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Offense rips it up in second half

Senior running back Mike Bell dodges his teammates during Arizona's annual Spring Game Saturday at Arizona Stadium. Bell had nine receptions for 106 yards.
By J. Ryan Casey
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, April 25, 2005
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Adam Austin may have started slow, but the former walk-on quarterback finished strong.

After overthrowing his receivers multiple times in the first half of Saturday's scrimmage, which pitted the Arizona offense against its defense, the sophomore, starting in place of the injured Richard Kovalcheck, finished 27-for-50, with 370 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions in his team's 47-26 victory.

"I know (Austin's) a happy guy, but (he's) got a lot of great work ahead of him," said Arizona head coach Mike Stoops. "He'll go back and decipher everything that happened over the last four weeks, and hopefully he'll be a much more prepared quarterback next fall."

The offense received a scare when junior halfback Mike Bell went down in the second half after being stopped for a one-yard gain. As a precautionary measure, Bell was kept out of the remainder of the scrimmage, and he sported an ice pack on his left knee after the game.

The Phoenix native finished the day with 106 yards on nine carries, including runs of 20, 21 and 50 yards.

"Overall, we got out of (spring practice) uninjured - (Bell) might have hyper-extended his knee, but that's about it," Stoops said.

Austin's favorite target was Gerold Rodriguez, a freshman from Los Angeles, who finished the game with two touchdowns. He caught three passes for 63 yards. Syndric Steptoe was another favorite of Austin's, gaining 57 yards on four catches.

The stands were filled with 11,800 fans at the onset of the scrimmage but started to empty about 40 minutes in when rain began to fall. It gradually rained harder, and as the scrimmage neared halftime, only a few hundred fans remained.

The rain had little effect on sophomore kicker Nick Folk, who faced a 47-yard field-goal attempt late in the second half. Reminiscent of last season, in which he missed a 47-yarder just left against Wisconsin in the pounding rain, Folk nailed the kick this time, with room to spare. He was 2-for-2 on the day (27, 47).

In his only attempt, freshman kicker Jason Bondzio missed a 33-yarder.

Austin's inexperience was evident with two first-half picks but he settled down in the second half.

"We came alive in the second half," Austin said. "We got the butterflies out a little bit, settled down, relaxed and played.

"Last spring we couldn't move the ball very well, (but today) we put some points on the board, and we're happy," he added.

The offense used a variety of short-yardage plays, including screens, handoffs and passes over the middle in dissecting the defense during the second half.

Austin took every snap during the scrimmage, something he has been doing all spring.

"I think we set a Guinness Book of World Records (record) for quarterback snaps during spring," Stoops said.

The development of the passing game was evident throughout the spring through the likes of junior college transfer B.J. Vickers, freshman Anthony Johnson, Saturday's hero Rodriguez and Austin.

"I think our quarterbacks have gotten better at understanding the strengths and weaknesses of defenses," Stoops said. "And our receivers have gotten better throughout the spring. I think when it's all said and done next fall, we're going to have a very good receiving corps."

Bell agreed with Stoops that the receivers improved immensely during the spring.

"The receivers, they're snagging balls out of the air, making some great downfield blocks - it's just night and day, our team is night and day," he said.

The team's confidence in Austin grew as the spring sessions wore on.

"To know that we have (Austin) just in case (Kovalcheck) goes down (is great)," Bell said. "I'm just so proud of him, he was able to pass the ball every single down and every single practice, and didn't complain once - I just have to give a lot (of credit) to him.

"We took 10 steps forward," he added of the team's progress over the spring sessions.

Looking ahead, the preparation for the 2005 season will continue with an eight-week session of practices this summer

"It's time to go into another phase of our program: the summer conditioning," Stoops said. "We have to prepare for another tough season.

"We have a long way to go, but there are some positives to take away from spring practice."

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