Matt Scott vs. Arizona State

The ASU defense forced Matt Scott into one too many turnovers.
Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

Ah, rivalry games.

They really are a season unto themselves. The 2012 Arizona Wildcats football season is absolutely a success considering the preseason expectations and the year could look even better with a bowl victory next month. But Friday’s loss to Arizona State will be another one of those head-shaking defeats that lives on in fans minds.

For UA coach Rich Rodriguez it was his first taste of the unpredictability that is the Territorial Cup but it was a rivalry game result that he has known too well in recent years.

In his post-game press conference RichRod was asked what most disappointed him about the game. He scoffed, looked away, muttered, “Wow!” before facing forward and giving his gruff answer:

“We lost!”

That’s it. It’s all that matters in any game but the bottom line is especially rigid in rivalry showdowns. Wildcat players and fans certainly aren’t happy about losing two of three to the Sun Devils, but Rodriguez has now lost five straight rivalry games spanning three jobs.

Rich Rodriguez’s Last 5 Rivalry Games

Year Team Rival Result
2007 W. Virginia Pitt L, 13-9
2008 Michigan Ohio St. L, 42-7
2009 Michigan Ohio St. L, 21-10
2010 Michigan Ohio St. L, 37-7
2012 Arizona Arizona St. L, 41-34

The first one on the list is the one that started all the transition in RichRod’s professional life. If the Mountaineers had won that game they would have played for the national championship which would have made it less likely Rodriguez leaves for Michigan which would have eliminated any chance he ends up in Tucson.

While it has been a while since RichRod got to enjoy the good side of local bragging rights, his resume shows that if he gets things going, he’s going to make the other guy suffer. During Rodriguez’s peak run at West Virginia he beat Pitt four out of five years and the average margin of victory in those wins was 20 points.

“We lost!”

It’ll be a fire that burns in this program for the next 12 months.

* * *

The Arizona defense started the game exceptionally well, forcing punts on ASU’s first four possessions. It was the Wildcat offense that struggled, only able to turn those stops into six points. And why six? Because of a missed extra point. That’s right, John Bonano, who had made 74-of-74 career PATs, missed. Against ASU.

Ah, rivalry games.

Arizona ended up with more yards (522 to 460), including almost 300 on the ground, and committed just one penalty. Even after the first two interceptions the Cats were able to take a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter.

Then there was the flurry of activity that had the Arizona Stadium crowd going from comfortable to concerned to panicking in what felt like three minutes.

The obvious turning point was the Matt Scott fumble in the middle of the final period but the tide started shifting two possessions earlier. The Cats had just gotten the Garic Wharton circus catch and Bonano’s sly two-point conversion to take their first second-half lead. On ASU’s next snap the Wildcats recovered a fumble and set up shop on the Sun Devil 24. Three plays later it was 1st-and-goal at the 2. Sparky was quaking in his tights.

But then Daniel Jenkins lost yards on two straight runs, Scott threw an incomplete pass and the Wildcats had to settle for a field goal. Would they have been able to punch it in if Ka’Deem Carey was available? Are things different from that point with a 14-point lead?

The victors get the hardware and the year of boasting. The losers get the what-ifs.

You only need to have been a Wildcat fan for three years to say this isn’t the most painful Territorial Cup loss but it’s always frustrating to know the Sun Devils are doing the “Two Hoe Rock” in the visitors’ locker room.

I have my own personal rivalry slump. The Cats are 1-4 in the last five Territorial Cup games I’ve witnessed from the stands and 2-0 in that span with me sitting at home. If you see me making plans to go to Tempe next year you may want to let the air out of my tires.

* * *

Turning the page. The Wildcats have one more football game this year. When and where will it be? Let’s look at how the possibilities have changed since last week. Assumpitons:

Oregon (11-1), Stanford (10-2), UCLA (9-3), Oregon State (8-3) and USC (7-5) will all be selected before Arizona. For the sake of this exercise we’ll call them the Fit Four and Overhyped One.
• Oregon will receive an at-large bid to a BCS bowl.

That fills the Pac-12’s contracted bowls from the Rose down to the Sun. Here are Arizona’s slimmed down bowl scenarios from best case to worst:

Las Vegas Bowl – Sat. Dec. 22
The reasoning: Vegas decides it wants Boise State from the Mountain West. The bowl committee really wants a team from the neighboring state of Arizona but it prefers to avoid a rematch of last year’s game so they take the UA.

Fight Hunger Bowl – Sat. Dec. 29
The reasoning: The people of the Bay love the story of RichRod overachieving in his first year back. They want the nation’s leading rusher and the team that beat USC and Oklahoma State and took Stanford to the wire.
The reality: On paper this is actually a less likely destination for Arizona than Vegas. If San Francisco has a choice between ASU and UA it’ll take ASU for the head-to-head win and better conference record. If the options are Washington or Arizona the Hunger Game will most likely take the closer team.

New Mexico Bowl – Sat. Dec. 15
The reasoning: Albuquerque takes the only eligible Pac-12 team left.

The bowl possibilities aren’t as bountiful as they would’ve been if Arizona had finished with an 8-4 record but they’re much better than those of last year’s 4-8.

Keep your Saturdays free in December.

– – – – –

Scott Terrell is still happy to be going bowling. Join the travel party on Twitter and Facebook.