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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Football fumbles in New Mexico

    New Mexico 36 Arizona 28

    ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – On Arizona’s first punt return of Saturday’s game, returner Mike Thomas barely touched the ball before he was pile-driven to the turf.

    The tone of the game was set.

    From there, the Wildcats (2-1) struggled on all sides of the ball while their hosts, New Mexico (1-2), took the wind out of Arizona, with every ensuing mistake en route to an ugly 36-28 win in Albuquerque, N.M.

    “”Overall, to play that poorly was disappointing,”” said UA head coach Mike Stoops of his team. “”New Mexico outplayed us and outcoached us and that’s why they won the game.””

    Arizona opened the game showing glimpses of the past two weeks in which the team dismantled both Idaho and Toledo with a combined score of 111-16.

    The Wildcats opened the game with a three-and-out defensively, and then responded on offense with a six-play, 69-yard drive to take an early 7-0 lead off a 43-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Willie Tuitama to receiver Mike Thomas.

    Arizona appeared in complete control on New Mexico’s following possession when cornerback Marquis Hundley ended a promising drive by the Lobos by picking off opposing quarterback Donovan Porterie deep in the Wildcats’ territory.

    But then a single mistake began a series of miscues for Arizona.

    Two plays following the interception, Tuitama returned the favor by hitting Lobos’ nose tackle Brett Kennedy. The turnover was the Wildcats’ first of the season, setting up New Mexico for its first points of the game – a 24-yard field goal.

    The errant pass would not be the senior’s last, as Tuitama ended a promising drive late in the fourth quarter by hitting cornerback Glover Quin at the Lobos’ 28-yard line, which set up yet another New Mexico scoring drive, putting the Lobos up 36-21.

    Tuitama and the Wildcats’ offense mounted one more offensive attack with a five-play, 66-yard scoring drive late in the game to lessen the margin to eight, but failed to convert on their final drive after a dropped fourth-down pass by Thomas.

    “”(Tuitama) played as bad as I’ve seen him play,”” said UA offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes of the quarterback who completed 27-of-50 throws for 321 yards and two picks. “”It was just little basic things we’ve done since day one, but at times we couldn’t get them accomplished. It was just an embarrassing performance over all.””

    Tuitama’s struggles did not only include his aerial attack, but stretched to his ground game as well.

    The Wildcats’ signal caller coughed up the ball on two occasions – both of which saw Tuitama come under pressure from the Lobos’ defense.

    Unfortunately for Arizona, both fumbles occurred deep in its own territory, allowing NProxy-Connection: keep-alive
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    Mexico to take advantage with a pair of field goals.

    “”I think at times I was just overthinking things,”” Tuitama said. “”Maybe I was reading the blitz a little bit and not just reading it out at times.

    “”I had too many turnovers by far and I just can’t let that happen.””

    Turnovers continued to plague the Wildcats throughout the night, as running back Nic Grigsby fumbled on the first play of the second half.

    Grigsby’s first mishandle of the year once again set New Mexico up for a scoring strike, this time in the form of a 10-yard touchdown run by runningback Rodney Ferguson, who strolled untouched into the end zone.

    Altogether, Arizona’s five turnovers turned into 19 points in the other direction, a costly set of errors in a game decided by an eight-point margin.

    “”You’re going to win a very small percentage of (games with five turnovers),”” Dykes said. “”I thought we were ready and focused coming in. But it seemed like every decision we made was the wrong one which was pretty disheartening.

    “”We really played a very, very poor game, as poor as we could play,”” he added.

    The Wildcats could not escape the defensive miscues, either. Even though Arizona managed to shut down the Lobos’ passing game – holding Porterie to 13-for-17 passing for 89 yards – the Wildcats’ simply could not contain Ferguson, who ran wild for 167 yards on 26 carries including a pair of touchdown runs.

    Ferguson’s rushing performance was the most prolific against the Arizona defense this season as the Wildcats allowed a combined 122 yards of ground production to come into Saturday’s contest.

    “”We just got to get better in tackling,”” said UA linebacker Ronnie Palmer. “”All the credit to (Ferguson) because he definitely ran hard. But tackling, we have to do a better job.””

    Throughout the game, Arizona appeared put off-balance by the Lobos offense, which used a variety of formations to execute its attack.

    In the first quarter, Arizona even found itself on the unlucky side of a play when Ferguson took a backward pass from Porterie only to complete the first touchdown pass of his career right back to his quarterback, giving the Lobos an early 10-7 advantage.

    The three-point deficit was the first of the season for the Wildcats, but it wasn’t their last Saturday.

    “”We were just a little bit on our heels,”” said UA defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. “”A little bit of our inexperience showed its side a touch today as well with some of the unusual things that (New Mexico was) doing made it hard getting adjusted to.

    “”They did a good really good job,”” Mark Stoops added, “”and we just weren’t good enough today.””

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