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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    ‘D’ not up to par in week 4

    BERKELEY, Calif. – It wasn’t like New Mexico and it definitely wasn’t like Brigham Young.

    This was the No. 6 team in the country. And with the exception of an ugly first quarter, the far-from-ranked Arizona football team actually played at times like a team that might belong in the Pacific 10 Conference after all.

    Yes, the Wildcats lost by 18 points, and yes, for the first half of the game the Arizona defense looked frozen by the 35-degree temperature difference in Northern California.

    But California is a team with Rose Bowl hopes. The Wildcats? They’re just hoping to make the Poinsettia Bowl at this rate.

    “”That’s a good ball team,”” said linebacker Spencer Larsen.

    “”That’s a team that’s very explosive and they showed it,”” he added. “”They had a good scheme and gave us a lot of different looks early.””

    While Arizona’s bowl hopes are starting to quickly look like the gloomy Bay Area skies, the team can take comfort that it is making strides on the offensive side of the ball. But when the defense allows 45 points, there is quite a cause for concern.

    The defensive unit was supposed to be the strongpoint of the team. It returned 10 starters from last year, although it has been consistently getting worked on the ground and in the air.

    “”For us to win, our defense has to play better,”” said defensive lineman Lionel Dotson. “”We can’t give up 45 points.””

    “”It’s nothing physical,”” Dotson added. “”I really think it’s mental toughness or just preparing the right way.””

    Larsen attributed the defense’s lack of success to a communication problem and the fact that opposing coaches have been able to figure out weaknesses with players operating in the same scheme in as years past.

    “”We’re not on the same page all the time,”” he said. “”A lot of the plays we give them because we’re just busting coverage.””

    “”I think our defense is at the point now where we need to find our identity again and find out what we really want to get out of this season,”” he added.

    Last season, the Wildcats faced off against two teams ranked No. 8 at the time – Louisiana State in week two, and then Cal in week 10.

    The LSU game was a bigger disaster than a California earthquake, as the Wildcats were embarrassed 45-3 in Baton Rouge.

    Then, Arizona used a little Homecoming magic to ruin the Golden Bears’ chances of making the Rose Bowl, coming back to win 24-20.

    While Saturday’s game appeared to be a repeat of the LSU game after the first quarter, the Wildcats slowly came back, scoring 17 unanswered points at one point.

    “”In some ways we’re better than I thought we’d be,”” said offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes. “”In other ways we’re not as good as I thought we’d be. I feel like the components have been put together pretty quickly, but I feel like we’re making too many mental errors and we’re not good enough in some situations.””

    The offensive line made key errors, especially senior left tackle Peter Graniello, whose facemask call in the opening play of the second half prevented a 65-yard touchdown for wide receiver Mike Thomas.

    The penalty had no impact on the play as it unfolded, but it kept the Wildcats from getting some much-needed momentum.

    “”You go back and look at this game and you look at last week and … you look up there (Saturday) and say we really should have scored 40 points,”” Dykes said. “”All we had to do was make a play and not make a mistake there.””

    Arizona’s comeback even unsettled Cal head coach Jeff Tedford. He was resting running back Justin Forsett, who was nursing an ankle injury as well as a quadriceps contusion. Tedford said he was forced to put him back in the game late because the Bears needed to eat some clock and keep their defense off the field after two three-and-outs on offense.

    “”We were trying to keep him out because he wasn’t healthy, but he was good enough to come back in and play,”” Tedford said.

    Forsett exploited the Wildcats all day, averaging 5.1 yards per carry and scoring twice.

    Still, the Wildcats dominated the possession battle, owning the ball for over 33 minutes. Dykes said that statistic further proved that time of possession alone secures victories.

    “”The area we need to shore up the most is our defense,”” said UA head coach Mike Stoops. “”Offensively, it’s not a problem moving the ball.””

    To keep postseason hopes alive, the Wildcats will need wins over two lower-tier Pac-10 programs, Washington State and Oregon State, before heading to Los Angeles to face No. 1 USC.

    “”Today was a bad day because we lost,”” said defensive lineman Lionel Dotson. “”Anytime we lose its going to be a bad day.””

    Added coach Mark Stoops: “”We’re not far off. It looks that way sometimes, but we’re a much more complete football team than we’ve ever been. We need to accept the challenge and play better.””

    “”We just gotta be smarter,”” he said.

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