“We have to evaluate everything. We have to be better. We have to control what we can control, and that’s playing better football.”
That pretty much covers it, if you’re looking for an answer to what happened last night to the Arizona Wildcats football team on their ill-fated trip to California.
Always the master of the understatement, head coach Rich Rodriguez, in his post-game comments, hit the nail on the head: “We have to be better.”
And that’s not saying much right now.
No. 18-ranked Stanford used the Wildcat squad like a practice dummy to run their win streak to four straight games, holding the Cats to a single field goal in the first half to take a 27-3 lead into intermission and then coming back in the second half to score 28 more points for a dominating 55-17 victory at The Farm.
We questioned in an earlier article just how ready Arizona was going to be for the kind of competition in the rugged Pac-12 Conference after a non-conference schedule that included three opponents from lower-tier conferences.
Their final game before starting conference play was against Northern Arizona, which they beat by 64 points. It gave Arizona a chance to get their second-, third-, and fourth-string quarterbacks into the game, but how well did it prepare them for the ‘real’ games on their schedule.
As we suspected, not very well. UCLA embarrassed the Cats in the conference opener in a 56-30 beat-down in front of a home crowd at Arizona Stadium. And now The Cardinal hang another 55 points on them.
It’s a good thing the Cats padded the schedule with those three soft games. It’s keeping them above water with a 3-2 record that, on paper, looks much better than the situation actually is right now.
Next week they’ve invited the whole family out to watch them play. Oregon State will travel to the Old Pueblo to play in a game that is part of the “Family Weekend” activities on campus. Might as well give everybody a chance to watch the train wreck up close.
The Beavers, a 2-2 team, actually escaped their encounter with Stanford in a little better shape than Arizona, losing their Sept. 25 game against the Cardinal, 42-24. And they have had a bye-week now to prepare for their meeting with the Wildcats next Saturday. The last time the Cats played OSU was three seasons ago when the Beavers beat them, 38-35.
Arizona played last night with a back-up quarterback while Anu Solomon stayed at home to recover from the effects of a concussion suffered against UCLA. But back-up QB Jerrard Randall stepped in and contributed 245 yards of offense in his first career start, which was 28 more than Stanford’s senior QB Kevin Hogan.
The senior from Florida gained 178 yards through the air on 15-for-28 passing and picked up 67 yards rushing on nine carries, despite being hampered with a minor hamstring injury.
But losing your quarterback is something every head coach has to be ready to experience. Having a competent back-up sitting on the depth chart, ready to come in and salvage a game or two, is just part of the game. That just shouldn’t be an excuse for a 38-point loss – not for a team that entered the year ranked No. 22 and considers itself a player on the national stage. It also points to the importance of good recruiting.
“He competed hard, but he certainly didn’t execute,” Rodriguez said after the game, referring to Randall. That’s on Randall, but how prepared was he to take over the starting role?
The blow-out did give Rodriguez a chance to take a look at his freshman quarterback, Brandon Dawkins, who got some playing time late in the game and completed two of five pass attempts for 17 yards.
The Cats have also been functioning without their All-everything defensive stud, Scooby Wright III, the linebacker who last year won the Bednarik and Nagurski awards for the nation’s top defender. He missed almost all of the non-conference schedule after suffering a knee injury in the first game of the season. He saw playing time against UCLA, but sprained his foot and sat this one out with Solomon.
But you can’t pin these kinds of losses – giving up 111 points in two games – on the disadvantage of playing without one particular player – even if it is one of the best linebackers the school has ever produced. That’s why you carry more than a hundred players on your roster; somebody else needs to step up.
Redshirt senior linebacker Will Parks and senior safety Sir Thomas Jackson tried to fill the void last night, with Parks leading the defense with 10 tackles and Jackson picking up nine stops.
The two scores for Arizona came from senior receiver Johnny Jackson, who led the team with 84 yards on five catches, and Nick Wilson who picked up his sixth rushing TD of the season. That gives the sophomore running back 22, which moves him into seventh place on the all-time list.
Right now, a bye week would be extremely helpful as the coaching staff tries to right the ship. But, due to a quirk of scheduling, the Wildcats have no time off this year.
No rest for the weary… and beaten down.