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UA Football Roundup: Rivalry takes center stage

CHRIS CODUTO/Arizona Daily Wildcat
UA running back Gilbert Harris attempts to break free from an Oregon defender during the Wildcats' 28-14 loss to the Ducks in Eugene, Ore., last month. Harris is expected to see his first action since facing Oregon when the Wildcats take on ASU Friday at Arizona Stadium.
By Charles Renning
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
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After three seasons in Tucson, Marcus Smith knows how important the Arizona-Arizona State rivalry is. But just for extra measure, the junior defensive end got a reminder early yesterday morning.

"I had a teacher about an hour ago tell me to beat the Scum Devils," said Smith about the request he received from his Classics 220 professor yesterday morning."(The rivalry means) everything to people at Arizona and ASU. It's always the biggest game of the season."

The Wildcats and Sun Devils renew their rivalry Friday at 1 p.m. at Arizona Stadium, and the intensity is already building for head coach Mike Stoops

"As the game gets closer and you get into game week, it's a lot different," said Stoops about the week leading up to the Duel in the Desert. "The intensity builds as the week goes on and culminates with the game."

Stoops said the intensity had already started to build yesterday morning and expected it to increase throughout the week.

This will be Stoops' first opportunity to experience the rivalry, but the coach already has picked up on the game's importance in the state.

"It means a great deal to our alumni, fans and to our program. It's a huge game for us," he said.

Stoops has had some experience coaching in big rivalry games, coming from Oklahoma, whose rivalry with Texas is one of the biggest in all of sports.

In Stoops' five years in Norman as the Sooners' top assistant coach, his team was 4-1 against the Longhorns.

RB Harris ready to roll

With an extra week between the Wildcats' last game against Southern California and this week's match up with ASU, Arizona has had a chance to get healthy.

Stoops said there were no new significant injuries during last week's practices and added that getting back junior runningback Gilbert Harris would be a big boost.

"Getting Gilbert Harris back really helps our offense. It gives us another dimension offensively that we really missed. We've run Mike (Bell) hard and Mike's taken a lot of snaps."

Harris is the Wildcats' second leading rusher behind Bell, but has been out of action since Arizona's 28-14 loss to Oregon Oct. 16.

After missing Arizona's 49-9 loss to top-ranked Southern California, the team also returns junior safety Darrell Brooks. Brooks injured his shoulder in the Wildcats' 23-13 win at Washington, but has taken a majority of the snaps the last two weeks in practice and Stoops expects him to be 100 percent come Friday.

"There's no instability with his shoulder whatsoever," Stoops said

Coaches to hit recruiting trail hard after Friday

With the Wildcats eliminated from bowl contention, Stoops said it will be important to shift the program's attention to recruiting following their contest with ASU.

He said recruiting will be a key issue in improving the team, adding more depth to the roster and getting them into a bowl game next year.

"We'll look at anybody who gives us an opportunity to be better at that position," said Stoops about the areas that need to be addressed in the offseason.

Stoops added that he's been impressed with the performance of some of the freshman who redshirted this season and expects several of them to be big contributors next year.

He highlighted receiver Bobby McCoy and linebacker Brandon Lopez as two players who have really stood out.

Lopez is a local Arizona product from Vail and could work into linebacker positions being left vacant by the graduation of Patrick Howard and Kirk Johnson.

"(Lopez) has a chance to be a star in this league because he has so much athletic ability," Stoops said. "I just love the way he plays the game."

Stoops: Recent scuffles have no place in sports

Much of the national media attention this week has been focused on the fight involving the NBA's Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons Friday night and a smaller fight involving Clemson's and South Carolina's football teams a day later.

Arizona and Arizona State got into a small scuffle in 2001, but Stoops said it shouldn't be a problem this weekend

"It's foolish and there's no place for it. (Players) have got to draw a line between the intensity and (being) stupid and selfish," he said. "I know there's bad blood in any rival game, but we certainly respect anyone we play. Winning a fight means nothing to us."

"That's what you see in a lot of rivalries, but you've just got to walk away from it," said sophomore receiver Syndric Steptoe.

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