Withholding Judgment

September 24, 2006

(USC 20, at UA 3)

Judgment Day. And it has nothing to do with the University of Southern California.

As far as the USC game, we challenged them. Our defense played well. As soon as we stop missing tackles our D will be great.

Games like this are interesting in that no matter how low your expectations are going in, the minute something positive happens (or something negative doesn't happen) you start to get your hopes up. Then when you end up losing, you feel disappointed, even though it's exactly what you expected (or better).

To gain some perspective, here were my personal fan goals from last week:

-Do better than the LSU game. Check.
-Don't let your quarterback get hit in head a half dozen times. Five sacks, but none of the hits were as vicious as the ones in Baton Rouge. So, check.
-Don't try and tackle people with three fingers. Eh, incomplete.
-Score a touchdown. Oh well.

The game couldn't have started much better for us. We got the big special teams play we knew we'd need when Steptoe returned the opening kickoff 41 yards. A couple nice Jennings runs wrapped around a cool direct snap to Steptoe and we were all the way down to the USC 39. But an incomplete pass, stumbling quarterback, and bad screen later we were punting.

(By the way, how do you run a trick play on your second snap of the game and then try nothing else the rest of the way, especially when you're struggling on offense, and a monster upset is within reach? Quite curious.)

The Cats actually got into enemy territory on their first two possessions but failed to score or even pin the Trojans deep either time. Missed opportunities are certainly not an ingredient in the recipe for an upset.

Louis Holmes had the type of game that should get you fired up for what he can do the rest of the way. He had a nice tackle for loss on USC's attempted halfback pass (which I guess counts as a sack, so Holmes now has three in four games). Louis also applied the pressure on SC's first series that led to what should have been Ronnie Palmer's big interception return. On top of that Holmes swatted away a pass on third down, and recovered a fumble. Not a bad night's work for Big 1.

(Back to the halfback pass, the Trojans are a great team and see how even they use trick plays? The Pittsburgh Steelers are another trick-play team and that worked out pretty well for them last year. All hail the gimmicks.)

One surprising positive was our luck with the replay booth. The Cats were 3-for-3 on overturned calls, taking a TD and another reception away from them and giving us a sweet Mike Thomas sideline snag. Finally instant replay results a guy named Stoops can approve.

On top of the replay delays, since we've been so bad for so long I had forgotten how much network TV drags out a game. The most painful words to those of us in the stands weren't "fourth and 22" or "touchdown USC." They were "media timeout."

Random Trojan-envy thought of the week: You know you've got a tradition of football toughness when you can say John Wayne played for you.

A positive for us: There was some very un-USC-like play calling at the end of the first half. They got the ball with about two and a half minutes left and all three timeouts and proceeded to sit on their 3-0 lead with running plays. You can call it confidence that they'd take care of business in the second half. I'll call it respect for our D and fear that we'd pick off Booty again.

A big negative for us: We didn't convert our first third down until 1:09 left in the third quarter. Gotta gotta fix it.

That three-point halftime deficit sure looked pretty up on that scoreboard. My buddy pointed out that was the happiest we'll ever be about a team with 52 yards of total offense.

Pete Carroll made his typically excellent halftime adjustments and his team responded with an 80-yard TD drive to open the third quarter and they had all the points they would need. We never had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead the rest of the game.

The Wildcats avoided the shutout even though the USC coaches had to about tackle the referee to get a timeout called as Nick Folk was making a field goal. Isn't there some sort of "too many yelling men on the field" rule? Thankfully The Folk booted the next one even higher and just as straight to put the three on the board.

Embarrassing fact of the week: Arizona now has 23 fourth-quarter points this year, which already equals last year's total. When Folk's field goal went through the uprights, we also passed last year's 4th quarter point total against Pac-10 teams. Yeah, we were that bad. We got a safety against Stanford, and that's it. We didn't score ANY 4th quarter points on offense in Pac-10 games in 2005. No wonder we only won 3 games.

Bad: I think in the time he's missed, Willie has forgotten how un-tall Money Mike is. Tuitama aimed too high a couple times including the tipped ball that ended up intercepted.

Good: Thank you, Adam Austin, for throwing two passes to Terrell "One of the Ferraris" Reese. Hopefully he'll be ready to catch them against Washington.

Shameful: All the fans - I mean - people who show up at games, who left with six minutes remaining. This was when we were still within ten and before the fumbled punt. Yeah, the double-digit lead seemed like a triple-digit lead, but our guys played well enough to deserve support for the full sixty minutes.

Weird: I know they're talented, and I know they're going to win a lot of games, but it's a big step down from "Bush/Leinart" to "Moody/Booty."

Here's why I'm rooting against USC the rest of the way: I want to have hope. If they win the Pac-10 this year without Norm Chow, Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and LenDale White, the Pac-Other-9 are in real bad shape. Our only hope would then be to start a fund-raising campaign to get Pete Carroll back in the NFL. I'd definitely kick in the first dollar.

Even with the garbage time TD at the end, 20 points is the fewest USC has scored since September 21, 2002. I know Booty's not going to win the Heisman, but 20 might be the fewest they score all year. It's certainly something to proudly build on.

Playing well against USC doesn't do anything for our season goals however. It means absolutely nothing if we don't secure a victory this Saturday.

So here we are: Judgment Day 2006. Are we truly improved? Is this team better than Mike Stoops' pair of 3-8 teams? We'll find out this Saturday. The wait is over.

Beat Washington and we're halfway to a bowl bid and no one cares about losing to LSU or USC. Lose to Washington and a whole lot of worry starts spreading.

The problem is the Huskies don't have to answer the question: Ty Willingham has already proven they're better than last year. They already have more wins than last year. They already have as many conference wins as the last two years combined. With their victory over UCLA you could even argue they're the fourth best team in the league right now.

But they aren't USC, Oregon, or Cal, and that's why we should beat them in our building…if we're better than last year.

A loss this week wouldn't completely kill our bowl hopes, but it would leave them on life support, and needing a cure in the form of a couple roads wins in a hurry.

Washington, at UCLA, at Stanford, Oregon State, at Washington State. Five games in six weeks, and we absolutely have to win three of them if we want to play in December.

This team is now on trial. Let's hope the defense does not rest.

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