A tough weekend for Arizona’s D-I football teams

All three of Arizona’s Division I football teams played yesterday, and the result was the same across the board.  Not a win in the bunch.

Arizona State can’t keep from shooting itself in the foot.  Too many scoring opportunities were squandered in yesterday’s game with Illinois, as penalties (eight) and turnovers (three) kept moving the ball farther away from the goal line.  The Sun Devils actually gained 112 yards more than the Illini, but the result was still a 17-14 loss.

The Arizona Wildcats, on the other hand, couldn’t find their ground game last night.  Junior QB Nick Foles was almost perfect in the first half against No. 6 Stanford, connecting on all 15 of his throws right out of the chute and not missing one until just before the half ended.   And it’s a good thing he had the hot hand, because on the ground the Cats had a minus-six yards going into the second half.

But Northern Arizona‘s head coach, Jerome Souers, probably did the best job of summing up the day.  “We did not play well today,” he told a reporter after his Lumberjacks dropped a 31-29 decision to Portland State when a game-winning field goal missed the mark with seven seconds left in the game.

“We credit the opponent,” Souers added, “but there are too many details getting away from us.”

Hey, we’re three games into the 2011 season and these teams, one of which (ASU) was nationally-ranked, haven’t been able to put together a consistently solid performance yet.

ASU, which was plagued by penalties and miscues last season, is seeing the pattern rise up again this year.  The Devils were able to overcome more than 100 yards in penalties to beat Missouri in overtime in the last game, but three turnovers against Illinois was too much in a game that was won by just three points.

Arizona, meanwhile, has two significant issues to deal with right now.  It has no running game, and can’t rely on field goals to pull it through in the close games.  The Cats are 1-for-4 on field-goal attempts so far this season.

They rushed for a total of 51 yards last night in their 37-10 loss to the Cardinal – averaging less than three yards a try – and missed consecutive field-goal tries by Jaime Salazar that would have made it a 16-16 game and given Arizona some momentum early in the third quarter.

That 51 yards rushing, by the way, is just seven under their season average of 58 yards a game.  How’s that for disturbing?

If Foles wasn’t performing like one of the best college quarterbacks in the country right now, Arizona wouldn’t have any offense.  The 6’5″ transfer from Michigan State has piled up 1,049 yards in just three games, and his passing has accounted for seven TDs.

As for Northern Arizona, we might have to cut them some slack.  The Big Sky team opened against Arizona in an obvious mismatch and then got to take their revenge out on undermanned Fort Lewis in their second game, beating the Division II team, 58-13, in the Jacks’ home opener.  NAU piled up 622 yards of offense and only had to punt once the entire game.

However, despite the score, the Lumberjacks were far from perfect.  They lost three fumbles and missed two field-goal attempts.

The field-goal game improved in time for the meeting with Portland State.  Matt Myers, the senior kicker from California, had already been successful on three earlier attempts, from 42, 48, and 25 yards, but the final miss from 41 yards erased a comeback effort in which the Jacks had scored 12 straight points to pull to within two.

ASU is the only one of the three getting a mulligan this time around.   The Devils lost to a Big Ten team, but Arizona and NAU were both conference losses.

That will change next weekend when the Sun Devils open Pac-12 play by hosting the USC Trojans, who piled up 501 yards yesterday in taking down previously unbeaten Syracuse, 38-17.

The Devils can beat USC, but not if they keep giving up yards and giving away the ball.  The Trojans will feast on penalties and turnovers, just as Illinois did.

And the home-field advantage won’t be enough to make up for the mistakes.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)