By Brett Fera
CHRIS CODUTO/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Arizona defensive end Lionel Dotson (54) reacts as time expires during Saturday's 28-14 loss to the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, October 18, 2004
EUGENE, Ore. - Two plays, two results, two different directions.
Oregon quarterback Kellen Clemens lined up under center early Saturday afternoon at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore. The junior signal caller dropped back, rolled out right and hit his biggest target - 6-foot-4, 267-pound tight end Tim Day - in the flat. It was Oregon's first play from scrimmage, and the wide-open Day rumbled downfield for a 19-yard gain, only to see the Ducks hit paydirt 12 plays and 86 yards later.
Fast forward five minutes and change, and the setting appeared all too familiar.
With Oregon leading 7-0, UA quarterback Kris Heavner set his line for Arizona's first offensive play.
The sophomore took his drop, danced around in the backfield, and rolled out right, only to see a less-than-wide-open Steve Fleming waiting downfield.
Heavner attempted to duplicate the success he saw Clemens achieve just moments earlier, but his pass floated five yards past his outstretched tight end.
Two plays, two results, two different directions.
Heavner's next two passes mimicked the first - overthrown, with too much air underneath them to be considered anything but dangerous.
Clemens, on the other hand, followed his opening toss by finishing Oregon's opening scoring drive 5 of 5 for 56 yards.
"Kellen's comfort zone in the pocket today and his touch on the ball was excellent," said Oregon coach Mike Bellotti. "He gave guys a chance to catch the ball, and I thought he was very sharp today as a total package."
Heavner's day only got tougher. A pass-interference call and a long run each by Mike Bell and Gilbert Harris still put the Wildcats in a position to score on that first series, but Heavner couldn't connect on a fourth-and-two pass from the Ducks' 3-yard line.
Clemens led Oregon's offensive attack with methodical precision, rationing his team's scoring to just one touchdown in each quarter. Heavner and Co., however, buried Arizona's chance to win from the start, with the Wildcats capitalizing only during a hurried attempt to not look like they just got waxed by another mediocre team.
Oregon opened its season 1-3, with a monstrous drubbing at the hands of powerhouse Oklahoma.
Arizona opened its season a frustrated 1-3 that arguably could have been 3-1, after three straight competitive, if not close, losses to nationally-ranked teams like Utah and Wisconsin - both looking to make a dent in the Bowl Championship Series standings, released today for the first time.
But, alas, it is Oregon that's managed to climb back into respectability, reaching .500 and the middle of the Pacific 10 Conference race with its 28-14 win over the Wildcats.
And it's Arizona that's dropped to 1-5, still needing to face California (5-1), top-ranked Southern California (6-0) and Arizona State (5-1) over its final five games.
Two teams, two results, two different directions.
More importantly for the Wildcats is figuring out what to do - namely who to go to - next.
Those two, late-game, touchdowns were the product of redshirt freshman quarterback Richard Kovalcheck, who, until the departures of Ryan O'Hara and Nic Costa from the squad in recent weeks, was settling in nicely to a third- or fourth-string job for the remainder of the season.
Kovalcheck didn't have much time to prove himself, entering the game in the fourth quarter with his back against the wall after Heavner had sputtered to just 79 yards on 9 of 24 passing with two interceptions.
The Wildcats were pinned at the Oregon 5-yard line with the raucous Autzen Stadium crowd at its loudest decibel level of the afternoon, and Kovalcheck responded by throwing a pick on just his second collegiate pass attempt.
The 6-foot-2, 211-pound Kovalcheck wasn't ready to wave a white flag just yet.
"I thought it was pretty cool to come in at that time of the game because that's probably the hardest it's going to get," Kovalcheck said.
He would eventually put Arizona in the end zone twice, the first on a short run by Gilbert Harris, the second on his first career touchdown throw, a 21-yard connection with tight end/wide receiver Brad Wood.
Arizona head coach Mike Stoops didn't go so far as saying Kovalcheck would be the starter this week against No. 7 Cal, but he and offensive coordinator Mike Canales weren't candid about their thoughts of Kovalcheck's mediocre, but respectable, performance.
"We've had an inability to throw the football consistently all year, but I thought Richard came in and did some awful good things," said UA head coach Mike Stoops. "I thought we had some opportunities early in the game and we couldn't convert."
At 1-5, the Wildcats now have a bona fide quarterback controversy, and the meat of their schedule is still to come.
It's just one team, two quarterbacks and a collective hope of a change in direction.