Hopes for UA football winning season hanging by a thread

After the loss to then-No. 16 UCLA, Arizona‘s head coach Rich Rodriguez told the media his “mood was terrible.” It was the team’s first home loss this season, and Homecoming on top of that.

RichRod had to acknowledge, too, that “the players are more resilient and bounce back quicker than coaches.”

Now, a week later and after a second straight loss, this time to un-ranked Washington State, Rodriguez is probably finding it even harder to bounce back because he is looking down the remainder of the schedule and sees Oregon coming up next and then rival Arizona State to finish out the regular season.  Oregon is ranked No. 5 in the AP Top 25 and ASU is No. 19 (No. 17 in the BCS standings).

At 6-4 overall, the Cats are bowl eligible.  But two more losses would put them at .500 – and how attractive to a bowl committee is a team with a break-even record and four straight losses to end its season?  And half of their wins came during a non-conference schedule considered one of the softest in the country.  Notre Dame, even with its huge national following, would have trouble getting invited to a worthwhile bowl with those credentials.

This is not the first time this season that Arizona has strung together a couple of losses.  They dropped early-season games to Washington (13-31) and USC (31-38).  But they didn’t have to beat a couple of ranked teams to make a full recovery.  This time they do.

The Cats will rely heavily on their junior quarterback B.J. Denker and junior running back Ka’Deem Carey to give them any kind of shot at pulling off an upset in either game.  Denker threw for 186 yards and two passing touchdowns against UCLA and contributed 200 passing yards and 76 rushing yards in the losing effort Saturday against the Cougars.  Carey rushed for 149 against UCLA and 132 against WSU – which makes 13 straight games with 100 or more yards for the youngster from Canyon del Oro High School in Tucson.

And while the Cats are getting the job done defending the passing game, the defensive unit hasn’t been that solid against the run.  And that is a serious issue when you’re staring down at the Oregon and ASU offenses.

Oregon’s speedy sophomore running back Byron Marshall will come into Saturday’s game just nine yards shy of hitting the 1,000-yard plateau and ASU’s senior running back Marion Grice is the nation’s leading scorer and just added two more touchdowns against WSU to give him 20 on the season, on track to break the school record in that category.  The Sun Devils are averaging 256 yards a game on the ground.

Both Oregon and ASU also feature a couple of the best quarterbacks in the conference, if not the country.  Marcus Mariota, the sophomore QB for the Ducks, threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns in the last game against Utah.  He is on a Pac-12 record streak of 353 pass attempts without an interception and is the NCAA career leader in interception percentage at 0.97.

ASU’s Taylor Kelly, like his running back Grice, is also on track to set a school record.  He has accounted for 186 points this season and will own the school record, set in 1981, with 12 more points.  He threw for 183 yards Saturday in a 30-17 win over Oregon State.

It’s a deep hole that Arizona football finds itself in right now and Oregon and Arizona State are ready with shovel in hand to begin the burial process.  They will have the advantage of hosting the Ducks, with live television coverage on ABC/ESPN2.  But the final game of the season against the Sun Devils will be in Tempe.

And that may be all the help ASU needs to throw the last shovel full of dirt on this year’s Wildcat season.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)