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Not Great

October 27, 2008

(USC 17, at UA 10)

It’s not every day you get a chance to do something great.

Maybe next time will be greater.

USC came to down and we pulled out all the stops. Well, except for trick plays. Or a new uniform combination. But we did get our Hall of Fame basketball coach to retire and create a diversion.

[Much more on that little bit of news later. Only one disappointment at a time, please.]

Back to all-important color schemes: While it was jarring to see the red pants go down in defeat for the first time, you have to be smart with secret weapons. You’ve got to pick your spots. Frodo didn’t wear the ring all the time. Popeye didn’t eat spinach seven times a day. Houdini only let you rupture his appendix once.

Not only did the red pants fail but so did our taco quest. I refused to pay actual money for some after the game. My fear is that without the euphoria of free we would say to ourselves, “You know, these things don’t taste good at all.”

Some say we can feel good after this close loss, but that’s just not true anymore. It wasn’t true last year. (You can go back two years if you really want a moral victory, or three years ago when we were downright giddy.)

But today? It’s hard to feel good about any close loss after the earlier bad losses. When you beat the teams you’re supposed to beat it’s OK to lose the games you’re supposed to lose. You can only make up for bad losses with good wins.

2008 had a chance to go from Decent to Maybe Great but now we’re left with Maybe Next Year.

This weekend’s game was defined in the second quarter, a quarter that consisted of a total of three possessions. The first possession was the one where our only penalty of the game erased a 1st-and-goal at the USC one and caused us to settle for a field goal.

The next possession – USC’s only drive of the quarter – was a work of dominating art. Anybody can break a big play for a quick strike. But you gotta be really good to run 17 consecutive plays without a turnover, sack, or negative rushing play. Six first downs (three on third down) and the touchdown. Eighty yards in almost eight minutes. Wow.

Our response? The worst “five minute drill” in the history of football. It started out fine with four first downs moving the ball to the Trojan 33 but the clock was running and we were out of timeouts. Take your pick of the worst play from the ensuing sequence: Willie audibling to a running play, spiking the ball to set up a 3rd-and-11, completing a three-yard pass into the field of play, attempting a fire drill field goal from 48 yards out. USC owns the quarter and Arizona gives away seven points that would’ve come in just a little bit handy as the night wore on.

You just can’t beat USC with three first-half points. And yet, the Trojans tried to let us. Surprisingly it was the USC quarterback making the big mistake to start the third quarter. Even more surprisingly it was the Wildcats picking up the touchdown with five consecutive red zone runs.

USC’s response? Two more third-down conversions, four more first downs, 80 more yards, and the final points of the night.

Even with the Trojans missing a chip-shot field goal, even with our defense forcing two straight three-and-outs, even with the USC back fumbling deep in his own end, we couldn’t get it done. When it came down to money time, Southern California’s quarterback sneaks went for three yards, and Arizona’s went for negative three inches.

And then there were four teams left in the Pac-10 race. Sorry, we’re not one of them. I still like OSU’s chances at making a run. If they can keep their six-game home winning streak going and find a way to get a win at UCLA, we may get another crack at a first place team yet.

(By the way, check out this scenario: Both USC and OSU win out. The head-to-head tiebreaker puts the 9-3 Beavers in the Rose Bowl. The BCS computers take the Trojans from the Holiday Bowl to…the national championship game.)

As for our team, we’re back to where we were after the Stanford game. I’m hearing arguments on whether or not the new ceiling for this team is eight regular season wins, but I think seven is more reasonable when you factor in our steadfast inconsistency.

This feels like a really good time for a bye week. Take a break from the frustrations of Wildcat Football. Talk about New Coach Whatshisname in that other sport. Root for Whoever’s Playing ASU (55-day winning streak and counting!)

[Bonus WPASU note: The devils broke out poo-on-poo unis to try and break their streak. The results, not surprisingly, stunk.]

We’ll get back to trying to be great another time.

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