They may not win another game this season, but the satisfaction from Saturday’s football victory over California will be the one memory the Arizona Wildcats will carry with them into next season.
The game itself, a lackluster 10-3 affair, won’t go down in the University of Arizona record books as a “classic.” It was too boring to be considered special in itself. But it will, nonetheless, go down in the program’s history books.
That victory against the Golden Bears (3-6, 2-4) broke a 20-game losing streak, the longest in the nation among FBS programs, that began in October of 2019, and contributed to the firing of head coach Kevin Sumlin at the close of last season.
Jedd Fisch inherited the national disgrace when he was hired last December and carried its burden through the first eight games on the 2021 schedule, even mixing in a humiliating loss to Northern Arizona University, an FCS program that hadn’t been able to defeat a Wildcat team since 1932.
The Cal win will enable Arizona (1-8, 1-5) to shed itself of the “winless” tag that has been placed before its name in just about every article written about a once-proud Pac-12 program over the last 25 months.
But this wasn’t the kind of story-book victory that Wildcat fans had expected when the streak was finally put to rest. This was the kind of ugly game that both teams would like to forget, a slogging march to a 0-0 tie at halftime in a game that wasn’t decided until the final two minutes of the game when sophomore running back Michael Wiley scored the game’s lone touchdown by capping a 55-yard drive with a 10-yard TD run.
A 29-yard field goal by freshman Tyler Loop kept the scored tied, 3-3, going into the final frame.
The last time Arizona won a game before yesterday was Oct. 5, 2019 when they played to a thrilling 35-30 finale over Colorado. This win was anything but thrilling.
Perhaps that should have been expected. The Bears came to Tucson with a depleted roster since they had to leave 24 players at home at Berkeley, attributable to COVID protocols. Those missing this game included seven starters that included the starting quarterback, Chase Garbers, who currently leads the Pac-12 in total offense with 293 yards per game. His replacement, Ryan Glover, had not taken a snap this season.
And Arizona was using its third-string quarterback, Will Plummer, who was pressed into service after injuries to Gunner Cruz (thumb) and Jordan McCloud (leg), who is done for the season. Plummer was working behind an offensive line that was using substitutes for three starters for much of the game.
The freshman from Gilbert High School finished the game with 197 yards of total offense that included 129 passing yards on a 16-for-30 performance.
Give a bunch of credit to the Arizona defense, which held the Bears to 28 yards rushing and 94 yards passing. California managed just one third-down conversion in 14 attempts.
Reality returns next week. Arizona will likely be a double-digit underdog for its final three games against Utah, Washington State, and Arizona State. The Utes are the currents leaders in the Pac-12 South and Arizona’s next opponent.
ASU is 6-3 this season and routed the Cats in last year’s finale, 70-7. This year’s Arizona team had better be able to improve on that.
That embarrassment cost Sumlin his job.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)