By Shane Bacon
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
It might have been just three games out of 11, but the first few weeks of the Arizona football team's 2005 season were the most important when it came to a few questions.
Can head coach Mike Stoops return the program to respectability? Can senior running back Mike Bell end his career with a boom, not a bust? Can "Wildcats" and "bowl game" be in the same headline?
The first three games addressed all these questions, and the Wildcats went 1-2 with some bright spots, despite close losses to Utah and Purdue.
But what might have been?
With that on the minds of many of the Wildcat faithful, there are three people who, going into the final eight games of the season, all share the same first name and have the most to prove with the toughest meat still on the plate.
Here are their evaluations thus far, as well as what to expect the rest of the season.
No matter who is behind any coaching error, the head coach has to answer for it. Stoops decided in a competitive game against Utah to punt the ball late in the fourth quarter in the hope that Arizona's defense would hold and the offense could drive down the field and score a game-winning touchdown.
Maybe Stoops was more confident in his team's ability than others - or maybe he forgot that he didn't have the Oklahoma Sooners of old - but the decision came back to haunt him, and the Wildcats started 0-1.
After a win against NAU that had nothing spectacular but nothing too terrible, the No. 11 Boilermakers came to Tucson with a possible upset boiling in the desert.
Muffing a punt when the momentum was shifting to the Wildcats can't be blamed on a coach, but calling a fake punt on fourth-and-seven left mouths open and questions rising.
It didn't seem like the right play call, but regrouping the Wildcats and getting them back within seven points makes you understand the second-year head coach's determination.
First exam grade: B-
The heart of Arizona's offense has done exactly what it needs, just not enough of it.
Bell had 18 carries against Utah, 24 against NAU but just 14 Saturday in the loss to Purdue for a measly 43 yards.
Bell will pound the ball into traffic for those three extra yards, but he still shows signs of immaturity when he spins in traffic and turns back downfield to try and find a seam.
Bell has just one touchdown in three games, and for the Wildcats to have a chance at five wins, he will need 100 yards a game and a few more end-zone celebrations to boot.
The offense needs to be more focused on the run than the pass, and if that is the case, we can see a more effective Bell than we have early in '05.
First exam grade: C-
The new kid
Oh, the joys of youth. Who knew that Michael Thomas, the 6-foot receiver from DeSoto, Texas, would be the bright light of the team this year?
People rant and rave about his ability, and Thomas has shown it thus far. He has 236 yards receiving in his first three games as a Wildcat, with a touchdown and a lot of new fans.
The only knock on the youngster is the wide-open drop at the end of the game against Purdue. The pass looked to be perfect, and he had the closest Boilermaker burned, but just couldn't come down with what might have tied the game and sent Arizona Stadium into a complete frenzy.
Thomas has been one of Richard Kovalcheck's favorite targets and looks to be the Keyshawn Johnson of the Arizona receiving core. We can thank someone upstairs for keeping him under 6-feet-3 so he is actually in the Old Pueblo and not a Trojan or Longhorn.
First exam grade: A-
With that, the Mike triplets move into their bye week with what no one will argue is the toughest part of the schedule, with road games against California and Southern California looming. Lightning has struck twice, Dan Marino was No. 13 and Kevin Federline got Britney Spears - crazier stuff has happened than a few good Wildcat upsets.
Shane Bacon is a journalism senior. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.