By Arlie Rahn
Arizona Daily Wildcat
This weekend might be the most important one of the season for the Arizona football team.
When the Wildcats (2-2 overall, 0-1 in the Pacific 10 Conference) host California (1-2) tomorrow, they will have everything to lose. A possible 0-2 start in the conference, with games against No.19 Oregon, UCLA, and No. 18 Washington still lingering, does not bode well for the struggling Wildcats.
"We need to scrounge up a win this weekend," UA head coach Dick Tomey said. "It's going to be tough. This Cal team reminds me a lot of Oregon last season. They had some tough games to begin the season but look to be improving."
Kickoff is at 3:38 p.m. The game will be televised by Prime Sports and broadcasted on KNST Radio (AM 790).
The rock of this Bear team is its defensive front, a unit that has compiled 27 tackles for losses in the last two games. Linemen Brandon Whiting and Regan Upshaw and outside linebacker Duane Clemons have combined for nine sacks in three games and have the ability to wreak havoc on Arizona's inexperienced offensive line.
"Cal might be the best defensive line that we've played against," Tomey said. "Their style is a little different from USC and ours because they tend to blitz a lot."
A key ingredient in their blitzing scheme is Clemons. He has been the most productive defensive player this season, with 31/2 sacks and six tackles for losses. And at the linebacker position, he gives opposing offenses something else to worry about.
"Duane allows us to put pressure on the quarterback from the linebacker spot as well as the line," Cal head coach Keith Gilbertson said.
The bad news for Arizona is that it will be facing the Cal defensive front without the services of offensive guard Frank Middleton. He sprained his knee against Illinois and is expected to be out for at least another week. With that in mind, senior center Mani Ott will have to continue to lead the shaky offensive line.
"Frank was becoming the best lineman we had before he got hurt," Tomey said. "But I think Mani Ott has been our most consistent guy."
And while the blitzing formations that the Bears utilize are different from any team the Wildcats have faced so far, UA offensive line coach Charlie Dickey said it is something the Wildcats can handle.
"(Cal) does blitz a lot, but they change it off and on depending on the game," Dickey said. "We feel we are prepared for them. You have to realize that it just doesn't get any easier."
The Wildcats' woes on offense have continued, with only one touchdown from their first-team offense in the last eight quarters. One factor that has hurt Arizona has been its running game. Since the Pacific win Sept. 2, the Wildcats have averaged just 2.3 yards per carry.
"We've realized we don't have the personnel to be a great running team," Tomey said. "But we're going to continue to rotate our backs."
The emergence of freshman Scooter Sprotte has added a glimmer of hope for the Arizona running game. Sprotte has averaged 6.7 yards on 10 carries and might help rejuvenate the ground attack.
"We plan on using Scooter Sprotte a little more against Cal," Tomey said. "So far, he has had 10 touches for around 10 yards each."
But the success of the team will again rest on senior quarterback Dan White, who Tomey said is coming off his toughest performance of the year. He has already thrown for seven touchdowns, but six of those came in the first two games.
Cal quarterback Pat Barnes has similar numbers (5 touchdowns and 735 yards in three games), but has been playing his best of late. He had three touchdowns against San Jose State after passing for a combined two against San Diego State and Fresno State. Junior Na'il Benjamin and senior Iheanyi Uwaezuoke give Barnes a pair of wide receivers as tough as their names. Uwaezuoke had a thumb injury and came off the bench last weekend. He should be close to 100 percent Saturday.
"I think as our receivers become healthier and our young line improves, Barnes' numbers will improve," Gilbertson said.
Trying to stop Barnes will be an Arizona defense that has been stingy on yards, but has forced only four turnovers in as many games.
"For the last year and a half, we've had a tough time forcing turnovers," Tomey said. "We can't really tell you what's wrong. That's a major area we stress at practice."
The UA will also be without starting strong safety Mikal Smith, who is out indefinitely with a fractured foot. Cornerback Rashee Johnson, who suffered a concussion last week, practiced and will likely play. Free safety Brandon Sanders is also hurting with a sprained shoulder and will probably not see much action against Cal.
These injuries will put more pressure on the defensive line to make things happen by rushing the quarterback.
"Arizona has a great defensive line," Gilbertson said. "It will be a big test for our young offensive line to see if they can neutralized them. We have tried to have a balanced attack with respect to running and passing, but I don't think their defense will allow us to do that."
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