By Tom Knauer
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, September 16, 2004
If you've kept up with the Wildcat sports section this week, you know the story. Wisconsin running back Anthony Davis is out for this weekend's game at Arizona Stadium, victim of an unusual injury suffered during the No. 20 Badgers' 34-6 victory over Central Florida Sept. 4.
Were it not for a fortuitous piece of turf that lodged in Davis's eye after the running back was pushed out of bounds, the Arizona football team would be facing yet another juggernaut in the backfield - and another uphill battle at home against a Top-25 team.
Sometimes, though, fortune comes in bizarre forms. Sophomore Booker Stanley is now in for Wisconsin at halfback, and Arizona has its best chance all season of upsetting a ranked opponent.
Don't get giddy yet, Wildcat fans.
As was painfully obvious against Utah Saturday, Arizona has clear problems finishing on offense. While the work of backup running backs Gilbert Harris and Chris Henry in relief of Mike Bell last weekend was encouraging, the only chance this team has of beating the Badgers lies in rediscovering some playmakers and putting them in for six.
The Wildcats must better utilize four players in particular to compete this season - in this game or in any thereafter.
Kris Heavner - quarterback:
It's hard to argue with Heavner's efficiency thus far. He's guided the offense through more than a few long drives, and a 77 percent accuracy rate through two games is impressive. But Heavner can't seem to find the end zone. His
single touchdown pass this season, coupled with an all-too-familiar interception thrown in the third quarter against the Utes, is a big reason why the Wildcats are averaging fewer than 14 points per game.
Heavner must channel his inner gunslinger. The offense is his to take hold of, and the true sophomore must show the leadership and overall field presence that produces big plays and wins big games. Heavner has to ignore the flats for a while and muster more passes over the middle, especially against a Wisconsin defense that plays harder against the run than against the pass.
Biren Ealy - wide receiver:
To the team's credit, no offense could have used Ealy better than Arizona did through the first three weeks of the season. Finally activated after missing two weeks with a leg injury, Ealy (6-foot-3, 195 pounds) is the closest thing to Randy Moss on the roster. Though his production was slowed last year by a veritable carousel at quarterback, Ealy presents the perfect antidote for the passing game. His yards-per-catch average of 13.7 wasn't stellar in 2003, but the junior performed when it mattered, tallying five catches for 100 yards against UCLA and grabbing three balls for 34 yards against Washington, including a 10-yard touchdown pass from Heavner.
Ealy must incorporate himself quickly into the offense. As the tallest active wideout, Ealy needs to make enough separation from his defender to entice Heavner to throw his way. Opposing teams have relatively little film on Ealy compared to the other wide receivers, so most of all the Houston native must find a way to grab the spotlight.
Syndric Steptoe - wide receiver/kick returner:
Steptoe has been Arizona's most explosive player this season.
Stepping further into his dual role on offense and on special teams, Steptoe leads all Wildcats with 97.5 total yards per game and is the only receiver with a touchdown reception. The sophomore hinted his potential late against Northern Arizona two weeks ago with a team season-high 37-yard catch in the fourth quarter.
Steptoe must become a Desmond Howard-like threat, excelling on returns and providing at least a reliable alternative to Ealy and fellow sophomore Mike Jefferson. To do so, he needs to minimize mistakes, like letting catch-able balls flow through his hands, as what happened in the first half Saturday.
Though even a touchdown on that play wouldn't have won the game, Steptoe would still do well to build confidence, both in him and in his quarterback.
Mike Bell - running back:
By January, few will doubt the impact Bell had on the Wildcats' offense this year.
Barring injury, Bell should finish with one of the finer seasons by a Wildcat running back in recent memory. After a near-1,000-yard season as a sophomore last season, Bell is easily the focal point for every opponent on the schedule.
But so far this year, Bell has been bitten by the Tiki Barber bug. In two games, the junior has fumbled four times, one of which he coughed up after being hit in the leg last weekend on Arizona's first play from scrimmage.
Bell saw limited action the rest of the way, and it's not certain whether he can carry the team against a Badgers defense allowing only 62.5 yards per game. If a few of his teammates can step up, Bell may just rest a little easier.
A word of advice for tailback Gilbert Harris
It's been an up-and-down three weeks for UA football player Gilbert Harris.
First, the running back was referred to the Dean of Students Sept. 1.
Harris and freshman defensive lineman Yaniv Barnett were approached by police while sitting on the top level of Sixth Street Garage. Marijuana was found on the ground near the two - Barnett admitted it was his - and Harris lied to officers about his name when questioned.
Then, on second-and-goal at the Utah 1-yard line last weekend with Arizona trailing 17-6, Harris was stuffed on two consecutive rushes, the last a fourth-down fumble leaving his teammates frustrated and confused.
An act of karma? Depends who you ask. It still says something for Harris' on-field ability - he rushed for a career-high 56 yards in the game - that he was given the opportunity in the first place.
My guess is that head coach Mike Stoops chastised Harris worse than did the local authorities, given the conduct allowed by athletes in today's collegiate landscape.
Does Harris deserve absolvement?
Hardly. Guilty or not, he chose to be in a vulnerable situation, where the risks were infinitely more costly than the reward.
Do yourself a favor, Gilbert - keep a clear head. Consider the rest of the season an audition for next fall, when you could play an important role in a potent offense. You wouldn't want to ruin that chance over a certain substance, would you?
Tom Knauer is a journalism sophomore. He can be reached at email@example.com.