Not yet, Juron, but thanks to you the Cats have four wins.
Photo by Chris Morrison/US Presswire

The early-season optimism has vanished after yet another lackluster performance leads to a demoralizing defeat.

Check that…

The early-season optimism has vanished after yet another lackluster performance leads to a demoralizing defeat.

Juron Criner has the strength of 50 men! Fire up the Nick Foles Heisman bandwagon!

Things can change in a hurry, can’t they?

The night started with a familiar feeling. Everyone knew there was going to be an atmospheric letdown. The crowd took its time getting into the stadium and there were plenty of seats available in the upper deck. Cal barely sold any tickets and didn’t even bother to send their cheerleaders. In terms of electricity, if the Iowa game was sticking your finger in a light socket the Cal game was walking across the carpet and touching a doorknob.

No, the offensive letdown wasn’t a surprise at all. What was unexpected was how long it lasted. Even though most Wildcat fans were nervous they were confident enough to believe the team would overcome a sluggish start and take control of the game. As the time ticked by with more penalties than points the feeling changed. The old thoughts crept in. Oh no… It’s happening again. And you get angry at yourself. Why did I let this team suck me in? Why can’t I take my own advice about getting to excited too soon?

The complaints were lined up and ready to go: Couldn’t handle success. Got cocky after one win. Can’t ever turn the corner.

Then that field goal attempt hooked to the right.

Then Foles hit Criner three times, and a you-had-to-be-there moment was born.

The result was an ending better than Iowa. Building a big lead and hanging on at the end is exciting but nothing compares to the euphoria of coming from behind in the final minute.

Now there’s a feeling that is not familiar.

Foles and the Cats have won some games late but the Iowa game and last year’s ASU game were tied at the time. Arizona was trailing against Stanford and USC in 2009 but both go-ahead touchdowns came with three minutes left. Antoine Cason’s interception return against Cal and Nick Folk’s field goal to beat BYU in 2006 also broke ties.

Saturday was the first time a Mike-Stoops-coached team truly ripped victory from the clutches of defeat. It may take some getting used to.

Arizona fans are used to rapid descents. On Sep. 26, 1983 the Cats started 4-0 and earned their highest ranking ever, #3 in the AP poll. Four weeks later after a tie (against Cal) and two losses the UA was out of the poll completely and not heard from for three years.

Ortege Jenkins’ “Leap by the Lake” is on the short list of greatest moments in program history. The very next week? The 1998 team’s only loss and a season-long banishment to 2nd place. The preseason hype in ’99? Hello, Penn State. Gridiron good times usually don’t last long in Tucson.

This time they’re welcome to stay as long as they like.

A good way to survive a letdown is to have half your team fail to let anyone down. You cannot say enough about the Arizona defense at this point. After shutting down the Hawkeye running game the Cats did a great job containing Shane Vereen. Don’t worry about the hundred rushing yards. This was a guy coming in averaging five yards a carry with two 50+ yard runs. To keep his longest run under 20 yards and average per carry under four is a huge reason why Cal was unable to find the end zone the entire night.

When you look at things from the defense’s perspective, winning a 10-9 game is a big deal. Fans in the stands might have been uncomfortable but the Wildcat D can take a lot of pride in this one.

One thing everyone agrees on is this is a great time for a bye week. Rest and recovery for the players. Teaching opportunities for the coaches. Cardiological exams for the fans.

The season breaks nicely into thirds. At the start of the year it looked like the first two thirds held a lot of wins before a four-game stretch to make a run at the title. But now the middle third is Championship Stretch I and the final third is Championship Stretch II.

Oregon State, at Washington State, Washington, and at UCLA. The Cougars still look overmatched but the Bruins have elevated themselves from gimme status. OSU is more battle-tested than anyone and Washington beat the Cats last year.

Being undefeated for another two weeks isn’t a bad feeling at all.