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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Wildcats set to claw with Cougars

    Syndric Steptoe takes it to the house on a 63-yard punt return in Arizonas 52-14 drubbing of UCLA on Nov. 5 at Arizona Stadium. The Wildcats will need Steptoe to step up if Arizonas attack can keep up with Brigham Youngs high-powered offense.
    Syndric Steptoe takes it to the house on a 63-yard punt return in Arizona’s 52-14 drubbing of UCLA on Nov. 5 at Arizona Stadium. The Wildcats will need Steptoe to step up if Arizona’s attack can keep up with Brigham Young’s high-powered offense.

    Arizona football head coach Mike Stoops has dealt with a number of obstacles to success during his two-year tenure, but none were more frustrating than his players’ propensity for shooting themselves in the foot.

    The Wildcats were on the wrong side of the turnover margin in seven of their 11 games last season, which directly contributed to all five of their losses by a touchdown or less.

    At Utah in last year’s season opener, two lost fumbles and an interception return for a touchdown contributed to a 17-point second-half deficit Arizona couldn’t quite overcome, as it lost 27-24.

    The Wildcats get another crack at opening against a Mountain West Conference team when they begin their 2006 slate against pass-happy Brigham Young tomorrow at 7:15 p.m. at Arizona Stadium, and Stoops said he hopes his team has finally learned from its past mistakes.

    “”That’s something we’ve really talked about this camp and since last year, protecting the football,”” he said. “”I think we’re good enough defensively. I think we have a sharp kicking game. We just have to protect the football and not take chances and put ourselves in bad situations. That’s really cost us some opportunities to win games.””

    Arizona can’t afford to waste possessions against the Cougars’ high-powered attack.

    Senior quarterback John Beck put on an aerial show in leading BYU to its first bowl-game appearance in four years last season. He threw for 3,709 yards and 27 touchdowns, and his 309.1 passing yards per game last season ranked fifth in the nation.

    Even worse for the Wildcats, his weapons are plentiful.

    Senior running back Curtis Brown finished second on the team with 53 receptions last year and rushed for a team-high 16 touchdowns. He joins tight ends Daniel Coats and Jonny Harline in an offense that likes to hit every part of the field.

    That will put the onus on a defense that, in terms of talent and experience, is arguably the best Stoops has fielded as a head coach.

    “”We got to mix things up well and have enough things that we can go to and try to disguise them and confuse (them) a little bit,”” Stoops said. “”And, obviously, having position on the ball defensively is going to be key. That’s where they break a tackle and they get a big gain, and those are things that are going to be important throughout the game.””

    To put as much pressure on Beck as possible, Stoops said he will use a six- to seven-man rotation on the defensive line.

    The move is meant to emphasize the team’s best pass rushers – including redshirt senior Marcus Smith and junior-college transfer Louis Holmes, both defensive ends – and generally keep players fresh from start to finish.

    Smith, who finished only the Utes game last season before going down with a season-ending ankle injury the following week, said the playing time at the defensive end spot given to sophomore Johnathan Turner and junior Jason Parker in his absence will enhance the line’s efforts to neutralize Beck.

    “”It’s kind of similar to when Utah had (2005 No. 1 NFL draft pick) Alex Smith,”” Smith said. “”He had a good arm and was very mobile. Our defensive line had to be aware of where he was on the field so he couldn’t escape and make plays with his feet. It’s going to be a good challenge for us.””

    When in doubt, the Wildcats can take solace in what is expected to be a sellout crowd at Arizona Stadium.

    “”It’s going to be home-field advantage, the crowd’s going to be very loud – it’s going to be hard for them,”” said junior cornerback Antoine Cason. “”I know they’re going to be preparing for that, but you can’t prepare for 60,000 people with speakers on your practice field. It’s instrumental to our win. We need to get it.””

    Cason said the team’s errors have been harped upon long enough and that a good performance this weekend would go a long way toward reversing an ignominious trend.

    “”This is the year we need to get over that hump and stop talking about the past and how we didn’t get it done,”” he said. “”We need to get it done, and I think we’re that type of team now.””

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