What I’m about to write is going to seem incredibly naïve but I assure you that if you follow Arizona football as close as I do you’ll know that it isn’t.
If Arizona could find a way to not have to play Arizona every week, they just might win. This is not a knock on our opponents. After all, they’ve done an excellent job of beating Arizona too.
In fact, if this season has proven anything Arizona is just not ready to beat the quality of teams we’ve faced this season.
BYU physically dominated Arizona on both sides of the ball.
New Mexico’s offense ate our defense alive with some fava beans and a bottle of chianti.
Cal was just flat out better than Arizona in all facets of the game.
Oregon State’s defense manhandled our offense and their own offense found a way to score enough points early to not have to do much late besides run time off the clock.
These teams all beat Arizona. They did. But they also had a lot of help – from Arizona.
As for USC, well, with their entire team depleted by injury and their sidelines looking more and more like a triage center as the game wore on, the Trojans backups did their part in playing poorly enough to give Arizona a chance to win but the Wildcats were just too stubborn Saturday.
They just wouldn’t take winning for an answer.
Instead of playing to win the Wildcats again played not to lose. After four years with Mike Stoops running the show, the USC game felt exactly like the 9-7 loss to Wisconsin in 2004, the 31-24 loss to Purdue in 2005 and the 28-14 loss to Arizona State in 2006.
For three quarters, Arizona took the game to USC. Sure, they misfired on some plays, made some mistakes, had a few costly penalties, missed a handful of tackles, had some fumbles, and so forth. But that’s football. Plus, the Trojans were also making the same mistakes and at least up to that point, Arizona’s effort and enthusiasm were better and hence they had the lead.
Then Arizona got conservative and the game was lost. Suddenly, their mistakes became more magnified than USC’s. The Trojans began to step outside their shadows and make plays. First it was little used Joe McKnight returning a punt 45-yards to the Arizona 25-yard line. Then it was a struggling Sanchez coming of age and hitting a streaking Fred Davis over the middle for the go ahead touchdown.
Just like that the Trojans had the lead 17-13. Just like that the game was over.
Arizona would get two more offensive possessions. They would run a total of eight plays for 11 net yards. No first downs. No real threats. Just out there, you know, doin’ whatever. That’s how over!
Shocked. Not really.
Under Stoops, this unfortunately is Arizona football. If it’s a coaching gaff on one play, then it’s a player missing a read or a tackle on the next. It’s a comedy of errors with one major problem. No one is laughing anymore.
What’s most frustrating is Stoops, his coaches nor any of his players can seem to provide any sort of reasonable explanation for why Arizona is struggling to win. We can all see it happening, but no one can seem to provide the reason why. That’s not good because how can you fix a problem when you can’t pinpoint what the problem is?
Stoops and his various coaching staffs have done an incredible job in recruiting. I’ve never seen so many gifted athletes on a single Arizona team.
They’ve done an excellent job in conditioning these players to succeed. I’ve never seen a collection of bigger, stronger and faster Wildcats on a single Arizona team.
They’ve done a great job in implementing a high octane offense. I’ve never seen more big plays bundled together in single games before.
They’ve done a great job in improving how the team practices and at the tempo in which they move from drill to drill.
But here’s the problem. They don’t play like they practice. Instead of doing the little things to win games, they always seem to do just enough of the wrong things to lose.
The offsides or face mask penalty that gives an opponent a first down. The timeout early in the half because play calling isn’t reaching the huddle fast enough. Delay of game penalties for the same reason. Causing an interception only to fumble the ball back to the opponent - on the same play. Benching our best players for making a single mistake. Yelling at players - when they’ve done something good. Misfiring on wide open receivers. Dropping easy passes for touchdowns. Running routes and throwing short of first down markers. Throwing deep when only two yards is what you need for a first down. Playing great defense for 52 minutes, only to allow an opponent to go on a 15-play, 93-yard, clock-consuming scoring drive at the one point in the game when a stop was needed most. Stomping on the LSU Tiger during pre-game warm ups (I’ll never forget that one for as long as I live).
Some are performance mistakes. Some are coaching mistakes. Some are mental mistakes. Some are just other teams – better teams – forcing Arizona into these mistakes.
The problem isn’t that they’re being made. The problem is after four years they aren’t being corrected.
The real problem, though, is I’m starting to think they can’t be.