Rice, Hardy were Arizona's final undoing

All week long the UA football coaching staff spent countless hours trying to find a way to stop the Illinois linebacker tandem of Simeon Rice and Kevin Hardy. And after a game of double-teams, triple-teams and double-tight end formations, one thing became apparent: It can't be done.

Arizona should have conceded the five sacks and six tackles for losses to the terrible twosome and kept to the game plan that it has achieved the most success with: throwing the football. But instead, the Wildcats were determined not to let Rice and Hardy beat them and made conscious efforts to make sure they didn't dictate the game. The end result was that they were playing not to lose, instead of playing to win.

Arizona came out determined to run the football an area it has been inconsistent at best with this season against one of the top rushing defenses in the nation. In essense, the Wildcats were betting on their weakness against the Illini's strength. Through three quarters they punched and pushed and fought for every inch on the ground, but the end result remained 0-0.

And even when they used the pass, they threw 10-15 yard routes, with an 18-yard gainer by Gary Taylor marking their biggest play until the fourth quarter. Not once did they test the pair of first-year starting cornerbacks, which might be the one weakness in the Illinois defense. But more importantly, Arizona did not even threaten to go long, allowing the Illinois defensive front to plug up the middle and allow little or no room for the UA backs.

It took a fourth-quarter field goal by Illinois to wake up the complacent Arizona offense. Realizing they were now down, the Wildcats did something they should have done right from the start: They got aggressive. Quarterback Dan White started to test the Illinois defense and opened up the flood gates, a strategy that allowed some brief moments of daylight in the Arizona running game and an 80-yard touchdown drive. It looked like Wildcats' game plan became apparent they used the run for three quarters to set up the pass.

But after that touchdown, the Wildcats' offense retreated back into their conservative shell, determined not to lose the game. What happened? A tipped screen pass cost them the lead and eventually the game.

Arizona, however, did have its bright spots. While the UA offense had its troubles, the defense was impenetrable. "Desert Swarm" picked up the pieces all game long, allowing the Illini only three points while taking the offense's three turnovers in stride. The defense did not allow the big play the Illinois offense thrives on, and held Illinois to nine first downs while forcing them to punt 13 times.

Desert Swarm took an aggressive approach and gave the offense every chance to win the game. But the offense played scared, and being the NFL-bound bloodhounds they are, Rice and Hardy smelled the fear.

Arlie Rahn is a Wildcat sports reporter.

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