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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona in a better place than before

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Gordon Bates
Gordon Bates / Arizona Daily Wildcat UA v NAU 2011

Arizona hasn’t beaten an FBS team since Oct. 29, 2010, and the Wildcats have been outscored 130-55 in their last three games. Statistically speaking, they’re one of the worst defensive teams in the country.

But things used to be worse.

“A lot of these guys weren’t here five, six years ago when we were pretty shitty,” said head coach Mike Stoops after Arizona was embarrassed by Oregon on Saturday.

Losing used to be the norm for Arizona football. The Wildcats were the Pacific 10 Conference doormat under the John Mackovic regime.

They were the Washington State of the early 2000s, winning only eight games from 2003-2005 and went a combined 11-13 the two seasons thereafter.

With only four players and three coaches remaining from the 2007 team that went 5-7, most of the current Wildcats don’t know what it’s like to struggle. The majority of the 2011 squad arrived at Arizona for the Wildcats’ first bowl appearance in 10 years, or their second in two years, or third in three years.

“I don’t think they know where it was when we first came,” said cornerback Trevin Wade. “We were just getting beat down and beat down against everybody.”

Only Wade, wide receiver David Roberts, place kicker Alex Zendejas and quarterback Bryson Beirne experienced the days when Arizona football and losing were synonymous.

But even then, Arizona hadn’t lost eight games in a row to FBS teams. In fact, the last time Arizona lost eight such games in a row was in 2002, when the Wildcats finished the season 2-10.

But during that stretch, Arizona didn’t play five top-10 teams in eight regular season games like the Wildcats have since defeating UCLA in late October of last season. While Arizona’s current skid is undoubtedly bad for the program and certainly not what Stoops and his staff expected, the losing streak and uninspiring play doesn’t mean they’re headed back to where they were years ago, players say.

“I’m not really worried about that. Four years ago it was a talent thing. When we’re going out there right now, it’s not talent,” Roberts said. “It’s not like it was here my first year when it was hoping to get wins.”

The 2011 Wildcats have far more talent and a different mindset than Arizona teams of old. Defensive coordinator Tim Kish, who came to Arizona with Stoops in 2004, wouldn’t even compare this year’s team to the teams he used to coach.

“Oh no. No, I don’t go there,” he said. “Short memory. This is a new team, new year.”

According to Beirne, it doesn’t matter if the young players know where Arizona football came from or not — all they need to know is where they’re going.

“They don’t need to know where we came from. They just need to know how not to act because doing what we used to do got us where we were,” Beirne said. “We’re not going to act like that anymore.

“People weren’t accountable, people didn’t work hard, people weren’t focused,” he added. “Having them know what happened five years ago isn’t a big deal. They don’t need to know that, they just need to know that’s not how Arizona is and this is how Arizona is now.”

But if Arizona continues to slide as the Pac-12 gets stronger beyond this season, the Wildcats could very well fall back into irrelevancy once again. In order to stay out of that dark hole the Wildcats once occupied, Arizona needs a fast start and a competitive performance against USC on Saturday.

“It’s easier to play when you get down,” Stoops said. “That’s a hard reality that you need to look at. That’s something that we did five years ago.

“It’s about attitude, it’s about growing up and that’s what we need to do.”

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