And the sun came up.
No, we haven't solved all our problems and success isn't guaranteed the rest of the year, but the world looks a lot brighter after a victory.
At least we're not the worst team in the league.
The game couldn't have started any better for Arizona. True freshman cornerback Devin Ross returned the opening kickoff 32 yards. We opened with a four-receiver set. The Cats picked up a first down on the very first play. On third and three Adam Austin completed a 20-yard pass to Anthony Johnson for a first down. Three plays later Chris Jennings broke free on a third and one play for a 16-yard touchdown.
Chris Henry sounded really good (these radio-only games sure are awkward). He was hitting the hole hard and running north-south which is just what we need from him and he was rewarded with a career high 91 yards and his first TD in over two years.
All three running backs contributed to our total of nine runs of ten or more yards. Henry's long was 18, Smith's was 17 and Jennings' was 16. That's balance.
But in the blink of an eye (which is about how long it took the Stanford sprint champ to run those 72 yards) we went from a very comfortable 17-0 cushion to trying to protect a ten-point lead with our third string quarterback. It's never easy at Arizona.
I know some people will complain that we "only" scored 20, but Coach Stoops really reined things in when Austin went down. We got the ball back with 3:46 left in the first half and called six straight running plays. That got us to midfield with 44 seconds left, but instead of trying to gain the 15 yards needed to get into Nick Folk field goal range we ran it once more then took a knee.
It was a lot more of the same in the second half. Kris Heavner was only called upon to attempt four passes. The good news is he completed all of them. Heavner's first pass in two years came on third and four and he hit Brandyn McCall for a first down. Welcome back.
Syndric Steptoe even lined up a few times at QB. In a bizarre sequence in the third quarter Step lined up in the shotgun two different times and ended up calling timeout on both occasions. A little later we used the same formation and finally got the play off…for a one-yard loss. Maybe he should stick to calling timeouts.
None of it mattered as the defense made sure the 20 points more than held up. We more than doubled our season total with a hard-to-fathom half dozen sacks. Spencer Larson had a monster game. I think he knocked a couple consonants out of T.C. Ostrander's name.
We knew Stanford was bad. Now we know Stanford is that bad. They'd finish last in the Pac-20. It got so rough that at one point the Cardinal punted on third down. Somewhere Dick Tomey smiled.
You know your defense is doing something right when you hold a conference foe to its lowest yardage output in school history. That's right, Stanford has been keeping football stats since 1918 and it never played as poorly on offense as it did against our defense on October 14, 2006. Seventeen yards through three quarters, and 52 total. Eighty-eight years of football. There is no "yeah but" here.
This was a definitely a performance the defense can build on. It was also our first win wearing the white jersey/blue pants combo with the new uniforms. Something for the blue pants to build on.
So the Arizona Wildcats now have as many wins as last year (and the year before that). But we still haven't clinched an equal record. Remember, 3-9 is worse than 3-8. We gotta get one more win to secure official improvement, and we may as well do it sooner than later.
The Oregon State Beavers come to town fresh off a win of their own and it was a little more impressive than ours. By beating Washington in Seattle OSU finally gave us a true upset in the Pac-10. Up until this week you could rank the entire league without putting someone below a team they beat. Hopefully we can mess that up even more by beating Oregon State.
Quarterback Matt Moore - he of the six interceptions against us last year - is back, but he responded to getting booed at home by playing a great game (308 yards and only one pick) against the Huskies. It looks like he's in one of those odd spots where he's been so bad for so long that he now plays better when he's away from all the people who keep reminding him how bad he's been for so long. Add to that the ridiculously depleted quarterback position on the UA side of the field and we've got another uphill climb for the Cats.
As far as the signal callers go, please, Coach Stoops, whatever you do, do not speed up Willie's return schedule. We need him to take as much time as possible, and then probably a little more. My perfect scenario is Heavner takes every snap against OSU, we get the win, then Willie has the bye week to get even better.
The red and blue lining is we aren't dealing with your typical third-string QB. This isn't a freshman or some guy we pulled off the street. Kris Heavner played in nine games in 2003 and seven games in 2004. He threw for over 2300 yards and 12 touchdowns. He beat Washington, which is something no other quarterback on the roster can say. Besides, playing quarterback in the Pac-10 is like riding a bike, right? A horse maybe? Water buffalo?
Now that the battle for last place has been successfully lost, it's time to conquer not-ninth place. Ten pass completions won't cut it, but we've got a warrior from ages past back in the saddle. The Wildcat Army and the Knights of Beaver joust this Saturday at Arizona Stadium.
I wouldn't miss it for the kingdom.
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