Coaches choose frosh to face No. 7 California
With the Wildcats struggling to put points on the board and the UA offense unable to consistently move the ball downfield, UA head football coach Mike Stoops announced yesterday that it's time for a change.
"As of right now we'll give Richard (Kovalcheck) an opportunity to start Saturday, at least give him a half to see what he can do," Stoops said.
Kovalcheck was excited when he heard the news about getting his first collegiate start.
"Am I starting? I don't even know," Kovalcheck asked, first hearing the news from reporters after Stoops' weekly press conference. "No kidding. That's sweet. I feel pretty good about it. That's pretty awesome."
The redshirt freshman replaces sophomore Kris Heavner, who has started the last 14 games for Arizona.
Kovalcheck saw his first action Saturday in Arizona's 28-14 loss to Oregon, finishing the game 5 of 10 for 77 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
"He came in late, did some awfully good things, showed good poise and threw the ball accurately," Stoops said.
Kovalcheck relieved Heavner in the fourth quarter and threw an interception on his second pass attempt, but Stoops wasn't deterred from putting the San Diego native back into the game.
"The one interception was like a punt," he said. "I was kind of hoping they would intercept it because our punt coverage wasn't very good all day, so it probably worked better than a punt."
The Wildcats gave up 90 yards of punt return yardage on the day to the Ducks.
Injury forces senior Phillips to sit again
The Wildcats' depth on the offensive line got even thinner when sixth-year senior Brandon Phillips injured his leg against Oregon.
Stoops said Phillips would hopefully return in a few weeks and be able to finish his senior season.
Phillips was hurt last year in the Wildcats' game with the Ducks and was forced to miss the remainder of the season. He then petitioned to the NCAA to gain another year of eligibility through a medical redshirt.
Junior runningback Gilbert Harris sprained his ankle in the loss to Oregon and is questionable for the Wildcats game against Cal.
Harris is Arizona's second leading rusher with 276 yards and a touchdown. He picked up 45 yards on eight carries against the Ducks.
Sophomore defensive tackle Paul Philipp is also questionable for the Wildcats, according to Stoops. Philipp was held out of the game at Oregon with a shoulder injury and was on the sideline in street clothes with his arm in a splint.
Stoops: Same record, but not same team
For the second straight year, the Arizona football team has started the season 1-5, but Stoops said the team is much improved over the 2003 squad.
"There's a big difference from last year," he said. "There are small steps being made."
Through the Wildcats' first five losses of last year, the team was outscored 209-47, but this year's team has only been beaten 117-63, including a one-point loss to No. 6 Wisconsin.
Stoops cited several reasons for the Wildcats' inability to earn another win.
He said a lot of it has to do with the team's youth and inexperience.
"We're young and seeing things for the first time," he said. "The confidence, the knowledge of what you are doing is all part of putting a program together. The first year is definitely the hardest and it's something we're experiencing right now. It doesn't make it easy, but we'll push forward as a program and prepare hard."
Stoops made a comparison to the program at Texas A&M, who Stoops beat while at Oklahoma 77-0 last season. The Aggies find themselves as a top-20 team this year at 5-1 after finishing last year 4-8.
Another example of how quickly a team can be turned around is in the Wildcats' own conference. Cal finished the 2001 season at 1-10 and just three seasons later finds itself as the No. 7 team in the country playing for a Bowl Championship Series.
"You have to stay focused on the things you can control," Stoops said.
He added that he and the coaching staff will have to continue building the program around players' attitudes, work ethic and commitment to the program in order to be successful in the future.