Game Analysis: A tale of two halves for Cats

By Kyle Kensing
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 12, 2005

A college football game lasts 60 minutes, but for Arizona's 2005 home opener Saturday night against NAU, half of that time was enough to ensure a victory.

Arizona posted 298 total yards in the first half en route to a 24-3 halftime lead, which they rode out to down NAU 31-12.

"This first half we felt pretty good, (but) I'm not very happy with the second half right now," said Wildcats offensive coordinator Mike Canales. "But we had four possessions in the fourth quarter, and we put it in the end zone in the fourth quarter. That's important to us."

With a one-yard touchdown run by senior tailback Gilbert Harris almost 10 minutes into the fourth quarter, Arizona finally responded to a third quarter that saw NAU control the ball for over nine minutes.

Prior to Harris' score, the Lumberjacks posted nine unanswered points on a touchdown pass from quarterback Jason Murrietta to wideout Kory Mahr and a safety off an errant punt snap.

Arizona wasn't without scoring opportunities, however. Three times in the game, the Wildcats were within 30 yards of the goal line and failed to score.

"In the red zone, which we had been really efficient at, we miss a field goal and we miss a throw," Canales said. "Things like that you've just got to take care of."

It wasn't a complete struggle for Arizona's red-zone offense, however, particularly in the early going.

Arizona struck for three scores on its first four possessions of the game, combining the run and pass effectively to reach the end zone.

Senior tailback Mike Bell capped off the game's opening drive with a touchdown run - gaining three of his game-high 122 yards.

"When we get the running game going, everything ... just gets in a rhythm," said redshirt sophomore quarterback Richard Kovalcheck. "It doesn't even feel like we drove 80 yards down the field, it goes by so quick."

The Wildcats' four first-half scoring drives - which included Bell's touchdown, a Nick Folk field goal, and Kovalcheck touchdown passes to Anthony Johnson and Brad Wood - took just two minutes and four seconds less than the team's entire time of possession for the second half.

"We lost our rhythm (in the second half)," Kovalcheck said. "We kind of fell into a lull."

NAU controlled the ball for more than nine minutes in the third quarter, allowing the Arizona offense just 11 total plays in two possessions.

"We did some good things (defensively)," said senior safety Darrell Brooks. "We held them in coverage for a long time and forced (NAU quarterback Jason Murrietta) out of the pocket."

Arizona limited NAU's passing game to a 45 percent completion rate and allowed 133 yards, of which just five came in the first half.

Murrietta ran a tailback-like 20 times, gaining 56 yards on the night, with 50 of those yards coming in the second half.

"In the second half, I don't know if some people got lackadaisical, but (NAU) made some adjustments," Brooks said.

Stoops said despite a disappointing red-zone offense, he was pleased with the play of the offensive line, Bell and Kovalcheck, and that the team has plenty to build from for next week's showdown with No. 13 Purdue.