Arizona Stadium

It was love at first sight on opening night. Photo by Wildcat Universe

Walking down Cherry Ave. from the tailgate to the stadium to start another season of Arizona Wildcats football is always a fun moment but Friday night was extra special. Seeing the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility lit up and knowing the team was inside getting ready was a visual reminder that times are changing, and it’s a beautiful thing.

Entering the stadium from the south end brought a huge smile to my face. The new turf looked great and the bold red and blue of the end zone woke you up like splash of ice water on a Tucson summer day.

I love the enclosed lower bowl. It looks like a real stadium and the UA football plant as a whole looks like everything a real program would have. These are exciting times for Arizona Football and it was going to take a lot more than a couple shanked punts to detract from that.

(I also appreciated that the bowl game appearances and conference championships are now listed out individually on the façade of the upper deck. And don’t think I didn’t notice that the 1992 banner no longer reads “Hancock Bowl” as if it was different from the Sun Bowl. Bravo.)

I was expecting not to like the new uniforms but I did not not like them. They looked really good on the video board and when I watched highlights on TV. The only negative is you can’t read the players’ numbers on the field at all. Oh, and the belts. They certainly aren’t as bad as the fanny packs were but the new wide belts look clunky.

However, the biggest news on the uniform front was the copper helmets breaking through with a victory for the first time. Congrats, copper! Now hopefully the other helmets will leave you alone.

The ZonaZoo looked new again! Filled early, stayed late, even with the rain and lack of drama. Was it the not-so-subtle messaging on the new shirts? Was it the cash money? Whatever the reason, if Greg Byrne is able to get the students to consistently stay for the entire game without having to tear down this wall I will tip my red hat to him.

Word has not yet gotten out about the new Red Zone section however. It worked on Friday because the space was needed for student overflow but we may have to bring a sign to the next game to spread the message. I’m a bit torn though because, while I want the Red Zone to become a force again, I sure did enjoy my front row seat this week (and by “seat” I mean “place to loudly stand”).

Overall it wasn’t a huge crowd but all things considered it was a solid opening night. The next two home games are against UTSA and Utah so we might not get a true electric atmosphere until Homecoming against UCLA but the Old Gray Lady will be ready for her closeup.

Like the team on the field, the game day production had some opening night hiccups. There was no intro video or song playing before the team ran onto the field. There should be a recognizable rhythm that lets the energy and fan volume build to the crescendo of fireworks and unfettered footballers.

Then there was the first-down horn. Wha? The assumption is the crowd was supposed to yell the “First down!” but what do you do when you hear a truck horn? Personally, I freeze and see if I’m about to be run over. I thought last year’s “First Down / Bear Down” echo had promise. Or maybe delay the horn two beats and use it as the exclamation point after the fans say “First Down.”

(But I’ll gladly trade an oddly-timed horn for a 1992 Sun Bowl banner any day.)

On the field it wasn’t a dominant performance from the Wildcats (if you can win 35-0 without dominating) but the only conclusion you can make at this point is that Matt Scott, Ka’Deem Carey and Austin Hill were really good last year. If you have a 3,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard receiver in the same season for the first time in school history, and you lose all three for the next game, you’re bound to look a little sluggish on offense.

B.J. Denker isn’t going to be able to throw it like Scott but he is fast (and Javelle Allen may be even faster). The hope is the passing game looks better – and the chains move more freely – when Carey returns this week.

Ah, this week. I for one was quite pleased the UNLV game was not moved to Glendale. The Wildcat Universe is descending upon Vegas.

While Cat fans will all be looking for offensive progress in game two there was nothing I saw on Friday that changed my expectations for the season. One game is one game for everyone involved but after opening weekend the Washington matchup looks a lot tougher but the USC game looks more manageable as the Trojans had offense issues of their own.

The road map to a bowl game still looks like taking care of business against Nevada-Las Vegas and Texas-San Antonio, beating Utah at home, getting a split at Colorado and Cal (both squads look more dangerous this year) and winning against Wazzu in Tucson. Locking up bowl eligibility before Oregon and the Territorial Cup would look really good to me.

Almost as good as the new Arizona Stadium.