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Arizona football: Interception makes Wildcats' McKnight

2012-09-10T00:00:00Z 2012-09-10T16:31:54Z Arizona football: Interception makes Wildcats' McKnightRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
September 10, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Jonathan McKnight could sense it coming.

As the Arizona Wildcats cornerback lined up for a third-and-12 play early in Saturday's fourth quarter, he made his checks and secretly smiled. Arizona was playing "zero" coverage - man-to-man - and McKnight was inside of the receiver he was covering. The Wildcats called for a blitz against Oklahoma State's "empty" formation, meaning there was nobody in the Cowboys' backfield to help block.

Safety Tra'Mayne Bondurant rushed off the edge and OSU quarterback Wes Lunt panicked, winging the ball right to McKnight.

A few frantic seconds later, the UA cornerback was standing alone in the end zone with a 48-yard "pick-six" touchdown.

"I knew it," McKnight said. "I knew that either the quarterback was going to get sacked or he was going to throw it to somebody.

"I guess I was the one he threw it to."

The UA defense was far from stellar in Saturday night's 59-38 upset win over Oklahoma State at Arizona Stadium. The unit surrendered too many yards (636) and was too inconsistent (8 of 16) against the Cowboys' offense on third down.

But the Wildcats (2-0) forced turnovers when it mattered, and turned the takeaways into points. Arizona intercepted Lunt three times and forced one Oklahoma State fumble in its most dominant turnover performance in years.

The UA finished plus-4 on turnovers, its best single-game showing since forcing five turnovers - and committing none -in an Aug. 30, 2008 rout of Idaho.

Here's a look at the Wildcats' four takeaways, and how they shaped the first big win of the Rich Rodriguez era:

Takeaway No. 1: Fischer's fumble recovery

• The situation: The Wildcats were trailing 14-7 in the first quarter when linebacker Jake Fischer stripped running back Joseph Randle and recovered the fumble. Arizona took over on Oklahoma State's 29.

• And then … Aided by another OSU personal foul penalty, Arizona drove to the Cowboys' 4-yard line before settling for a field goal. John Bonano's 22-yard attempt was good, and the Wildcats cut the deficit to 14-10. Fischer, who finished with a game-high 14 tackles, said the turnovers "really helped" spark the upset.

"Our offense really couldn't stay out of the end zone. … They won us the game, but we made some big plays," Fischer said. "As long as we put the ball in our offense's hands, we know we can win games."

Takeaway No. 2: Tevis' first interception

• The situation: Oklahoma State was driving at the end of the first half, trailing the UA 23-14, when Lunt threw deep into Arizona territory looking for a score. The Wildcats' Jared Tevis picked the ball at the 9-yard line, ending the drive with 1:44 left in the second quarter.

• And then … The Wildcats ran the ball five consecutive times, milking the clock and ending the half. The UA scored 30 consecutive points after trailing 14-0 in the first quarter.

Takeaway No. 3: McKnight picks for six

• The situation: Arizona was leading 37-31 with 10:24 remaining in the game when McKnight gave the team some much-needed separation. McKnight's pick and 48-yard interception return for a touchdown put the Wildcats up by 12; the lead grew to 14 when Matt Scott found Taimi Tutogi for a two-point conversion pass. The interception was McKnight's first as a college player; he played sparingly as a true freshman in 2010, and missed all of last season after undergoing knee surgery.

He picked a good time to arrive.

"Without question, that was the play of the game," Rodriguez said.

• And then … The Wildcats and Cowboys traded punts, running a combined 3:04 off the clock. But Arizona's defense wasn't done.

Takeaway No. 4: A second for No. 38

• The situation: Arizona led 45-31 with 6:09 remaining when Tevis struck again. The former Canyon del Oro High School star caught a deflected Lunt pass and returned it 32 yards to the Cowboys' 33.

"I was able to be in the right place at the right time," Tevis said. "It's a great feeling to be able to put the offense back on the field."

• And then … Arizona's offense put the game away. Ka'Deem Carey ran 25 yards for a score on the UA's third play, giving the Wildcats a 52-31 edge that held.

They can thank McKnight, and an opportunistic defense.

"We said it early on: We're going to win this dogfight," Tevis said. "It was just great to see (McKnight) run down the sideline."

Up next

• What: S. Carolina St. at Arizona

• When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

• TV: Pac-12 Arizona: Comcast (Ch 103); Cox (Ch 75); Dish Network (Ch 445); DirecTV, not available

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Sp)

Win over Cowboys puts 'relevant' Cats in top 25 for First time since 2010

It didn't take long for the Arizona Wildcats to get noticed after their stunning upset of Oklahoma State.

The UA was ranked 24th in the latest Associated Press poll, released Sunday morning. The Wildcats are one of five Pac-12 programs in the Top 25: USC (2nd), Oregon (4th), Stanford (21st) and UCLA (22nd) are the others. Arizona State and Oregon State appeared in the "others receiving votes" category.

The ranking is Arizona's first since Nov. 22, 2010.

The Wildcats (2-0) scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns Saturday on the way to a 59-38 dismantling of then-No. 18 Oklahoma State at Arizona Stadium. The win was the biggest of the Rich Rodriguez era, and the Wildcats' first against a ranked team since Sept. 18, 2010, when they defeated Iowa at home. The UA had lost six straight against Top 25 teams before Saturday's win.

Quarterback Matt Scott said Saturday that the win "makes us relevant." The UA is also ranked 25th in the coaches' poll.

"A lot of people out there think we're not relevant at all," Scott said. "To be relevant again, you need to beat a ranked team."

Ryan Finley

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