The Perfect Loss


October 23, 2005

(Oregon 28, at UA 21)


Stop me if you've heard this one before.

An undermanned Arizona team plays a highly ranked team. The Wildcats play hard and don't give up. They make a game of it only to commit mistakes at crucial points and the favorite escapes with a victory.

If I would've written that after the Wisconsin game last year I could've saved a lot of time over the past fourteen months by simply copying and pasting it each week.

Other game thoughts:

The team was even later this week for the pre-game hoopla. Maybe Mike Stoops just doesn't like fireworks.

You can't have a conversation involving Oregon football without inevitably talking about how hideous their uniforms are. Seriously, how would you describe them to a blind friend? Would you slap him in the face? At least you wouldn't have to worry about the area around the shoulders on some of their jerseys, as it appears to be in Braille. This week the Duckies hit the catwalk in a spunky ensemble highlighted by antifreeze-colored pants with a touch of Astroturf down the sides.

Since we're talking fashion, this is the first time we saw the blue-on-blue version of the new Arizona uniforms. I think this is the best combination for the fanny-pack stripe on the back. From a distance it looks like a belt around the waist, which makes the players appear taller. One might go as far as to say it has a slimming effect as well. I'm sure the offensive linemen give them two thumbs up.

A big Bear Down to the crowd. Even with Clemens in there we forced penalties and timeouts. We even made the Oregon line ultra-macho handholding technique to time the snap. I'm glad to see it wasn't the loud fans who quit and gave up on the team.

After last week's game one of the players said it was like the offense and defense were playing tag with each squad taking turns playing poorly. Well, the special teams must have felt left out because they jumped into this cruel game with both feet. Two blocked punts, a missed field goal, and a punt return for a touchdown. Ollie-ollie-oxen-free!

Nothing exemplified the special teams circus like the second blocked punt. The ball is bounding back toward our own goal line when Danny Baugher comes out of nowhere to scoop it and run--I mean seriously fly--down the sideline. He puts a move on a guy, breaks a tackle, and still comes up half a yard short of the first down. What a crazy play. And to top it off, our team MVP then limps off the field. The post-game reports didn't sound good. It would be a travesty for The Leg's All-American season to end this way.

You have to give credit to my man Nick "The Other Leg" Folk for replacing Baugher. Nick's first career punt was a fifty-yarder under pressure. We turn out stud punters like nobody's business. I suppose it shouldn't be our business either, but you take what you can get.

So, what else happened? I heard some new guy played?

Just kidding. Everyone knew it was coming. The whole crowd sensed it when that pass sailed over Wood's head right into the DB's waiting arms. The student section got the chant going early:

Tui…Tui…Tui…

On Tuitama's first pass attempt he almost tripped over his own feet while dropping back, and the ball slipped out of his hands so it spun almost like a helicopter before getting intercepted. Welcome to the big leagues, kid.

But pass interference was called on the play and we got a first down out of it. Perhaps it was a sign of things to come. Maybe even the refs were caught in the moment.

Tui…Tui…Tui…

Here's the strange thing about this whole quarterback situation. The pre-Oregon press release from the UA athletic department said Richard Kovalcheck was only 500 passing yards short of cracking the Arizona top ten single season list. I couldn't believe it, but it's true. Here's the list (passing yards / player / year):

3,327 Jason Johnson 2002
2,520 Tom Tunnicliffe 1982
2,474 Tom Tunnicliffe 1983
2,368 Marc Reed 1966
2,347 Jason Johnson 2001
2,202 Alfred Jenkins 1984
2,181 Dan White 1994
1,903 Keith Smith 1999
1,855 Dan White 1995
1,814 Bruce Hill 1974
1,767 Alfred Jenkins 1985

Kovalcheck had 1304 yards going into the Oregon game. He was on pace for 2,391 passing yards, which would have been the fourth best season by an Arizona quarterback. Ever. Jason Johnson, Tom Tunnicliffe, Richard Kovalcheck. Wow.

I know there are two sides to this enormous coin so I'll just have the argument for you right now:

"Only two players in Wildcat history have passed for more yards than Kovalcheck could have hit this year! Why did we burn Willie's red-shirt year?!"
"All that means is Arizona has a terrible history of throwing the football. That's what we're trying to change."
"Change is what's killing us! We should have given Rich a chance to develop and build consistency with the offense."
"The only consistency I see is that we're consistently bad."
"You're an overreacting buffoon."
"You're an ignorant ninny."
"Weenie-breath!"
"Doo-doo-head!"

I don't know what the Willie Tuitama Era will bring, but at least everyone can bust out their old Nic Costa jerseys again. #7 is back!

I do have one request though: Can we please not smother yet another kid with unrealistic expectations? Can we for once realize he's going to make a lot of mistakes, like forcing balls into double coverage and hanging them up there in the middle of the field? Can we accept that and still support him through the learning process? Can we just be patient?

This isn't a bag of microwave popcorn. You don't just hit a pre-set button and a minute later you're enjoying warm buttery goodness. A bag of All-Pac-10 Quarterback takes a lot more time.

We're going to be asking a kid to make his first start on the road against a conference foe that beat the same Cal team that took us behind the woodshed. Don't expect a Carson Leinart-like performance. You can't win two Heisman Trophies in one game. Last year at this time Willie was probably melting test tubes with his Bunsen burner.

But, yeah, I was pretty fired up with what I saw.

Tui…Tui…Tui…

--

Coaches talk about striving to play the perfect game. Well, it's almost as if Arizona is attempting to craft the perfect loss. It's like, "Let's see how many different ways we can dominate a game and still not win it."

This week we out-rushed Oregon by a three to one margin and gained 34% more yards than they did. We held the ball for six and a half minutes longer. We limited the Duck offense to 14 points and our defense pitched a shutout after the first quarter. They were down to their third-string quarterback. And we lost.

What's left? A 99-yard run before fumbling at the one? Kicking ten field goals and losing 31-30? I guess we'll just have to find out. And you thought there weren't any reasons to go to the rest of the games.

So the goal of a winning season is officially gone. But we can still improve on last year's win total. The Washington game will be Basement Bowl III and suddenly ASU has a quarterback controversy and could conceivably come into our game with a losing record as well.

This makes the Oregon State game next week really, really big for us. 1) Any win would be really, really big for us. 2) A win opens the door for positive things down the stretch. 3) OSU isn't undefeated and in the top ten like UCLA.

Tui's first start gets us a win. Wouldn't that be perfect?



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