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Bear Down Blitz: Freshman turning heads

Jacob Konst/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Redshirt freshman defensive end Johnathan Turner forced a crucial fumble in the fourth quarter of Arizona's victory Saturday at Oregon State. Turner and the Wildcats host undefeated UCLA on Saturday at Arizona Stadium.
By Charles Renning
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, November 4, 2005
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DE Turner's lessons pay off in win over OSU

The Oregon State offense stood at the Arizona football team's 24-yard line with just under five minutes to go Saturday.

The Wildcats clung to a 29-27 lead, trying to hold on for their first Pacific 10 Conference win of the season, but the Beavers were in field-goal range, needing just a short kick to grab the lead.

In stepped defensive end Johnathan Turner.

Turner came off the right end, saw OSU quarterback Matt Moore carrying the ball away from his body, and the redshirt freshman took a swipe at it.

"I feel like I was just blank at that moment," said the Corona, Calif., native. "When I looked up I saw the ball rolling - and it rolled right into (linebacker) Spencer (Larsen)'s hands - I just jumped up and started celebrating."

Arizona recovered the fumble to prevent an Oregon State score and take its first win since Sept. 10 against NAU.

Wildcats head coach Mike Stoops said Turner's play, along with junior Nick Folk's 56-yard fourth-quarter punt, were the two most crucial moments in the game.

"Johnathan Turner made a great sack on the quarterback to get that ball," Stoops said. "To make that play late in the game is extraordinary. His effort is very important to this team."

Turner, who recorded four tackles Saturday, made a big play when the Wildcats needed it most, a play neither Turner nor Arizona defensive ends coach Joe Robinson are really sure he could have made at the start of the season.

"At the beginning, I got thrown into the mix with (senior) Marcus (Smith) going down, and I was just trying to make it through each game without messing up too bad and costing our team the game," Turner said. "Now I feel like I'm going out trying to win it."

Turner began the year as a backup to Smith, but was forced into the starting lineup when Smith went down with a season-ending knee injury in the win over the Lumberjacks.

Since then, Turner has made improvements week by week, and Robinson said that Turner's performance has a lot to do with his work habits at practice.

"That's the biggest difference," Robinson said. "People see it on Saturday, but we see it during the week."

Turner, who's recorded 19 tackles, two for a loss, on the season, said it was a whole new experience going from being a practice player last year while redshirting to being the No. 1 guy on game days.

"I can play more confident now with some games under my belt," he said. "That allows me to play faster, make my reads and fly around. I'm having fun with it now instead of playing nervous."

Robinson said Turner's improvement in technique is starting to show up on the stat sheet.

"Now you see him being more physical and being able to get his hands on an opponent and separate. You're seeing his feet under control," Robinson said. "It's things we knew he could do, he just wasn't doing them consistently early in the season."

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