December 3, 2007

(at ASU 20, UA 17)

At least it didnít rain.

This was my first trip to see a game behind enemy lines and it was a great time until the scoreboard clock hit zero and we didnít have enough points. In between shivering and hoping the airplanes wouldnít land on us I did my best to understand Sun Devil culture.

You would think after a game in which the home team only trailed about half a quarter you would hear at least one person singing said home teamís fight song. But the only thing any of them know is the three ASUís during the bah-BAH-bah, bah-BAH-bah, BAH-bah-BAH part.

As for our Cats, I say thank you for going down fighting. Thank you for giving it your all. Thank you for wearing the blue pants.

But I gotta ask: 16 days to prepare and not one trick play? Attempting to kick a field goal without a holder doesnít count.

The big plays eluded us all night long. We forced a fumble on the second snap of the game but didnít get anything out of it, and ASU didnít turn it over the rest of the way. The difference in the first half (and quite possibly the game) was we dropped our interception in the end zone and they didnít.

Speaking of drops, the problems we thought our wide receivers had left behind returned at the very worst time. But, hey, we own 2nd-and-24.

After all that, Arizona only trailed by three late in the game. With five minutes left the Wildcat defense forced a 3rd-and-5 at midfield. We jumped the short route and got pressure up the middle so Rudy Carpenter had to scramble to his right. He threw a pass up for grabs and Brent Miller pulled it down over Antoine Cason. I liked Matt Miller a lot better.

The UAís senior-led defense did its job. The 20 points was ASUís lowest output of the year and 13 points fewer than their season average coming in. The simple fact is their defense beat our offense. They didnít give us anything on the ground and they took away the middle of the field in the passing game. They dared us to throw the low-percentage deep passes on the outside, and we did, completing a very low percentage, since zero is a low percentage.

Mike Stoops has joined an exclusive club and unfortunately itís exclusively bad. We mentioned last time that the last coach to lose three straight to ASU was Bob Weber in the WAC days. He lost a fourth consecutive rivalry game in 1972 and was replaced. Weber resurfaced as the head coach at Louisville eight years later, but never once had a winning season.

Only one other football coach in the history of our great school lost three straight games to Arizona State: Bob Winslow from 1949 to 1951. He too was shown the door and was never a head coach again. Iím not giving up on Coach Stoops, but history isnít exactly on his side. He may want to get this list turned upside down:

Stoopsí record (and current streak) vs. each Pac-10 team
WSU 2-1 (W2)
Ore 2-2 (W2)
UCLA 2-2 (W1)
Wash 2-2 (W1)
Stan 1-2 (L1)
Cal 1-3 (L1)
OSU 1-3 (L2)
ASU 1-3 (L3)
USC 0-4 (L4)

When youíre not getting it done against the best team and the least liked team, youíre just not getting it done. Forget the bragging rights stuff; the Territorial Cup game is vital because itís your last game of the year. Four times during this decade of despair have we gone into the ASU game needing a win to secure a bowl berth, and four times we have failed.

Then again, maybe itís me. When I started doing this writing thing we had a coach who was undefeated against ASU. Now weíre on our longest losing streak in the series in 30 years and I have three of these.

Once again itís time to do a season recap way too soon. Remember the ďPlay Arizona, Make HistoryĒ trend? Sure enough, BYU is riding a ten-game winning streak, and New Mexico is one home-bowl win away from their first nine-win season in a decade. Crank up that PR machine, Toledo.

How about our old friend sack margin? We did make progress in reducing last yearís 16 sack deficit a net loss of four sacks. Sadly we gave up the exact same number of sacks as last year (31). The good news is the sack-per-pass ratio went down (we attempted a lot more passes) and the hits werenít nearly as violent.

So now that we succeeded in keeping Willie Tuitama upright for an entire season, how do we go about getting him to make a Dennis Dixon-like leap next year from Decent College Quarterback to Heisman Contender? Any chance we can have Willie play minor league baseball this summer?

Speaking of #7, he set the UA single season records for completions, yards and touchdown passes. How many decades have we been saying that all we needed was a quarterback? Now weíve finally got one and we still finish 5-7. Ah, Arizona Football.

Where does this leave us? Thereís not much more to say than what was said at this time last year. Just replace an experienced defense with an experienced offense and hope away.

You canít deny Stoopsí teams get better as the year goes on. Every year the team improves and becomes downright dangerous by the end of the season. The problem is all the growth seems to disappear as soon as the games end and we start over at bad the following fall. If your optimism glands are still working, imagine a UA team starting mediocre-to-OK and then improving as the year goes on. Next year?

For now itís on to the next sport. It was nice of Kevin OíNeill to hold off on winning big games until we were done with football. Feel free to keep that up now that weíre all paying attention.

And enjoy the lack of rain.

Back to the UA Sports index
Dang Fun Home