After a few extra days of practice and rest for Arizona football because of its bye week, head coach Mike Stoops said his team is as healthy and prepared as he could expect.
"I think we should be mentally and physically ready to go," Stoops said yesterday at his weekly press conference.
The Wildcats open their Pacific 10 Conference season Saturday at 4 p.m. when they take on No. 12 California at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif.
Arizona is expecting to get a couple key contributors back for the undefeated Golden Bears.
Stoops said he is hopeful that
senior defensive end Copeland Bryan and sophomore linebackers Dane Krogstad and Spencer Larsen will return to the lineup 100 percent.
"We'll be as close to full strength as we're going to be defensively," Stoops said.
Bryan injured his ankle in the team's season-opening loss at Utah, while both Larsen and Krogstad were hurt in the team's loss to Purdue Sept. 17.
Offense a year older, wiser
In Arizona's first three games, the Wildcats have out-passed their opponents in every contest, with redshirt sophomore quarterback Richard Kovalcheck setting career-highs in passing yards each week.
Stoops said a lot of that has to do with Kovalcheck's growth, his familiarity with the offense and the team's flexibility.
"I think we understand how we attack people," Stoops said. "You see us evolving and becoming much smarter."
Stoops added that offensive coordinator Mike Canales is doing a better job of calling the right plays to exploit defenses' weaknesses and allow the quarterbacks to make changes at the line of scrimmage.
More production needed out of running game
While the Wildcat passing attack has shown improvement, Stoops said, many opposing defenses have loaded up on the line to stop the run.
The team needs to counter that with an improved rushing game, he said.
"Our running attack hasn't been what we need it to be," he said. "I think we've missed holes this year, and I think, overall, we're not real pleased with how we run the football. We have to run it better."
Senior Mike Bell has accounted for 264 of the running backs' 318 rushing yards, and Stoops said the team needs more production out of senior Gilbert Harris and sophomore Chris Henry.
Henry has started the year with three fumbles on just 11 carries and gained 21 yards.
"I'm kind of disappointed that Chris has gotten off to a slow start, but we keep trying to work him in there," he said. "Hopefully, him and Gilbert will have an opportunity to run the football."
Stoops said the opportunities for big run plays have been there this season but that the team has been unable convert those chances.
Juco players working into roles
The Arizona roster is dotted with junior college transfers, and Stoops said he expects those players to continue to improve and work more into their roles as the season goes on.
"It's very difficult for junior college players to come in and make a huge impact early on," he said. "It usually takes them half a year to get acclimated to the process of developing into a player. Junior college is higher than high school in level of competition, but it is still not (Division I) level."
Junior tackles Byron Smith and Rickey Parker have both seen considerable playing time coming out of junior colleges, and Stoops said he's been pleased with the production of safety Michael Johnson and offensive lineman Adam Hawes.
"Those are all quality players," Stoops said. "They just need to get in shape and get stronger."