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Rocket Down

September 8, 2008

(at UA 41, Toledo 16)

How great is it that a 25-point win is a letdown?

If we had won 41-16 on opening night it would’ve been cause for celebration. But after the Cats put up ten touchdowns in week one, you can’t blame the crowd for being a little ho-hum after only half that.

The electricity just wasn’t there at the Stadium. Maybe it’s because there wasn’t any actual electricity flashing across the sky. We went from wet and shivery last week to hot and sweaty this week. Unless the person next to you was really attractive, it wasn’t a good combination.

The other thing that caused murmurs was Toledo was challenging enough to provide glimpses of last year for the Wildcat faithful. Our wide receivers are susceptible to drops, bobbles and fumbles. We are prone to red zone struggles. Our pass rush isn’t dominant. Our defensive backs will miss tackles in space.

But finding those warts early is good. It’s good to have coaching opportunities on film. It’s good to be able to identify areas of improvement. And it’s great to be able to do it and still win by 3.5 touchdowns.

That’s the thing. Even with the inferior opponents, even with this week’s sloppiness, the last two games are still the best “easy” games of the Stoops era. We’re winning in ways we haven’t won in the past four years.

For example, we’re giving to the ball to a running back, and he’s actually running. Forward. For positive yards. We’re gaining yards between the tackles, even in short-yardage situations. Yes, Nic Grigsby will always be a better outside runner, and the jury is still out on the Cats being able to pick up tough yards in crunch time. But isn’t that a lot better than saying, “Don’t waste any more time working on the power running game. It stinks. It’s going to keep on stinking,” which is exactly what I said after the NAU game last year?

In case you’re wondering, Grigsby’s five rushing TDs give him a nice head start toward Art Luppino’s single-season school record of 21 set in 1954. If Nic gets anywhere near that it’s going to be a very good year.

In other statistical news, after a modest 28 yards last week it was good to see TuiThomas back in full force. With nine receptions for 138 yards, the pair has now connected for over 1,900 yards and 16 scores, proving the senior duo remains Open Saturdays From 7 to 10.

But the best part of all was when point number 33 went on the board to the delight of many hungry-but-cheap fans. There was a moment of tension after a flag was thrown but then the ref said the words we all longed to hear: “Offsides, defense. That penalty is declined. The result of the play… Tacos.”

Now our Wildcats hit the road for the first time and meet the team that brought an end to optimism a year ago. Uh oh, Lobo.

Quick trivia question: What are New Mexico’s school colors? If you said silver and red, you’re only half right. The official answer is silver and cherry. Do you really want your uniforms to be the color of the most common flavor of cough syrup?

What you don’t want is to face a team with extra motivation and New Mexico has plenty of it. They’re 0-2. They’re a mid-major playing a team from a BCS conference. We have the gun they rightfully own.

It’s an interesting southwestern relationship. Our states share 370 miles of border. We were admitted to the Union a month apart. We have similar roots but things have changed a lot over the years.

The two states are almost the same size geographically but more than three times as many people live here. Half the year both states are in the same time zone but during the other half we like to hang out with those cool kids on the West Coast.

From a college sports standpoint UA and UNM were founding members of the Border Conference in 1931 and the two schools teamed up again to start the Western Athletic Conference three decades later. But that second affiliation lasted just a dozen years before Arizona led the charge toward joining the Pac-8.

So the Lobos look at us as only a former peer can. No elite bowl games. No Final Fours. Just the knowledge that once upon a time we were in the same place. We’re the Simon to their Garfunkel, the Sting to their Andy Summers, the Justin Timberlake to their J.C. Chasez.

How about we beat them this time?

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