In-state foe might be 'biggest game of the year' for UA
A date with Big Ten Conference foe Purdue looms large in the Arizona football team's future, but that isn't preventing Wildcats head coach Mike Stoops' players from overlooking Saturday's encounter with Division I-AA NAU.
"We don't have room to not be focused," redshirt sophomore quarterback Richard Kovalcheck said. "We've got to come out every week and take it one game at a time."
NAU (1-0) battled with Arizona (0-1) for three quarters last season, remaining within four points before succumbing 21-3.
"Last year they played us big the whole game," said senior running back Gilbert Harris. "This is probably their biggest game of the year, so you know we're going to get their best.
"We've just got to come out and hold out our end of the bargain," said Harris.
Lessons from Utah
A positive Arizona took away from its 27-24 loss Friday is the tenacity the team showed after trailing 27-10 at the end of three quarters, several Wildcats said.
"We were determined to come back," Kovalcheck said. "The only thought in any of our minds was to win the game."
Kovalcheck threw for 255 yards and two touchdowns on 21-of-37 passing, but also threw two interceptions.
"I was just kind of pissed off," he said of an interception he threw in the third quarter, which Utah's Eric Waddle returned for a touchdown. "I knew going down by 17 made it a lot tougher than being down by 10."
Kovalcheck bounced back from the pick three minutes later when he connected with junior tight end Brad Wood for a touchdown.
Kovalcheck said the game helped him to find a rhythm, which he hopes to carry over into Saturday, and gave him a better feel for clock management.
"That's something the first game you've just got to get used to, that clock winding down quick," he said.
Harris, who scored the final touchdown of the night Friday on a goal-line run, said he expects the team to be in more of a game condition with the season opener in the background.
"It's good to have the first game out of the way," he said. "We can just go out and play this week. Everybody now knows what to expect.
"We should be a lot more loose this week," he said.
Injuries have taken their toll on Arizona in recent weeks.
As of yesterday, the Wildcats are without three slated starters in redshirt freshman linebacker Ronnie Palmer (broken foot), senior offensive linemen Brad Brittain (knee) and senior defensive end Copeland Bryan (ankle).
Senior linebacker Randy Sims continues to rehabilitate a high ankle sprain, but should be available Saturday, Stoops said.
Other athletes have filled in the voids, most notably sophomore Dane Krogstad. Krogstad filled in as middle linebacker Friday and ended with 15 tackles.
Sophomore Jason Parker and redshirt freshman Johnathan Turner look to have similar impacts at defensive end.
Freshman defensive lineman Mike Shelton will also see significant time, Stoops said.
"Mike Shelton is a guy we're very high on, who came in and played the other night," he said. "Mike Shelton's role changes a lot (now)."
Another absence of note is that of wide receiver B.J. Vickers.
Vickers, a 6-foot-2 junior college transfer who worked out with Arizona throughout the spring, did not make the trip to Utah and has not practiced this week, Stoops said.
"This is a kid who's been here seven months," Stoops said. "We certainly miss his athleticism and size."
Stoops said he had no information yesterday on Vickers' status for the rest of the season.