History suggests Arizona Wildcats’ football fate depends on kicking gameby Javier Morales on Jun. 12, 2013, under Sports
|The Arizona football team begins its 2013 season against Northern Arizona at Arizona Stadium on Aug. 30, which is 79 days away. From now until then, WILDABOUTAZCATS.net will count down the days with facts about the Wildcats, their players, coaching staff and opponents. This is not a ranking, only a list of 100 facts and observances related to the 2013 Arizona football team and coach Rich Rodriguez.||
With Arizona’s history, as kickers go, in most cases, so go the Wildcats.
Some of the UA’s best place-kickers — Max Zendejas, Gary Coston, Doug Pfaff and Steve McLaughlin — helped make the Wildcats winners with their game-winning heroics and production.
The Wildcats had a combined record of 91-52-7 when Zendejas, Coston, Pfaff and McLaughlin served as the placekickers from 1982-1994.
Arizona had only one losing season in the 13 seasons in which Zendejas, Coston, Pfaff and McLaughlin were the placekickers. That was in 1991 when the Wildcats finished 4-7 and McLaughlin was the kicker. McLaughlin, a freshman in 1991, tried only six field goals that season and made three.
That’s the least amount of attempts for a regular starting placekicker in the UA’s Pac-10/12 existence. It was the lowest since Mike DeSylvia went 3 for 7 in 1971.
Between 1995 and 2003 — a span of nine seasons — the Wildcats used 11 different kickers. The UA was 52-60 in that stretch.
The anomaly in that stretch was Arizona’s 12-1 season in 1998. Mark McDonald was 8 of 17 with his attempts.
The Wildcats’ offense did not have to rely on their kicking game for scoring that season. The UA rushed for 34 touchdowns behind Trung Canidate and Kelvin Eafon in 1998, the most rushing touchdowns in Arizona’s Pac-10/12 years. Quarterbacks Keith Smith and Ortege Jenkins also passed for 18 touchdowns.
Arizona’s 52 touchdowns in 1998 were 12 better than the previous high of 40 in 1997. The 34 rushing touchdowns in 1998 withstood Ka’Deem Carey’s 23-touchdown effort last season. The UA finished with 33 rushing touchdowns as a team in 2012.
While Arizona’s production in 1998 minimized the importance of McDonald’s kicking, the Wildcats’ lack of production in 2004-06 suffocated the impact of capable kicker Nick Folk.
Folk happened to play at a time when Mike Stoops attempted to bring the program back from the dead after John Mackovic was fired. Arizona went 12-22 during Folk’s years as the kicker. Folk was 30 of 44 in field goals and made 71 of 73 extra-point tries during that span. Meanwhile, the UA’s offense mustered only 69 touchdowns in those three years.
By comparison, Arizona scored 63 touchdowns last season.
Jason Bondzio followed Folk and was magnificent in 2007 and 2008. He was 35 of 42 (a school-record 83.3 percent) with his field-goal attempts and 92 of 93 in extra-point attempts. Bondzio’s efficiency helped propel Arizona to the Las Vegas Bowl in 2008, the Wildcats’ first bowl appearance in 10 years.
Then came the Alex Zendejas experiment in 2009 and 2010. What hurt Alex Zendejas the most was the easier kicks, a stark contrast from his uncle Max, who made long, pressure-filled kicks in his career. Alex Zendejas missed eight extra-point tries in his two years as the regular kicker, including the two infamous attempts in Arizona’s 30-29 loss to ASU in 2010 at Arizona Stadium.
Alex Zendejas was decent as a field-goal kicker, however, making 31 of his 41 attempts, a respectable 75.6 percent. That’s a higher percentage than Max Zendejas, who converted on 73.8 of his attempts. The elder Zendejas attempted many more field goals, however. He made 79 of 107 in his career.
With Alex Zendejas as the regular kicker Arizona went 15-11 and advanced to two bowl games.
John Bonano became the kicker in 2010 and 2011 and blossomed as a senior last year when the Wildcats finished 8-5 and won the New Mexico Bowl in Rich Rodriguez’s first year as head coach.
Bonano is now part of a trivia question along with Carey — What is the only pair of players in Arizona history to score more than 100 points in a season?
Carey, a consensus All-American, scored 24 total touchdowns to finish with 144 points, the second-most in single-season history behind Art Luppino’s 166 in 1954. Luppino scored the same number of touchdowns that season, but added 22 points via extra points as a kicker. Bonano finished with 14 made field goals, 58 extra-point kicks and one two-point conversion rush for a total of 102 points – the most in single-season history for a UA kicker.
Only three players, including Luppino in 1954, scored 100 points in a season for the Wildcats prior to 2012. The others are drop-kicker/receiver Harold “Nosey” McClellan, who led the nation in scoring with 124 points in 1921, and Bondzio, who tallied 100 in 2007.
Who’s next for Arizona in 2013?
Syracuse and Youngstown State transfer Jake Smith, a junior from Philadelphia, appears to be Rodriguez’s top choice heading into fall camp.
A couple of walk-ons will compete with Smith. Sophomore Casey Skowron (last season’s backup who was not utilized) and junior Alex Ragsdale, a transfer from Colorado State who is eligible this year.
Smith comes from good genes. His father, Mitchell Smith, played soccer at Stanford.
The younger Smith is healthy again after tearing his ACL last year. He underwent rehabilitation on the knee only six months before gaining full health.
“I’m pretty excited to be back this early,” he told Gimino in March. “I rehabbed twice a day for five months. It’s worked out. My knee feels great. I’m really confident in it right now. This is the time to make things count.”
History tells us that if Jake Smith makes things count, Arizona will be a winner.
WILDABOUTAZCATS.net publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes blogs for Lindy’s College Sports, TucsonCitizen.com and Sports Illustrated-sponsored site ZonaZealots.com.