Arizona at Stanford

Fourth quarter, up two touchdowns, live ball on the ground…
Photo by Cary Edmondson-US PRESSWIRE

The Arizona Wildcats have been more competitive than expected this season and there are lots of reasons to be optimistic about the future.

But that doesn’t make losses like this any less maddening.

Toledo and South Carolina State were supposed to be wins. One OSU was supposed to be a loss and the other OSU was supposed to be a win. Oregon and Stanford were supposed to be losses.

So the UA’s 3-3 record is exactly what it was projected to be at this point. The Wildcats’ thin defense is struggling as anticipated. The one surprise is the UA offense is better than expected.

Muuuuuuch better.

During the five-game losing streak that cost Mike Stoops his job last year, Arizona averaged 24.6 points and lost by fewer than 10 points just once. This year’s team is averaging 37 points per game against one more ranked team (four) than last year.

An even more relevant way to look at it is to see what other teams have been able to do against the defenses of Oregon State and Stanford:

Ore. St. opp. Yards Points   Stanford opp. Yards Points
Wisconsin 207 7   SJSU 288 17
UCLA 444 20   Duke 385 13
ARIZONA 545 35   USC 280 14
WSU 227 6   Washington 313 17
        ARIZONA 617 48

There isn’t a defensive coordinator in the Pac-12 that isn’t anxious about facing this offense now. Yes, the offensive coordinators are giddy but, again, we knew the D would be challenged. The guys out there are giving their all but we saw this unit finish last in the Pac-12 in 2011.

If you’re thinking this all-offense-all-the-time thing is what always happens when Rich Rodriguez shows up, that would be incorrect. RichRod’s first Michigan team averaged 18.8 points in his first six games and only broke 30 once the entire season. Rodriguez’s first six games at West Virginia produced 18 points a game and the Mountaineers hit 21 points in only three games that year.

Do not miss this part: On Saturday Matt Scott completed more passes in a single game than any quarterback in the history of the Pac-12. The history. More than Matt Leinart, Aaron Rodgers, Carson Palmer, Troy Aikman, John Elway, Dan Fouts, Jim Plunkett and everyone else.

It’s not like Scott did it in garbage time either. He was never trailing by more than one touchdown. Every completion was contested by Stanford’s first-string defense.

(By the way, RichRod and the current staff get some credit for Scott but if I’m a college head coach having any sort of quarterback problems I’m tracking down Frank Scelfo and kidnapping him in the dead of night.)

So the Cats showed an explosive offense for the third time against four ranked teams and the Stanford game was much closer than predicted.

And the loss still hurts. A lot.

Like a lot of fans, I discuss and analyze the game all week and try to set reasonable expectations, but as soon as the ball goes into the air on Saturday I believe my team can win. For three quarters against Stanford it was an exciting college football game with hope for an upset. The first six minutes of the fourth quarter were an example of why we do this sports fanatic stuff.

The final nine minutes were why the non-fans in our lives think we’re crazy.

Would I have gone for the win with 41 seconds left? Yes.

(By the by the way, it’d be great if there was a way for We The People to lock in our armchair opinions before every borderline decision. Then the postgame show could tells us, “Coach X’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-goal sure looks bad now but before the play 73% of viewing fans said they would’ve done the same thing.” Get on that, tech wizards.)

Yes, I would’ve let Scott extend his other Pac-12 record by a couple more pass attempts but that decision won’t haunt me nearly as much as the individual plays that could have changed the outcome. The Drew Terrell (no relation) catch and fumble in the fourth quarter was huge. If the call on the field of an incomplete pass had stood it would have been fourth-and-8 in Stanford territory. Better yet, if the UA defenders had played it like a fumble and took it from Terrell they would’ve had possession near midfield with a 14-point lead.

Then you had Scott failing to connect with Tyler Slavin on third down on the final possession with the lead. Get a fresh set of downs there and you never know. And, of course, there was the fourth-and-9 at the 20 with the Cats up seven.

Any one of those plays could’ve won the game. One play away from 4-2 and RichRod being a guest on every radio show this week. One play away from Matt Scott landing on the national radar in a big way. It doesn’t matter if the point spread is 50, it still stings when a game like this gets away.

So you look to the next game. And the one after that. There are officially no games left where Arizona doesn’t have a chance to win. Washington got blown out by Oregon, just like the Wildcats. USC lost to Stanford, just like the Wildcats. UCLA just got smoked by 1-4 Cal. Colorado and Utah have losing records. Anything goes in the rivalry game.

There could certainly be another Oregon game in there. Or we could be looking at a long string of Oregon State and Stanford games.

The fans need this bye week too. Watch some other teams play (stress-free viewing!) or take a week off from football altogether. Recharge for the second half of the season and dream of scoring one more point than the other guy.

Even if it’s 100 to 99.

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Scott Terrell may need some bigger spreadsheets. Double check his math on Twitter and Facebook.