdown while going 6-10 for 110 yards and a touchdown through the air.
By Charles Renning
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, September 2, 2003

O'Hara, Costa share spotlight and playing time in romp over Miners

Almost all of the talk in the weeks leading up to Arizona's season-opening game against UTEP was about who would be the better fit at quarterback, redshirt sophomore Nic Costa or redshirt freshman Ryan O'Hara.

There was a resounding answer in the UA' 42-7 blowout win over the Miners both.

Both quarterbacks split time in the Wildcats' opening-day win, and both showed they could lead the team down the field.

"Nic showed the fact that he's been around a little longer, understands our system a little better and has the experience of being there," head coach John Mackovic said. "And Ryan showed he has tremendous promise and potential, but is still playing in his first (college) football game."

Both quarterbacks were a combined 14-of-26 for 229 yards and two touchdowns, with Costa holding the slight edge in individual numbers.

Costa started the game and led the Wildcats on two consecutive 80-yard drives that both resulted in touchdowns: a 41-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Ricky Williams and a one-yard touchdown run by Costa.

"I couldn't have asked for a better start from myself or from the team," said Costa, who finished the game 6-of-10 for 110 yards, while gaining 33 yards on three carries on the ground.

On the first play from scrimmage, Costa broke free on a naked bootleg and ran for 27 yards to set the tone for the entire night.

O'Hara saw similar success, but it didn't come as early.

The Wildcats went three plays and out on O'Hara's first series, but got redemption on a UTEP muffed punt.

"I was very pleased with the play of both Nic and Ryan," Mackovic said. "For Ryan, it was his first game, and he had a chance to get in on the action. He was not as good from a numbers standpoint, but he needed to get in there."

O'Hara led Arizona on a three-play, 21-yard touchdown drive and two series later threw his first collegiate touchdown pass, a 79-yarder to senior wideout Lance Relford.

CHRIS CODUTO/Arizona Daily Wildcat
UA QB Ryan O'Hara scrambles away from UTEP defender Ibok Ibok Saturday night. Ibok's sister, Enobong, is a freshman member of the UA volleyball team

He finished the contest 8-of-16 for 119 yards and two interceptions, one of which was returned for the Miners' only score.

"I don't feel comfortable about where I'm at because I had some mistakes, but I feel confident that I will get better," O'Hara said. "Now that I have game experience under my belt, I will improve a lot."

O'Hara was making his first ever collegiate appearance after redshirting last season.

"I was a lot more calm than I expected," O'Hara said. "I thought my nerves were going to be running wild, but I felt pretty confidant out there."

According to Mackovic, a big reason for the success of his two young quarterbacks was the extra time put into the protection plan for the week. He said the offense worked about an extra five hours just on protection schemes, and it really paid off.

The Wildcats did not allow a sack the entire game, which is a big improvement after giving up a Pacific 10 Conference-leading 52 sacks last year.

"We were prepared and it showed," said Costa. "(The play of) the offensive line made my job a lot easier, I could just stand back there and play football."

Mackovic said before the start of the season he would play both quarterbacks throughout the early season until he was comfortable choosing one over the other. If both quarterbacks continue the way they did against UTEP, Mackovic's decision might be more difficult than he imagined, potentially giving the UA a formidable two-headed monster running the show all season for the Wildcat offense.

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