Sixth-ranked Stanford beat Arizona 37-10 in a game that was much closer than its final score. The Cardinal won every statistical category over the Wildcats, yet Arizona had multiple chances to keep the score close and even lead, yet failed to do so on multiple occasions. The Wildcats, losers of seven consecutive games against FBS opponents now must figure out a way to salvage a season that isn’t even a quarter of the way over after scoring just 24 points in its last two games, both losses to Top 10 squads.
Juron Criner showed no signs of his appendectomy last Monday.
The turning point came at the end of the first half. Rather than scoring a touchdown on a pass thrown from Nick Foles to Juron Criner that Criner could literally catch with his eyes close, the beaten Stanford cornerback wisely reached out and intentionally interfered with Criner. The flag was thrown, and the penalty did give the Wildcats a field goal try attempt, but going into the locker room up 17-16 would have been huge. Instead, the Wildcats looked on as Jaime Salazar shanked a 48-yarder and in the process sucked the air out of Arizona Stadium. The somewhat deflated Wildcats mustered up enough courage to take the second half kickoff into Stanford territory only to see Salazar this time miss a 37-yard field goal try. The Cardinal would score a touchdown on its ensuing possession and although the game wasn’t over at that point, the momentum killing misses in the form of a sledgehammer to the groin clearly stung the Wildcats and the team, as well as its fans didn't have the same gusto from that point forward.
How Game Was Won
It’s difficult to say that a team on the wrong side of rout gift-wrapped a victory for its opponent, but that’s what happened Saturday night in Arizona Stadium. Arizona’s overall game plan needs to be burned. In fact, whatever the game plan is for next week, it should first be submitted to a board of directors for edits and final approval. This coaching staff is pushing the wrong buttons time and again. Yes, certain players were incredibly out of position and missed some defensive assignments Saturday, but it’s the opinion of this writer that they were positioned to fail from the jump (see second guessing). The Wildcats, for what feels like the umpteenth time saw its opponent make the correct halftime adjustments while Arizona, for the umpteenth time made the wrong ones.
For the record, Stanford outscored Arizona 21-0 in the second half to extend the nation’s longest winning streak to 11 games.
Stanford did nothing special to beat the Wildcats in Tucson. Instead, they did what they’ve always done during the recent Cardinal resurgence. They overloaded one side of the line with double tight ends, mixed looks, but ran the same 10 plays out of 30 different formations. The Cardinal did push Arizona around on occasion. After all, Stanford recorded six sacks on Arizona’s Foles and offensively tallied 567 yards. However, for the most part the Wildcat lines on both sides of the ball did fine. What proved problematic was how the Wildcats lined up to defend the Stanford ground attack, which left them susceptible to play action. Why on earth Arizona chose to make itself even more susceptible to play action as any defense already would be is absolutely beyond me?
The game swung right before halftime (see above). However, if the missed field goal tries (neither was even close) didn’t deflate Arizona’s balloon, what happened on a fourth down with the Wildcats trailing 23-10 officially did. After a gutsy stop by its defense and the Cardinal punting on a fourth-and-three near the Stanford 30-yard line, Arizona’s Hank Hobson was flagged for an offsides penalty that gave the Cardinal a first down. Stanford answered Arizona’s miscue by marching the remaining 70 yards in five plays to lead 30-10. Put all the miscues together and rather than leading, or at worst being tied 16-16, the Wildcats, at the snap of a finger were down 20 and completely out of the game.
Unfortunately, this has been the way of Arizona during its current seven game losing streak to FBS opponents. The Cats may not be good enough to win, but the talent is there to compete and yet they’re not even losing competitively anymore. Instead, mistakes, miscues, penalties, bad luck, bad timing and yes, questionable coaching decisions have somehow melted into a perfect storm of losing football. I told a friend prior to tonight’s game that Arizona would find a way to snatch defeat from victory. The final score of 37-10 wouldn’t indicate that, but they did. Flip the script on three plays and maybe Arizona still doesn’t win, but they most definitely don’t lose a laugher by 27.
Despite the loss, true freshman running back Ka'Deem Carey again proved that he belongs on the field, this time also returning kick offs for the Wildcats.
