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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Cats in critical condition against OSU

    Junior linebacker Marcus Hollingsworth lifts Oregon State senior wide receiver Ruben Jackson off the ground during Arizonas 29-27 win over the Beavers last October in Corvallis, Ore. The Wildcats will have to rely on a defense that gave up 654 yards and forced six turnovers against the Beavers last year while the offense rests on the shoulders of third-string quarterback Kris Heavner.
    Junior linebacker Marcus Hollingsworth lifts Oregon State senior wide receiver Ruben Jackson off the ground during Arizona’s 29-27 win over the Beavers last October in Corvallis, Ore. The Wildcats will have to rely on a defense that gave up 654 yards and forced six turnovers against the Beavers last year while the offense rests on the shoulders of third-string quarterback Kris Heavner.

    For the third consecutive week, a different starting quarterback will be under center for Arizona.

    This time, with starting quarterback Willie Tuitama out with a concussion and his backup, Adam Austin, sidelined with a left knee injury, the responsibilities will fall on the shoulders of senior Kris Heavner when the Wildcats (3-4, 1-3 Pacific 10 Conference) take the field during Family Weekend against Oregon State (3-3, 1-2) tomorrow at 4 p.m. at Arizona Stadium.

    For a team that threw the ball just four times after Austin went down in the second quarter last week, an adjustment will be made in the game plan.

    “”It’s going to be somewhat limited, but we’ve got to have enough in our package where we could give him some options,”” said UA head coach Mike Stoops, adding that the team could use 70 to 75 percent of its playbook with Heavner.

    “”The quality of reps, obviously, is something he lacks at this point,”” Stoops said, “”but we feel like if we build a solid game plan around him, we feel he can go out and execute the things that we expect him to do.””

    Heavner, who started 14 games as a true freshman and sophomore at Arizona before briefly transferring to Baylor two years ago, takes the reins after closing out the Wildcats’ 20-7 win over Stanford last week in relief of Austin.

    And, even though they’re now down to their third-string signal caller, it’s that experience that eases any doubts the Wildcats may have.

    “”Obviously, his past experience has helped him immensely,”” Stoops said. “”When his number was called, he was ready to play. I give him a lot of credit in that situation.””

    Added wideout Mike Thomas: “”He’s been there before, so just knowing that, it makes you confident that he knows where you’re going to be and where to put the ball.””

    Still, there is an adjustment period that comes with a third quarterback in three weeks.

    It affects those who catch his passes: “”Each quarterback has a different flight of the ball,”” said wideout Syndric Steptoe, who’s caught a pass in 24 straight games, “”so it’s more so getting the ball patterns down and getting used to catching those balls and the timing and release of his throws.””

    Those who receive his hand-offs: “”You’ve got to work on everything,”” said running back Chris Henry. “”Every quarterback is different, because they take different drops, they have different strengths and everything.””

    And those who protect him: “”It’s a different feel,”” center Blake Kerley said. “”You get used to running quarterback with a guy, and then he goes down. And then you get used to running with another quarterback, and then he goes down.””

    Then there’s the intangibles: “”It actually does play a factor, not really catching the football, but in the way that they present themselves – like snap count,”” said tight end Brandyn McCall. “”It’s all kind of different. So that took some getting used to during the game. I had to watch the ball a little bit more.””

    Heavner’s journey back to the starting role is an interesting one.

    After taking over for former quarterback Nic Costa four games into the 2003 season, he set UA freshman records with 1,501 yards passing, 101 completions and 237 attempts, and also threw for eight touchdowns, tying a freshman record.

    The next season – Stoops’s first – with the team sitting at 1-4 and trailing Oregon 28-0 in the fourth quarter, Heavner lost his starting job to former UA quarterback Richard Kovalcheck.

    After the season, he transferred to Baylor and took part in spring drills before transferring back to Arizona in the fall, where he attempted to make the UA baseball team as a pitcher. But it didn’t work out, and Heavner rejoined the football team last spring.

    “”He wanted to come back,”” Stoops said. “”It was important to him. If it was important to him, then why shouldn’t I? We all do things and make mistakes. It wasn’t the right decision to leave, but he realized that and came back.””

    Now, Heavner – who will be backed by redshirting freshman Tyler Lyon, and, if needed, Steptoe and fellow wideout Anthony Johnson – finds himself in a familiar place: in the spotlight, starting under center.

    “”I’ve been staying around for a while, just watching the guys play, just getting those repetitions in my head, getting it down,”” Heavner said. “”Timingwise, it’s all coming back pretty quick.””

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