By Arlie Rahn
Arizona Daily Wildcat
The situation was fourth and goal
at the one-foot line with Ari-
zona down by four points in the third quarter.
This was the crucial play of the game in the Wildcats' 17-13 loss to Oregon on Nov. 11, and Arizona's top offensive threat, junior tailback Gary Taylor, was parked on the bench. Apparently someone forgot that he had scored on a similar play earlier in the game and that he is the leading rusher on the team, and just let him sit on the bench for what may have been the biggest play of Arizona's season.
"I was very disappointed not to be in there," Taylor said. "I think that if you come out here in practice and in game situations and show you can do the job, the coach should have enough confidence in you to put you in at a crucial time."
Suddenly, it seems Taylor is being phased out of Arizona's offensive scheme. After averaging 125.4 total yards per game through the first five games, Taylor has only managed 58 total yards per game since, while seeing his opportunities drop as well. In the loss against the Ducks, the Wildcats had four chances inside the 3-yard line, three of them from the 1-yard line and closer. Taylor didn't get the call for any of the carries.
"We haven't gotten him the ball as much because of what defenses are doing," UA offensive coordinator Duane Akina said. "We've been seeing a lot of blitzes of late and he has had to block a lot more. As to the fourth-down situation, we just felt that Kevin (Schmidtke) was the guy we wanted in. We would hope that all of our backs wanted in during that situation."
But perhaps even more alarming for the Arizona offense has been that Taylor hasn't had the chances receiving he had in the first half of the season. While he is still second on the team with 30 receptions, he has had only four in his last three games.
"Early in the season, if our running game wasn't working, they'd send me out of the backfield for pass routes," Taylor said. "But the last couple games we haven't been doing that. In order for our offense to be successful, I think I need to be involved in both the passing and running games.
"The thing is that we practice a lot of plays that involve (passes to the tailback), but when game time comes around we just don't run them. It's hard to go out there and make something happen when we don't run the plays that give me a chance."
But the frustration doesn't end there. Taylor has also had to deal with an offensive line that hasn't had the same five players start in consecutive games this season.
"It's a very tough situation for me because our rushing game has been down and it seems like all the blame and emphasis has been put on me, like I haven't been coming out and doing my job," Taylor said. "But that's not the case. I come out here in practice every day and give it my all."
For a guy that came out of high school as a Blue Chip All-American, the road to this point has been as rocky as this year's season. In his freshman year in 1992, a wrist injury forced him out of the lineup and into a redshirt season. After that first setback, he was thrust into a backup role, as tailback Ontiwaun Carter and all-purpose back Chuck Levy took over starting duties for the next two seasons. Playing the waiting game wasn't something Taylor relished.
"It was hard waiting my turn because one of the reasons I came here was to come in and play early," he said. "And I really didn't get the opportunity to come in here and establish myself like I wanted to. When you're not in the game, you start to get a little rusty. I spent a lot of time waiting and that gave me a chance to think of what I can do when I got in."
Now that his turn has come around, he has seen his team go from national prominence to seventh in the conference.
"This is not what I expected this year," Taylor said. "I'd like to think this is a program that focuses on improvement year in and year out. My first year here we were 6-5-1, my second we were 10-2 and last year we were 8-4. I was really hoping to go undefeated last year and this year, but instead we are 5-5. It's been a long time since this team has lost five games."
But now Taylor might see the guys he came in with and who helped Arizona achieve its best season in the school's history (10-2 in 1993) leave with a losing record.
"It's really disappointing that these guys have to leave without a bowl game," Taylor said. "Our class came here and really built this program into what it is today. Now all we have left to shoot for is a winning season."
With this season being such a disappointment, Taylor looks ahead to next year.
"I think I'm going to have to get stronger as far as breaking tackles over the offseason," Taylor said. "We really don't have the linemen we had last year and I'm not going to see the holes I have in the past."
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