Arizona in search of team harmony and a quarterback - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Arizona in search of team harmony and a quarterback

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Posted: Sunday, August 10, 2003 4:19 am | Updated: 1:13 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.


This is the second in a series of stories previewing football teams in the Pac-10. Coming Monday: Oregon.

The quarterback situation at Arizona is unresolved and may stay that way well into September.

Sophomore Nic Costa and redshirt freshman Ryan O'Hara will split time in fall camp, coach John Mackovic said.

"Someone will emerge," the third-year coach insists, adding that he's opposed to playing both.

Whoever emerges will be trying to lead the Wildcats from the depths of a nightmarish season. You know the story of last year's player revolt, Mackovic's teary press conference in which he said he'd be less critical and the upheaval of the staff.

Arizona won only one Pac-10 game, and the offseason turmoil was enough for the league media to predict the team will stay there. Pac-10 publicist Jim Muldoon was quick to note that the league's history suggests that by being picked last, it is practically guaranteed UA won't finish there.

In other words, Arizona isn't Vanderbilt.

There was peace and harmony in UA football for the last month until outspoken senior tailback Clarence Farmer said he didn't plan to speak to Mackovic the entire season. Farmer was suspended from the program last winter for insubordination when he told Mackovic he hadn't changed as he said he would.

Farmer's explosive remarks mean UA football begins with the past still a part of the present.

The team's troubles can be managed if Arizona has some success. Having yet to play a game, the players are as optimistic as they are going to be.

"We want to move forward," said senior offensive tackle Brandon Phillips, the Corona del Sol graduate who quietly has emerged as one of UA's top players. "We came together pretty well. I was surprised at how productive spring practice was."

Like just about everyone else in the Pac-10, the ’Cats hope to establish a major-college running game. Arizona set all-time lows in rushing attempts (30 per game), yards per game (43.8) and average yards per rush (1.5).

During one stretch of the season, Arizona ran for 30, 24, 22, minus-17, minus-23, 12 and minus-5 yards. Adding it all up, that's 43 net yards over seven games.

For any offensive lineman with self-respect, those rushing totals have to be humiliating.

"It's embarrassing," Phillips said. "It does weigh on you."

New offensive line coach Mike Deal has made significant changes that Mackovic and Phillips believe will result in dramatic improvement.

"We're confident it will work even if the defense is stacked against it," Mackovic said. Particularly with the talented Farmer returning.

One of the Mackovic's coaching hires was Mike Hankwitz, who was an assistant at Arizona with Mackovic during the Jim Young heyday of the 1970s. Hankwitz prefers the 3-4 defense.

It has a chance to work if 300-pound nose tackle Carl Tuitavuki can plug up the middle, outside linebackers Andre Torrey and Marcus Smith can rush the passer, and either Joe Siofele or John McKinney become All-Pac-10 caliber inside linebackers.

Arizona is probably overscheduled for the program's stage of development. Playing Louisiana State, Oregon, Purdue and TCU in successive weeks after its opener against Texas-El Paso is not a schedule conducive for development.

By the time the ’Cats resume Pac-10 play at Washington State Oct. 4, the quarterback should be identified and UA fans will know if they should be optimistic about the second half of the season.

WILDCAT NOTES: UA is having academic issues this season with several players. Running back Beau Carr and wide receiver Andrae Thurman are still taking care of academic issues. Highly recruited wide receiver Marcus Thomas out of Tolleson failed to qualify academically and three JC transfers — tight ends Tommy Briggs and Ray Gurley and defensive back Ryan Patterson — have yet to be admitted.

UA's medical staff didn't clear reserves Juan Valentine (tight end) and Tim Volk (defensive end) to play because of injury. Volk, one of the top recruits two years ago, plans to transfer.

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