By Charles Renning
vs. Northern Arizona 31 carries, 118 yards, 2 TD
vs. Utah 7 carries, 27 yards
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, September 13, 2004
Since the moment head coach Mike Stoops stepped on the UA campus, he's made no secret that running back Mike Bell was going to be the focus of the Wildcat offense in 2004.
Stoops proved it during the Wildcats' season-opening win over Northern Arizona, when he gave Bell the ball 31 times on the ground, on top of the junior tailback's three receptions.
But what the first-year head coach might have learned in Arizona's 23-6 loss to Utah over the weekend was that Bell isn't the only capable back on the bench.
Junior Gilbert Harris and freshman Chris Henry stepped in following Bell's injury and fumble on the first play Saturday night and provided ample running game for the Wildcats. The rushing attack could have been even more productive had the Wildcats not fallen behind 17-3 in the first quarter and been forced to abandon their running game.
Harris ran the ball 14 times in the first half for 56 yards and Henry had 6 carries for 21 yards in the same span, but Harris saw only one carry the rest of the game and Henry had none.
"I thought we ran the ball good all night and we could have all night, but we got down," Harris said. "We could have ran the ball every down if we had to."
vs. Northern Arizona 1 carry, 7 yards
vs. Utah 6 carries, 21 yards
The Wildcats controlled the game much of the first half, having possession for over 19 minutes compared to Utah's 10-plus, but Arizona couldn't get the ball into the end zone.
In all, the Wildcats got inside the Utes' 20-yard line five separate times and came away with only six points.
"You can't win at Jones Junior High doing that. It's my fault and my responsibility as the offensive coordinator to make sure we do it right," said offensive coordinator Mike Canales. "You can't have the ball in the red zone twice and not come away with points. It's inexcusable."
With less than two minutes to play in the first half, the Wildcats had a second-and-goal opportunity at the Utah one-yard line trailing 17-6. The Utes proceeded to stop Arizona on three consecutive run plays and kept Harris out of the end zone on a fourth-and-goal dive in which the Utah defense blitzed into.
"We needed to get points," Stoops said. "We just guessed wrong and they guessed right. They schemed us well. That hurt our momentum, no question."
In the second half, the Wildcats ran the ball just seven times, compared to the 26 carries in the first half.
"We controlled the ball in the first half, but we just couldn't put the ball in the end zone," said offensive coordinator Mike Canales.
vs. Northern Arizona 1 carry, 3 yards
vs. Utah 15 carries, 56 yards
The positive was the team might have found two backs to spell Bell.
Harris picked up a single-game career high in rushing attempts and yardage during the Wildcats' first loss of the year.
"He ran extremely hard," Canales said of the converted fullback. "He stepped up and played the role we asked him to play."
Henry also had his most carries and rushing yards since last season's opening win over UTEP, when he carried 12 times for 26 yards.
With Mike Bell added to the mix, Arizona could have three running backs who could carry the rushing load at any time.
"We have three outstanding backs. They all have great speed and they all run downhill," Stoops said.
The two quality backups for Bell could be crucial if the junior captain continues his struggles with holding on to the football. In the last two games Bell has four fumbles in just 38 total carries.
"I didn't feel like there was any drop-off when Bell went down," Harris said. "I was ready to go and I just knew I had to go in there and pick up the slack."
"People have to realize that we've got good running backs and we can run the ball," Canales said. "They stepped up and they gave us a chance. We've just got to continue to work and to be more accountable. We're going to keep pushing them hard and keep demanding excellence."