Much Better

November 6, 2006

(UA 27, at WSU 17)


We're better than last year!!!

And the year before that. And the year before that.

The difference between three wins and four wins usually isn't that significant but for the Arizona Football Wildcats it's a pretty big deal. It's tangible evidence that the program is moving in the right direction. It's validation for the players' hard work and the fans' seemingly futile optimism.

This fourth win - over a ranked team on the road no less - is an official certified symbol of improvement. And the great thing is we have three more games to make the season even better.

The game stats aren't going to win any pageants but they sure look beautiful to me. Only Edgerrin James would envy Chris Henry's 2.7-yard average against Washington State, but 94 yards are 94 yards. And two rushing touchdowns are two rushing touchdowns. Actually, for the 2006 Wildcats they're more like:

TWO RUSHING TOUCHDOWNS!!?!@#$%!!

The best part is they were honest-to-goodness power plays. In the second quarter, after moving the ball 69 yards down to the WSU 11, Henry ran for four yards on first down, Earl Mitchell ran* for four yards on second down, and Henry scored from the three on third down. Three plays, three runs, eleven strong yards, paydirt.

(*See "Adjustment, Good Bye-Week")

To prove it wasn't a fluke, after forcing a turnover in the third quarter we took the ball down to the Cougar eight-yard line. Henry runs for two on first down, then scores from the six on second down. Creative? No. Successful? Yes. Satisfying? You bet your sweet patoot.

But the Arizona running game's best performance didn't even result in points. With 11:18 left in the game the Cats took over on their own 29-yard line with a ten-point lead. We proceeded to hand the ball off nine straight times (eight of them to Mr. Chris Henry). The net result was only 31 yards but it included two first downs and six minutes and 13 seconds coming off the clock. Nick Folk then punted down to the ten, our defense forced three incompletions, and that was all she wrote.

Add only allowing one sack (and it was a cheap one-yarder) and a HUGE Bear Down to the Offensive Line Formerly Known As Much-Maligned.

The Wildcat D gets a ton of credit as well. With only 45 yards rushing, you might say the WSU running game was Dwight Tardy all day.

Even better, we're making people drop the ball again. After only recovering seven fumbles in 2005 we took away our eighth fumble of the year against Oregon State and tacked on two more vs. WSU. It was something we took pride in during Stoops' first year and I'm glad to see stripping is back in fashion.

Another source of pride - actually, this deserves some fanfare. Ahem.

Ladies and gentlemen! It gives me great pleasure to present to you…the up-to-date 2006 Pacific-10 Conference Scoring Defense rankings:

School / Points Allowed Per League Game
1. USC 16.5
2. ARIZONA 18.2
2. Cal 18.2
4. WSU 18.6
5. OSU 20.3
6. Ore 22.7
7. UCLA 23.5
8. Wash 24.7
9. ASU 32.5
10. Stan 35.8

That's what I'm talkin' 'bout. The interception TDs shouldn't be used as an excuse any more. Short fields happen to everybody. The UA D has been good anyway. The fact is only one team in the league has given up fewer points per game in Pac-10 play.

Now, if we can say the same after the Cal and Oregon games we'll really be on to something.

While we've locked up the best record of the young Stoops Era, we have yet to secure the best conference finish. We were tied for eighth in the Pac in 2004 and alone in eighth in 2005. The positive is we're currently in a three-way tie for sixth in the Pac-10 standings, but we're only a half game ahead of ninth-place Washington. One more win will ensure at least three teams finish below us this year, and you can guess who we're gunning for. Let's just say we're trying to make the bottom of the league standings reflect the scoring defense standings.

So how 'bout them Cougars, huh? The good news is we play BYU and WSU again next year. Continuing the thought from last time, that means we just have to add Houston, College of Charleston, Champlain College, the Vancouver Australian Rules Football Club, this guy, Sahuaro High School, and we'll be national champs.

But seriously, both sets of Cougars are having good years, which makes our victories even sweeter. You may have noticed that BYU just replaced WSU in the Top 25. It's good to be a Cat.

Mike Stoops is now 4-1 in invisible games. That's right, he has coached five untelevised road games in the past three years and won four of them (Washington in 2004, OSU in 2005, Stanford and WSU this year). Maybe instead of TV networks picking up more games we should be rooting for power outages and rolling blackouts.

This also marks the second consecutive victory for the white-jerseys-blue-pants combo. Such powerful trends should not be ignored.

Now…I really hate to do this to you. I'm very sorry, but I have to mention the B word again. That's right:

Bowl.

I know, I know, it's crazy. I know my optimism levels are out of control. But we just hit our second checkpoint and we're only one game off pace.

Hey, Dick Tomey's going back to a bowl game. Why can't Arizona?

We have four wins. The last game will be winnable. That means we have two tries to get one more upset to make that final game worth a trip to the postseason. No, it's not likely. But it's possible. The chance exists. We are in November and our team still has something to play for. The Wildcat players deserve this opportunity and we owe it to them to do all we can to make their improbable dream come true.

Bear Down the Bears.



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