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Football: Week off rejuvenates Wildcats

CHRIS CODUTO/Arizona Daily Wildcat
UA wide receiver Ricky Williams, left, can't hold onto the ball during the Wildcats' 20-19 defeat at the hands of the visiting Washington State Cougars Sept. 25 at Arizona Stadium. The Wildcats will see if a bye week can help them get a better handle on the ball when they face UCLA Saturday in Pasadena, Calif.
By Charles Renning
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, October 5, 2004
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With a little more than one-third of the 2004 season in the books, the Arizona football team, coming off a much-needed bye week, has had enough drama to fill most teams' entire year.

Head coach Mike Stoops said the month of September was "emotional" and "stressful" for his players, and it was nice to have a weekend off to gather themselves together.

"I think it just wears on you as a team," he said. "(It) seems like every play in the game hangs in the balance. I thought it was draining on the staff and all of our players. The off-week came at a good time."

Arizona finished the month 1-3 with three close losses. The Wildcats dropped a 23-6 contest to No. 11 Utah, a game much closer than the score indicated, after the Wildcats fumbled four times, including once inside the five-yard line. The next week, the team lost 9-7 to No. 15 Wisconsin after sophomore kicker Nick Folk missed a 47-yard field goal in the closing minute, followed by a 20-19 loss to Washington State after Arizona turned the ball over in the final 90 seconds, giving up the go-ahead touchdown in the game's final minute.

Players were given Friday, Saturday and Sunday off before returning to practice yesterday.

UA finally hits the road

Arizona will make its first road trip of the year this weekend when it travels to Pasadena for a televised match-up. The game was originally scheduled for a 12:30 p.m. start time, but kickoff was changed to 3:30 p.m. when Fox Sports Net chose to air the game nationally.

Stoops said the team must take a slightly different attitude while playing on the road.

"I think on the road you have to play much better defense," he said. "We've always emphasized not turning the ball over, that what gets the crowd involved in games is big plays, turnovers and things like that. Our toughness has to be a lot stronger on the road."

This will be the first time since 1999 that the Wildcats have played a game in the Rose Bowl. The last time Arizona was in the 91,136 capacity stadium, it captured a 33-7 win.

UCLA O-line under fire

Following UCLA's 37-31 win over Washington Sept. 18, UW defensive lineman Manase Hopoi told The Seattle Times that the Huskies' defensive line had trouble adjusting to UCLA's style of "chop blocks."

A chop block is a play in which one offensive player blocks a defender up high while another player blocks low.

UCLA center Mike McCloskey told the Pasadena Star that the illegal chop block was not being used by the Bruins.

"Cut blocks are a huge part of our scheme, especially on the back side of the play," McCloskey told the Star. "We don't high-low anyone. It's always a one-on-one situations."

Stoops said Washington had not issued a formal complaint to the Pac-10 officials about the offensive lines' blocking techniques, but said it is something his defensive linemen will have to be aware of.

"I'm sure they're not doing it purposely," said Stoops. "We'll get strong a interpretation on the cut-blocking at the line of scrimmage."

UA opponents still shining

Coming into the 2004 season, the Wildcats knew they would have one of the toughest schedules in the nation, and through the past five weeks it has held true.

Arizona's first four opponents are a combined 15-3, with two teams in the top 15. Utah, who beat the UA 23-6, jumped to No. 11 this week. Wisconsin, who defeated the Wildcats 9-7, moved to No. 15.

"We're a couple plays away from being a lot better than we are," said Stoops. "I think our team has played well and will continue to play well."

In the team's most recent pair of defeats, Arizona lost by two and one points, respectively, proving the Wildcats can play with some of the nation's best teams.

Receivers' corp complete

Arizona continues to stay healthy after a week off and will get its only notable injured player back this week.

Freshman receiver Anthony Johnson was taken out of the loss to Washington State Sept. 25 with a knee injury. Johnson had been wearing a brace, but it was removed this week, and Stoops said he should be 100 percent by Saturday.

Being injury-free is something Stoops said his teams are familiar with.

"We've gone whole years without many injuries," he said.

Costa back at quarterback

Junior slashback Nic Costa moved back to quarterback over the team's layover. Costa returned under center with the departure of Ryan O'Hara.

Stoops said Costa will battle freshman Richard Kovalcheck for the second spot on the depth chart.

"I don't know what would happen if something happened to Kris (Heavner)," he said. "They are both splitting reps at two."

Costa holds the experience edge over Kovalcheck, having started three games last year at quarterback and completing 30 out of 76 passes for 362 yards. Kovalcheck has yet to see collegiate action, but Stoops said he's impressed with how the redshirt freshman is improving.

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