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September 14, 2008

(at New Mexico 36, UA 28)

You knew it was there.

As positive as the news was out of training camp, as good as the team looked the first two games, as much as you wanted to believe that we were finally going to step out from the tunnel and into the sunlight…it was there. Way back in the corner of your mind, tucked away at the bottom of your fan heart, there was fear. Fear of something going wrong. Fear of nothing changing.

Fear of this game.

You would think we would have learned a lesson from last year’s loss to the Lobos. We had three turnovers last year; we had five turnovers this year. We gave up 327 yards passing last year; we gave up 221 yards rushing this year. Hail Mary to end the half one year; halfback pass to the quarterback the next. It was like the same game in a different time zone.

You want to top getting outscored 12-0 in the third quarter? How’s this for the start of the second half: 1. Devin Ross tackles his teammate on the kickoff return. 2. Nic Grigsby fumbles on the first play from scrimmage. 3. New Mexico runs it in from ten yards out on the very next play. So much for the first half being a wake-up call.

We’re way beyond wake-up calls. Either you wake up, or you’re dead. After every single one of these bad losses we thought the lesson was learned. Yet here we are again. They only let you re-take a test so many times. After a while you just flunk out.

The grades are not good. Our two oldest rivals are Arizona State and New Mexico. Our senior quarterback is now 0-5 against them. Let’s just give New Mexico the gun back. Maybe then we can go back to beating them again.

Another bit of advice: Ditch the white pants on the road. We’ve won four of our last six road games wearing blue pants but we haven’t won wearing white-on-white in three years. Logical? No. But give me more illogical wins, please.

Reality has checked in for another unwanted visit. I guess Idaho and Toledo really were that bad. Nic Grigsby isn’t going to be able to run around like he’s in a flag football game. Our defense isn’t going to shut anybody down. Our offense is still going to be mistake-prone. We’re still capable of losing at any time.

(At least ASU stinks too. No, it doesn’t change anything about our sorry performance. I’d rather both of us win than both of us lose. But if we’re going to lose to a Mountain West team as a 10-point favorite on the road, it’s much better if they lose to a Mountain West team as a 22-point favorite at home.)

So, here we go. From a relaxed confidence to do-or-die pressure in just one week. Our margin for error just got scattered all over I-25. As we said before the year started, we must win five of our first six games to have a realistic chance of getting to a bowl game. If you want to be generous and claim we can play like Maryland at home (we do have twice as many GRONK!s as they do) you can include the Cal game. But it’s a 5-2 record or bust.

At UCLA, vs. Washington, at Stanford, vs. Cal. Win three of them and hope carries on. Anything less and…let the Plan B-ing begin.

First up are the Bruins, fresh off their worst defeat in 79 years. They rushed for nine yards and scored zero points against their Mountain West opponent. In other words, they’re really looking forward to playing Arizona.

The Wildcats’ season isn’t over. A win in Pasadena improves things quick. But another loss and the ship starts taking on water in a big way. The pressure is on and, unfortunately, this program has not handled pressure well.

It sure would be nice if that has changed.

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