TUCSON - It should come as no surprise that Arizona coach Mike Stoops managed to right a sinking defensive ship during his first season atop the Wildcats’ program.
Despite finishing just 3-8, the Wildcats were in the middle of the pack or better in nearly every defensive statistical category last season under Stoops, who owns a national championship ring from his days heading Oklahoma’s defense.
It shouldn’t be shocking either that Stoops, an All-American safety during his playing days at Iowa, has also developed a pair of All-America candidates in the process in sophomore Antoine Cason and senior Darrell Brooks. Coincidently, both are also defensive backs.
Naturally then, it would make sense that Stoops and offensive coordinator Mike Canales have just one way to improve the second-worst offense in Division I-A.
"The model for our offense is to play with a defensive mentality," Canales said. "Our head coach is a defensive guy and we need to take his personality on the offensive side of the ball."
That, to Canales, means getting more physical play out of the team’s backs and receivers. Wideout B.J. Vickers, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound junior-college transfer should help, while senior running back Mike Bell looks toward finally breaking the 1,000-yard mark after backto-back 900-plus-yard campaigns.
"The defense is always going to be ahead of the "O." There’s only so much that we can do, but they have to get their timing down," said Brooks, a three-year starter at safety and returning captain. "They make us better. Hopefully we test them enough that we make them better."
ONES TO WATCH
Mike Bell, Gilbert Harris, Chris Henry, RBs: Arizona’s three leading rushers from 2004 all return, giving the Wildcats depth with this three-headed monster. After running for 920 yards in 2003, Bell finished last season with 950. Reaching 1,000 yards might not be easy for Bell, if only because, according to UA coaches, any of the three could be "the guy" at any time.
Richard Kovalcheck, QB: Kris Heavner was listed in this spot last season; he’s since transferred to Baylor and most recently returned to Tucson to try his hand at making the UA baseball team. Over the past two seasons, four quarterbacks have started for Arizona. All but Kovalcheck have since left the UA team. Walk-on Adam Austin and stud recruit Willie Tuitama are waiting if Kovalcheck falters.
B.J. Vickers, WR: A transfer from Santa Monica (Calif.) College, Vickers is expected to start immediately, joining 2004 leading receiver and kick returner Syndric Steptoe, deep threat Mike Jefferson and freshman speedster Michael Thomas as Kovalcheck’s top big-play targets. Vickers will be expected to help resurrect the Wildcats’ anemic offense, one that finished second to last (to Washington) in the nation in points scored per game last year.
Darrell Brooks, FS: Brooks, entering his fifth season with the Wildcats, has seen it all since he arrived in Tucson: five quarterbacks, three head coaches, and — most importantly — four straight losing seasons. Now a public administration graduate student after earning his psychology degree in December, Brooks and fellow DBs Antoine Cason, Lamon Means and Wilrey Fontenot are the heart and soul of Stoops’ defense, if not the entire team.
DID YOU KNOW ? -
Not including a year away from the college game between his playing days at Iowa and the beginning of his coaching career at his alma mater, second-year UA coach Mike Stoops has never failed to make a bowl game in back-to-back seasons.
A year after switching from white helmets to blue, Nike and UA have introduced new Wildcat jerseys based on those worn by the Miami Hurricanes. Arizona has added a red third jersey to their traditional blue-and-white uniforms.
Arizona has played in the Rose Bowl stadium 13 times, most recently a 37-17 loss to UCLA last season, but the Wildcats are the only Pac-10 team never to play in the Rose Bowl game, traditionally held on New Year’s Day. Dick Tomey, the winningest coach in the history of both the Arizona and Hawaii football programs, rejoins the head coaching ranks this season, taking over at San Jose State.
Richard Kovalcheck, 6-2, 215, So. Adam Austin, 6-3, 215, Jr.
Mike Bell, 6-0, 215, Sr. Gilbert Harris, 6-1, 225, Sr. Chris Henry, 6-0, 220, So.
Pedro Limon, 6-0, 249, Sr. Paul Nichols, 6-3, 240, Jr.
B.J. Vickers, 6-2, 220, Jr. Anthony Johnson, 6-2, 210, So. B.J. Dennard, 6-0, 180, So.
Syndric Steptoe, 5-9, 184, Jr. Mike Jefferson, 6-2, 202, Jr. Michael Thomas, 6-0, 170, Fr.
Brandyn McCall, 6-5, 256, Jr. Brad Wood, 6-3, 240, Jr.
Peter Graniello, 6-6, 280, So. Bill Wacholz, 6-6, 290, Fr.
John Abramo, 6-4, 296, Sr. Dillon Hansen, 6-4, 300, Fr.
Kili Lefotu, 6-4, 290, Sr. Erick Levitre, 6-1, 295, Jr.
Joe Longacre, 6-3, 290, Fr. Eddie Rollman, 6-4, 288, Fr.
Tanner Bell, 6-8, 292, Sr. Brad Brittain, 6-6, 280, Sr.
Marcus Smith, 6-4, 265, Sr. Jason Parker, 6-3, 255, So.
Byron Smith, 6-2, 295, Jr. Yaniv Barnett, 6-1, 265, So.
Paul Philipp, 6-3, 280, Jr. Lionel Dotson, 6-4, 270, So.
Copeland Bryan, 6-4, 240, Sr. Johnathan Turner, 6-3, 255, Fr.
Ronnie Palmer, 6-2, 229, Fr. Akin Akinniyi, 6-0, 230, Jr.
Randy Sims, 5-11, 230, Sr. Sean Jones, 6-0, 230, Sr.
Dane Krogstad, 6-3, 240, So. John McKinney, 6-0, 230, Jr.
Wilrey Fontenot, 5-10, 180, So. Dramayne McElroy, 5-10, 175, Jr.
Antoine Cason, 6-0, 170, So. Michael Beach, 6-0, 188, So.
Lamon Means, 6-3, 210, Sr. Michael Johnson, 6-3, 195, Jr.
Darrell Brooks, 6-1, 192, Sr. Dominic Patrick, 6-1, 198, So.
Nick Folk, 6-1, 204, Jr.
Danny Baugher, 5-10, 202, Sr.
Date Opponent Time
9/2 at Utah 5 p.m.
9/10 NAU 7 p.m.
9/17 Purdue 7 p.m.
10/1 at California 3:30 p.m.
10/8 at USC 12:30 p.m.
10/15 Stanford 4 p.m.
10/22 Oregon 4 p.m.
10/29 at Oregon St. 1 p.m.
11/5 UCLA 4 p.m.
11/12 Washington 1 p.m.
11/25 at ASU 1 p.m.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
Sept. 2 at Utah: Forget that Alex Smith and Urban Meyer are gone. A UA win over the Fiesta Bowl champion at raucous Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, in front of a national audience on ESPN, would be a great recruiting tool and even better momentum.
Sept. 17 vs. Purdue: If the Wildcats are 2-0 when they welcome the slightly revamped Boilermakers to Tucson, this game takes on much greater meaning with Cal and USC up next on the UA slate. Purdue might be eyeing a BCS bowl; UA could be eyeing a winning season.
Nov. 12 vs. Washington: This could be the anti-Purdue matchup for the Wildcats, who, pending early-season results, could need a win over the Huskies — once again — to simply salvage their season and stay out of the Pac-10 basement.
Nov. 25 at ASU: It’s an entirely different game in an entirely different yard this season. Bowl eligible or not, the Wildcats will be out to duplicate last year’s success in the Territorial Cup showdown, this time in Tempe. ASU likely won’t be fooled again by a UA offense returning most of its 2004 lineup.