The Arizona Wildcats football team is trap-free in 2010.
By hanging on against UCLA the UA survived its final letdown opportunity. The four biggest games are here and each one has built-in motivation.
Stanford and Oregon are highly ranked. ASU is the rivalry game. USC still has the Greek guy on its helmets and decades of winning. If you can’t get excited for these games you don’t like college football. You probably don’t enjoy things like water and oxygen either.
In order to maintain the bigness of the Stanford game Arizona had to beat the Bruins. Four quarters and a lot of guts later the job was done.
You won’t see me saying anything negative about Matt Scott’s performance. The Cats don’t have a lead to hold on to without Scott’s tremendous effort over the first two-and-a-half quarters. He looked good throwing, he looked strong running and he looked like Houdini in the backfield.
The season could have fallen apart when Nick Foles went down. We could be talking about Arizona having zero momentum and needing a couple more wins to make the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Thanks to guys like Scott, Shaquille Richardson and Sione Tuihalamaka stepping in when injuries hit, the Wildcats get a chance on Saturday to earn their way back into the top 10.
Their coach is already top-10 in intestinal fortitude.
Mike Stoops never calls trick plays. It was like he was allergic to them. He was the anti-Boise State.
That’s why it was so stunning when he called for the fake punt. From his own 27. In a five-point game. Against a team that needed big plays to score all of its points.
It’s interesting that Stoops dialed up the trickery right after watching UCLA kill a crucial drive by attempting a reverse. The Bruins turned a first down at the UA 34 into 2nd-and-20 and a couple plays later had to kick it away. Thanks in large part to the fake punt, UCLA wouldn’t reach midfield again.
No, Jake Fischer didn’t score on the play. The Cats didn’t even score on the drive. What the fake did was put 80 yards between Richard Brehaut and the goal line and it made the Bruins so desperate they went for it on 4th-and-11 from their own 19.
That subsequent UA possession was the frustrating one. Pick up one first down and it’s take-a-knee time. Instead you have to attempt a field goal with a kicker who occasionally puts a 12-degree angle on his kicks, and then UCLA gets the ball back with one last chance to tie.
The Wildcat defense held. I’d like to think they were inspired by the fake punt. Two weeks ago we commented on Washington State’s onside-kick bravado:
There will come a time this year when Arizona needs to make equally bold moves to pull off a big win. Will the Wildcats have the courage of a 1-5 team?
Mike Stoops played that one like he was 0-11. Now he’s 7-1.
Stoops and the UA are also 4-1 in Pac-10 play for the second straight season. The sixth conference game last year was at Cal. Will the ’10 Cats have a better day near the Bay?
The thought before the season was this team needed to start 5-0 in conference play to allow for a split of the Stanford and Oregon road games. The problem is the Cardinal strayed from the script and kept winning so even at 5-0 the UA would still need to beat both Stanford and Oregon to avoid tiebreakers.
In other words, the Wildcats are in the best possible position at this point in the year.
Arizona survived the early season schedule, just like last year. The schedule is back-loaded with tough games, just like last year. Can the Wildcats write a happier ending than last year?
The current task is even tougher than that of 2009. Oregon had a loss last year. Every other Pac-10 team finished with at least three conference losses. There was greater margin for error.
The way to look at it is right now the Cats are #3 in the Pac-10. The Stanford game is for 2nd place. Win and the USC game is to stay in 2nd place. Win again and the Oregon game is for 1st place. Win yet again and the ASU game is for the championship.
Lose even one of the four and you drop back into 3rd. Don’t forget, that’s the Holiday Bowl’s pick this year and they might take a pass on Arizona to get a new set of fans to San Diego.
So beat Stanford and you continue to play for a conference title. Lose and you’re probably going to the Sun Bowl. How do you like your stakes?
Make no mistake; the UA is a big underdog in this quest. Stanford opened as an 8-point favorite this week. We can only imagine how big the spread will be against Oregon.
But right now the score is 0-0.
When the Cats fell short in double overtime to Jeremiah Masoli and the Ducks the fear was it would be a long time before the UA played another game with so much on the line. Turns out it only took 12 months.
When Nick Foles was on his back in Pullman clutching his knee the best-case scenario was Matt Scott leading the team to two wins and Foles returning in time for the toughest games. All indications are that Arizona is facing the best-case scenario.
How’s your patella, fella?