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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    UA program has promising future

    Brian Kimball - Asst. Sports Editor
    Brian Kimball – Asst. Sports Editor

    Football Commentary

    EUGENE, Ore. – It wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination, but it wasn’t a total loss either.

    Despite the shoddy first-half performance by the Wildcats and the end result being a loss, the Wildcats showed just how far this program has come in the five years under head coach Mike Stoops, no matter what the statistics from this game show.

    Oregon scored the most points ever against a UA team coached by Stoops with the 55 the Ducks put up Saturday night. Arizona allowed 411 yards and Oregon had four touchdowns of 40 yards or longer in the first half. But a 28-10 second half by Arizona, including a 28-3 frenetic span before the game-clinching score, exemplifies the Wildcats’ never-say-die attitude – something previous UA teams might have lacked.

    “”I think we’re definitely a new team, a new breed at Arizona,”” said H-back Chris Gronkowski. “”We’ve got the players, we’ve got the talent, we’ve got good coaching and we’re ready to step it up to the next level.””

    Facing a 45-17 deficit at halftime, nobody – and I mean nobody – gave up, instead showing they are capable of stepping up to the next level. An offense that sputtered its way to 188 yards before halftime, exploded for 389 in the second half, including a 21-point fourth quarter. A defense that gave up 411 first-half yards limited the Ducks to just 93 after the break.

    Even the special teams came up big for the Wildcats after halftime when redshirt freshman Orlando Vargas recovered a fumble forced by freshman Robert Golden on a kickoff that set up a score that brought Arizona to within 3 points.

    The 2008 version of the Wildcat football team somehow managed to keep its composure in front of 58,389 screaming fans at an electric Autzen Stadium on Senior Night after falling behind 14 points just 1:32 into the game.

    Could past Arizona teams have done that?

    “”Absolutely not. Absolutely not,”” said UA linebacker Ronnie Palmer. “”They would have been fighting on the sidelines, and coaches just kind of saying whatever because we had players a couple of years ago, when stuff went wrong we would blame each other and start fighting. We can definitely take a lot of positives from (the game), but I don’t believe in any moral victories.””

    Nor does any other player on the team or coaching staff – yet another sign this team has turned the proverbial corner and is becoming a contender in the Pacific 10 Conference.

    Offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes said, “”I promise you we won’t feel good about anything.”” Head coach Mike Stoops said “”disappointing”” five times during his 10-minute post-game press conference.

    Defensive coordinator Mark Stoops went as far to say he did a “”horse-shit job”” preparing his team and described the defensive effort as an “”embarrassment”” on his part.

    But still, the Wildcats showed their true colors after halftime when all signs pointed to them throwing in the towel.

    “”We could have easily came out in the second half and just laid down and let them put up 100, but we didn’t,”” said senior safety Cam Nelson. “”We came out and got focused like we should have been in the first half.””

    Past teams would have simply patted themselves on the back after such a furious comeback because they kept it close. Past teams would have been OK with that result. This year, Arizona was searching for the answer to why it started out the game so poorly, because the players and coaches felt it was a game they should have won.

    Perhaps part of the reason for the abysmal first-half showing was the team finally got over the hump in terms of qualifying for a bowl game with a win over Washington State last weekend.

    “”I hope not. Definitely not in my mind,”” Palmer said. “”I know as seniors, our vision and our goal is far, far higher than six wins and a weak bowl game.””

    The loss doesn’t help the team’s chances of going to the Holiday Bowl or the Sun Bowl – destinations reserved for the second and third place Pac-10 teams. In fact, the loss, coupled with a USC win, assured Arizona can finish no higher than third in the conference. But the loss will definitely help the team’s focus. The Wildcats admittedly lacked that going into this game, and now they know that’s not acceptable going into any contest on any night.

    “”Our mentality has changed, I guess. We’ve have to keep playing,”” said senior wide receiver Mike Thomas. “”I think we gave a tremendous effort on (Saturday) and we’ve just got to try to get at it next weekend. We’ve got two more left. If we can get these two, we’ll be in a good spot.””

    Even if they don’t win the next two games against conference-leading Oregon State this Saturday and ASU on Dec. 6, they’ll be something Arizona football isn’t used to being in recent times – a promising program.

    Yes, Arizona should be disappointed it didn’t win the game, and it played as badly as it did. But the fact they’re not happy with a helluva effort in a rollercoaster game shows just how good these Wildcats expect to be.

    – Brian Kimball is a journalism senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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