The Arizona Wildcats welcomed back an old friend Saturday night. Then they brought back an unwelcomed old identity.
Coach Dick Tomey was honored at Arizona Stadium in between the 1st and 2nd quarters. It was a well-deserved tribute to the man who led the Wildcats to their highest peaks.
It was also fitting that Tomey was present to witness the Cats’ rapid descent from the top 10.
Tomey won 95 games at Arizona and maintained underdog status the entire time. It fit his personality, the UA’s football history and the program’s minimal resources. Tomey was let go in an attempt to change that status. A decade later the Wildcats are still trying.
Change is hard. Changing your entire identity is painfully hard.
If you grow up as the overweight guy who survives by cracking jokes you can’t just wake up one day and say, “Today I’m going to be the fit dangerous sexy guy!” It takes a lot of hard work, failing, and getting up again. You’ve got to earn those ripped abs and the head-turning strut.
Arizona Football is beyond its “Before” photo but it’s still not to “After.”
The math says the two-point loss to Oregon State didn’t change any of the team’s goals. The UA can still make a backdoor run at the conference title just like the Beavers the last couple years. But having to emulate OSU is the point. The hope after the Iowa win was this Wildcat team could barge through the front door for the first time in program history. The dream was to move up to the status of USC and Oregon. The reality is still being back with Oregon State and Cal.
It was fun while it lasted. No, seriously, I mean that. Sunday through Friday was a lot of fun. Being ranked above LSU, Florida, Michigan and Texas. Being included in every preview article. Being argued about on a national level. No UA fan should feel bad about enjoying that.
Add it to the Iowa game and last year’s Oregon/GameDay experience from start to (six seconds before the) finish, and Mike Stoops is starting to collect next-level moments, hints of life on the other side.
The glimpses of greatness can either give you hope or drive you mad. The OSU loss was a tally in the mad column.
As expected, after five games and a bye we have a firm grasp of what the Arizona offense is. It is pass-heavy. It is penalty-prone. It is lacking a second receiving star.
Nick Foles is still completing ¾ of his passes but he is inconsistent on his deep throws. The Juron Criner touchdown was a thing of beauty. If you wanted a visual demonstration of how to lead a receiver on a post route that was it. But the interception was a badly underthrown fade. Foles needs to learn to miss deep so his mistakes become incompletions instead of picks.
All that is nitpicking, however, as far as this particular game is concerned. 541 yards of offense is tremendous no matter how you get it. Four touchdowns – without the help of a single short field – is a strong performance and should be enough to win at home.
Sadly the defense that shut down Cal’s passing attack was nowhere to be found. Perhaps that’s because Kevin Riley was nowhere to be found. OSU’s Ryan Katz matched Foles throw for throw and did additional damage with his legs.
So what do you get when you combine a one-dimensional offense with a one-dimensional defense? The stat that sums up all you need to know about the current status of the Pac-10 and the Wildcats’ place in it:
Arizona’s past five conference games have been decided by a total of 13 points (UA is 3-2 in those games).
Just a two-and-a-half point spread over half a Pac-10 season’s worth of games. There’s no margin for error there and you have to battle for every point. Like a true underdog.
The goal now is to get better. The Cats are still ranked but there’s no reason to look at the polls any more. Just look in the mirror.
The blueprint to beat Arizona is out there. Against the UA offense you double-team Criner. Every down. Dare the other receivers to beat you and wait for the holding penalty, sack or stuffed run that kills the drive.
Against the UA defense, huck it.
You don’t think Washington State is fired up to take a crack at Arizona’s secondary? The Cougars have been more competitive the last two weeks because Jeff Tuel has thrown for 556 yards with three touchdowns and just one interception. Another slow start from the Wildcats and Wazzu will jump all over it.
But if you beat Washington State? It’s a good step in preparation for the next Pac-10 war seven days later.
There’s still a long way to go. In this triathlon of a season we’ve just barely started cycling. The 2010 Wildcats can still do some great things, but they’ll have to go into every game feeling underappreciated, underrated, and underdogged.
That identity won’t change overnight. So get back in the gym, and think sexy thoughts.