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Commentary: UA football: a team you don't want to play

James Kelley
By James Kelley
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 2, 2005
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If for some odd reason you had to sum up the change in the Arizona football team in one sentence, you can go with this: "The Wildcats have gone from the team you schedule for your homecoming game to the team you don't want to play."

A couple of weeks ago, Fox Sports Net Arizona replayed the 2004 Territorial Cup. I taped it, and upon second viewing, the one thing that really struck me was how hard the Wildcats were hitting.

During the offseason, I heard a quote from a Southern California player who said Arizona was the team that hit them the hardest all season. In an interview with 1290AM yesterday, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham, the Utes' defensive coordinator last season, gave near the same sentiments.

You can put in all the fancy spread offenses you want (i.e. Utah), but football will always be about hits, and the Wildcats had more of them in 2004 than Eminem.

A big hit in football has the effect of a slam dunk in basketball. Imagine five Hassan Adamses running around the court - that's what the Wildcats looked like.

And remember, the time Matt Leinart or Sam Keller spend looking for his teeth is time the rest of the team spends scrambling.

Arizona led the nation in fumble recoveries, meaning they were forcing the most fumbles and finding the ball while the receiver was trying to find his marbles.

Mostly, the recoveries didn't translate into "W's" but after another offseason of doing strength training and conditioning the Stoops way, and a rise in intensity as the Wildcats try to reach their first bowl game since 1998, expect to see some major statements made on today in Arizona's first appearance on real national television since 2003. (If Fox Sports Net is national TV, then Fox, Fox News and FSN Arizona aren't jokes, and I'm the queen of England.)

Under former coaches Larry Smith and Dick Tomey, the Wildcats were that scrappy underdog team that you didn't want to play, just like the 2005 Wildcats have become. You may be able to beat them, but they will beat you up.

Arizona used to be about players like Chuck Cecil, who was so famous - or infamous - for his hitting that he was once on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the question, "Is Chuck Cecil too vicious for the NFL?"

Even though Arizona will seek its first bowl game in ages, the pressure is not on the Wildcats, and they won't have anything to lose, a dangerous combination - like Paris Hilton and a camcorder.

If you're Purdue and you have designs on winning the Big Ten title, with Michigan and Ohio State not on the schedule, you dread the September trip to the desert. In Tucson, you'll find a pissed-off, smash-mouth football team remembering the drubbing you gave it a couple of years ago.

The last time the Boilermakers played the Wildcats, the rout was so bad, former Arizona coach John Mackovic refused to shake Purdue coach Joe Tiller's hand after the game because he thought Purdue was running up the score.

That was after the Boilermakers threw two passes in the fourth quarter.

Now, the Wildcats have enough talent, enough hunger and enough intensity to ruin seasons. If a favored team like Purdue underestimates Arizona, or otherwise suffers a lapse in concentration, you'll see football fans sliding down the goal posts.

Now it's time for the Wildcats to strike back.

James Kelley is a journalism senior. He can be reached at

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