As for Stanford, team’s don’t rattle off 11 consecutive wins by accident. Stanford played well tonight while Arizona didn’t, which is why the final scoring margin was wide. Stanford averaged six yards per carry and 10 yards per pass, two incredible statistics. Andrew Luck did his usual thing, this time completing 20-of-31 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns. Impressively, Stanford got the win despite losing its top tight end Coby Fleener and its standout linebacker Shayne Skov to game-ending injuries. In the case of Skov, his is likely season ending. Stanford was also without its star receiver Chris Owusu for nearly half the game after he injured his shoulder being tackled on a kick return.
Arizona couldn’t take advantage, and more importantly couldn’t score points…again. The Wildcats fell well short of their season average by gaining only 333 yards of total offense. Nick Foles passed for 282 yards, which highlights Arizona’s deficiency in the running game. Stanford would control the football for more than 35 minutes Saturday, and converted 24 first downs. Arizona had 19, but was just 4-of-12 on third down and failed to convert its only fourth down attempt.
Stat of the Game
The stat of the game should have been Nick Foles completing his first 17 passes Saturday night. However, that impressive streak was quickly followed by Foles missing seven times in his next eight tries. Instead, the glaring statistic was Stanford’s 6.2 yards per rush. For a team that thrives on play action, a defense simply can’t survive giving up that many yards per carry. Starting running back Stepfan Taylor had 22 carries for 153 yards (7.0 ypc) and Luck averaged 12 yards every time he took to the ground.
Player of the Game
Andrew Luck was superb. He completed 20-of-31 throws for 325 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 36 yards. He outperformed Nick Foles and helped guide the Stanford Cardinal to an easy second half win.
It’s incredibly difficult watching what should be a very good football team continue to get hamstrung by its own coaching staff because they refuse to put their best players on the field. The fact that Derrick Rainey and Cortez Johnson aren't getting live reps in games at the cornerback position warrants a Congressional investigation. The second, second guess again goes to the coaching staff that for some reason decided at some point during game preparations that they were going to stuff all 11 defenders in the box on short down and distances against the best play action quarterback in the country. Two huge pass plays later, one for the deal-breaking touchdown that made the score 30-10 and I’m guessing the Arizona defensive coaches are now second guessing themselves.
What it Means
Right now Arizona is just good enough to not get shutout against a Top 10 team. The program is in complete disarray from the standpoint that nothing “major” is wrong, yet the staff and its players don’t seem to have any answer for those one or two adjustments that puts the entire engine in sync. If it’s not this then it’s that. If it’s not a blown coverage, it’s an offside penalty that gives the opponent a free fourth down conversion. The fact that you can’t point a finger to one thing is the biggest challenge, and yet someone needs to figure this out, and quickly.
Arizona has now lost seven straight games to FBS schools and by some opinions, things will only get tougher in the next two weeks when the Wildcats host No. 12 Oregon before traveling to USC where Arizona has not fared well, historically. The Wildcats, with all the hype of its no huddle, spread offense has scored 24 points in two games. This was an offense that averaged over 28 points a game a year ago. It’s worth noting that even at 28 per outing, that’s still a very low scoring average among schools that run spreads similar to Arizona’s.
To say there’s no hope is flat out wrong, but things are feeling hopeless right now in the Old Pueblo. The team seems to be one momentum swinging play from being great, yet for the past season and a half the momentum plays have gone to the opponents and have been enough to break the spirits of the Wildcats. Tonight, fans will point to the scoreboard and say the game was a blowout. However, Arizona could have easily been leading, or tied at worst, midway through the third quarter against the sixth-team in the nation. Yet, as things have been going, the momentum swung away from Arizona and the Wildcats could not recover.
Up next, Arizona hosts Oregon on Sep. 24. The Ducks routed Missouri State Saturday afternoon in a game that should have never occurred. However, Oregon forked over $440,000 to the Blue Hones and that was that. Perhaps Arizona could get a fancy paycheck from the Ducks and just call it a week, or perhaps they can find an answer and start playing the high level of football that they’re capable of.
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