This was the game we were waiting for. We wanted to see what the 2006 Arizona Football Wildcats really looked like. We wanted the truth.
The truth hurts.
The agony started early. On our first possession Mike Thomas dropped a third down pass that hit him right in his hands that would've been an easy first down. On Washington's first possession Marcus Hollingsworth dropped a pass that hit him right in his hands that would've been an easy touchdown.
"Missing" was certainly the theme of the night. When we were backed up deep in our own end during the first half the play was right in front of me. I helped Willie identify the corner blitz coming from the left (we're tight like that) and he checked to the proper play. Mike Thomas beat the safety deep down the sideline, but Tuitama didn't put enough air under the ball and he overthrew his receiver. I can only do so much.
You know it's bad when after UW takes a 7-3 lead you think, "Great, now we need two more field goals."
The Wildcat defensive backs were getting juked badly all night long. I thought the refs were going to flag us for too many jocks on the field.
We shut out Washington for three of the four quarters. Heck, we shut them out the first 24 minutes and the last 30 minutes. They did all their scoring in 5 minutes and 45 seconds. That's not even enough time to warm up a can of SpaghettiOs.
For the second straight year Washington sucked the life out of our team right before the half. This time around they were gracious enough to take two plays to go the length of the field instead of one. Could someone please tell our secondary to BACK UP?
We got a couple first downs on our initial drive of the second half and it confused the sideline crew so much they got the chains all tangled. They were just as stunned as we fans were.
But then reality struck…again. On first and goal from the 4 we lose 4 yards on an inside running play. An inside running play. On second and goal from the 8 we take a 16-yard sack. A 16-yard sack. The best part was we faked a handoff. Like we were really going to run again.
Then on third and goal from 24 (from the 24) we actually get a receiver open behind the defense, Willie throws a perfect pass, and Steptoe misses it. Right through his hands. And, naturally, we then miss the field goal. That's all you really need to know about our point-scoring prowess right there.
Good fans: Sticking around for the second half. I thought they were going to pull an ASU and disappear at halftime, but most everyone came back.
Bad fans: Throwing water bottles and mini-footballs on the field after the second half pass interference call. I know it was a bad call but there's never an excuse for acting like a moron. To make matters worse, the officials ended up reversing the call so the idiots think they accomplished something. The refs better duck the first time they call something against the home team in the Oregon State game.
Missing fans: I expect there to be plenty of legroom in three weeks.
Since we're complaining, you out-of-state folks should consider yourselves lucky that you haven't seen the Mike Stoops/Son of Jim Click TV commercial. We love you, Coach, but the classic car in the background is the liveliest character on the screen.
At least our second favorite team has been playing well. Whoever's Playing ASU won the last two weeks by a combined score of 97-34. It doesn't make our team any better, but it saves us from some extra headaches. I think both sides of the rivalry should just mope in silence.
Those of you saying, "At least we'll beat Stanford" need to think again. The worst team in the league almost always wins one conference game. Washington beat us last year. We beat Washington in 2003. Stanford beat us in 2002. So chances are Stanford is going to beat somebody this year. And guess which game they now have circled.
At least we got our first cheerleader flamingo-standing victory of the year. That's right, Husky cheer team, we own you and your six-person travel squad.
I know the math says a bowl bid is still possible, but this game meant a lot more than just a number in the loss column. As I said in the season preview winning a game doesn't suddenly make you better. Winning proves you are better. And we proved we're still not better than Washington.
Adding to the frustration is the insta-rebuilding job being shoved in our faces by the UW coach. Tyrone Willingham inherited a 1-10 team. His best player was a quarterback who couldn't throw straight. He went 2-9 last year with only one conference victory (another big sigh). Now he's 4-1, his QB looks like Vince Young with dreadlocks, he might hit the Top 25, and he'll probably have a bowl bid secured by Halloween. Ty has already locked up the Pac-10 Coach of the Year award and he looks to be well on his way to building his second Rose Bowl team. Well done, sir.
So what about the Arizona Wildcats? What on earth is going on?
Our defense gets a pass because it's clearly better than it was three years ago. That cannot be denied. In our four home games this year we've given up scores of 13, 10, 20 and 21. That's good enough to win, and if we improve properly (i.e., don't drop interceptions, don't miss tackles for loss, and don't drop other interceptions) we'll go from good enough to great.
But the offense is bad. Good golly McGracious it's bad. At this point all questions are valid. The extremists will call for Stoops' head. The delusionists will say we're only a couple plays away and everything could be turned around by Saturday. Most people will fall somewhere in between and you can't blame anybody for feeling the way they do.
It's going to be bad this week, but it doesn't have to be ugly. Let's be respectful and not make things personal. We all want the team to get better. We're all in this together.
What then is the problem? Either A) the players on offense aren't good enough, B) the offensive coaching isn't good enough, or C) all of the above.
The googolplex dollar question is this: Will the current players in the current system be good enough to win the Pac-10 by 2008? If the powers that be honestly believe the answer is yes, we all just have to dig in and tough it out through the growing pains. But if the answer is no, changes have to be made. You either have to turn the players over (which would take another 5-year contract which means it would probably take place under a new head coach) or you have to try a new system that maximizes what we have.
Either way, the cold reality is our rebuilding project isn't going to be done on time. "On time" will vary from fan to fan but I believe the general consensus was something like 3 or 4 wins in Stoops' first year, 4 or 5 wins in the second year, 5 or 6 wins in the third year, then "sky's the limit" from Year 4 on.
Unfortunately it looks like you just have to throw 2004 out and start from last year's "3 or 4 wins." We still have a chance at the "4 or 5 wins" this year, then we take another shot at The Return To A Bowl Game in 2007.
I know, I know, it stinks. Waiting is no fun. Trading money and time and peace of mind for frustration, disappointment and anger while you're waiting is even worse.
Of course, we could ruin all of this pouting by beating UCLA this week. If you want some straws to grasp, you can hope UW is the fourth best team in the league and we're no worse than sixth. I suppose if you really want to torture yourself for another couple weeks you can convince yourself UCLA is the fifth best team so we won't truly know how good we are until we play Stanford, OSU and WSU.
Now there's a slogan you won't find on promotional material any time soon. Arizona Football: If You Want To Torture Yourself.
And the wait goes on.
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