By Kyle Kensing
Chris Coduto/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Head coach Mike Stoops watches as trainers attend to Marcus Smith, who went down with an injury during the third quarter of Saturday's game against NAU. Arizona defeated the Lumberjacks 31-12.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 13, 2005
Teamwork leads to solid start for Cats' front line
The strength of the Arizona football team's offensive line was definitely a question mark before the year began.
According to senior Kili Lefotu, those questions lit a fire under the unit Arizona head coach Mike Stoops has called the "most improved" of the team's offense.
"We kind of took it personal - everyone asking around town, 'How's the O-line going to be?'" Lefotu said. "We just felt that was a personal shot at the line and (at offensive line) coach (Eric) Wolford."
The Wildcats' front five have turned those doubts into motivation through the first two games of the season, allowing just two sacks and anchoring an offense that has averaged 416.5 yards per game.
The offensive line's rejuvenation has been an all-around effort, Lefotu said, with contributions from senior tackle Tanner Bell, senior guard John Abramo, redshirt freshman guard Joe Longacre and junior center Erick Levitre.
The line's added depth is an area Stoops touched upon in his press conference yesterday.
"I like the way we're playing up front," Stoops said. "We played with Joe Longacre starting his first game the other night, so you see we're gaining depth."
Longacre filled in for injured senior Brad Brittain, who is nursing a knee injury.
"I like our young offensive linemen. They're really getting better," Stoops said. "Erick Levitre has played well, so I think our offensive line has been our most improved area from last year to this year. I think they're a more physical group as whole."
Lefotu said the line's early success can be credited to the work of the coaching staff, including strength and conditioning coach Mark Hill.
Defense to address injuries, potent Purdue offense
When Arizona takes to Arizona Stadium Saturday night for their first matchup of 2005 with a nationally ranked opponent, No. 12 Purdue, the Wildcats will be facing more than just an offense that posted 45 points and 478 total yards a week ago.
The Wildcats will have to deal with a host of injuries, notably the absence of seniors and starting defensive ends Copeland Bryan and Marcus Smith.
Bryan is out with an ankle injury sustained Sept. 2 at Utah, while Smith may be done for the season because of an injured ankle of his own, suffered in Saturday's 31-12 win over NAU.
Sophomore Jason Parker, redshirt freshman Johnathan Turner and true freshman Mike Shelton will see significant minutes for the second consecutive week, Stoops said.
"Those are the three guys who will get the majority of the reps," he said. "They just have to step up and play better, and after a full week of practice, they will."
Smith, who made 41 tackles in 2004, has a year of redshirt status available under NCAA rules, which Stoops said the program may choose to exercise.
Arizona linebacker Randy Sims should be 100 percent for the first time this season after suffering a high ankle sprain before the opener, Stoops said.
Previously unavailable because of injury, senior linebacker Spencer Larsen, who suffered his knee injury this spring after returning from a two-year Mormon mission in Chile, will be available for action for the first time since 2002, Stoops said.
Thus far in 2005, Arizona's widely praised secondary has not faced much opposition, with Utah and NAU combining for just 353 yards through the air.
That should change Saturday when Purdue head coach Joe Tiller brings his high-octane spread-option attack to Tucson.
"You've got to get excited for (playing Purdue's offense)," said sophomore cornerback Antoine Cason. "This is why I've been working, to get passes thrown my way and make plays for my teammates."
Senior Brandon Kirsch has taken over as the Boilermakers' starting quarterback, following in the line of impressively successful Purdue quarterbacks, including current NFL starters Kyle Orton and Drew Brees.
Joining Kirsch in the backfield is senior tailback Jerod Void. Void reached the end zone twice in Purdue's 53-7 win over Arizona two seasons ago and is 12 touchdowns behind current NFL star Mike Alstott on the Boilermakers' career list with 27.
The 6-foot-9 senior receiver Kyle Ingraham is Purdue's No. 1 option in the passing game.