By Ryan Casey
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Each game this season, redshirt sophomore quarterback Richard Kovalcheck of the Arizona football team has put up the best numbers of his short Wildcat career.
Nothing against superfrosh Willie Tuitama - hailed as the future of the program - but I see one thing when I look at Kovalcheck: the here and now of the program.
Entering this season, Kovalcheck's career high in passing yards came in the team's November upset of ASU, when he threw for 239 yards.
Kovalcheck has had yardage totals of 255, 255 and 287 in his first three outings of '05, demolishing his total (471 yards) from a similar three-game span last year. The level of improvement is remarkable, and is made more impressive by doing so against very high-quality opponents. Utah's 18-game winning streak ended two weeks ago at the hands of TCU, but the Utes still have lost just once in their last 20 games. Purdue returned every starter from their 2004 defense and were one spot away from cracking the national top 10 when they came to Tucson.
Last season, the San Diego native finished with 1,039 yards, six touchdowns and seven interceptions, and completed less than half of his passes.
Compare that to 2005, when Kovalcheck has thrown for 797 yards with seven scores and completed 58 percent of his passes, having thrown just four interceptions, two of which came in late-game situations when he was trying to force throws.
If Kovalcheck continues at his current pace, he'll finish with 2,922 yards, which would rank second all-time in Arizona single-season history to Jason Johnson (3,327 yards in 2002). At his current pace, Kovalcheck would finish with 26 touchdown tosses, a total that puts Marc Reed's 1966 single-season school record of 20 to shame.
Anybody still want to take the job away from this guy?
The revolving door that is the Arizona quarterback situation doesn't seem to be working. Since Johnson's graduation after the 2002 season, the program has endured Nic Costa, Ryan O'Hara and Kris Heavner - all of whom have departed the program themselves. Why not stick with one quarterback throughout the season, instead of pulling him at the first sign of struggle - as was the case with Costa, O'Hara and especially Heavner? Doesn't the best way to learn come from your mistakes?
How can chemistry possibly develop between a quarterback and his receivers, his running backs, his line - his team - if he's on such a short leash?
Kovalcheck has yet to start enough games to even fill up just one full season, yet he has proven himself capable to lead the team in his short tenure.
Why not let Kovalcheck keep the job and teach Tuitama on the sidelines but let the rookie sneak into a few games next year and learn on the field?
A perfect example of this is Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm. As a freshman last year, Brohm was behind senior Stefan LeFors on the Cardinals depth chart, yet appeared in every game save for one, including an appearance in the 2004 Liberty Bowl.
That experience is now why Brohm is one of the top quarterbacks in the nation, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes while throwing for 936 yards in three games.
Imagine giving Tuitama this type of experience for two years, then handing him the starting job as a redshirt junior.
Matt Leinart waited his turn behind Carson Palmer to take over a program at Southern California that is turning into a dynasty.
The Trojans kept the system rolling, by giving valuable playing time to redshirt sophomore John David Booty in 2003, and again in games this season, seasoning him to take over the Trojans after Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart leaves for the NFL next summer.
Booty could very well be the top quarterback in the nation in 2006, as a redshirt junior. USC also has Mark Sanchez, widely regarded as the top quarterback from this year's recruiting class, spending the season as a redshirt.
It could be the best of both worlds at Arizona: Kovalcheck building chemistry with the team and Tuitama getting experience. Most importantly, the Cats would be playing the quarterback who gives them their best shot at winning.
Besides, we need a few years to map out Willie's Heisman campaign.
Ryan Casey is a journalism junior and the sports director at KAMP Student Radio. His radio show can be heard Wednesdays from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on 1570 AM or at www.kamp.arizona.edu