First it rained, then it poured.
Mistake after mistake after mind-numbing mistake, Arizona ended up losing a game it had no business losing.
The final was New Mexico 29, UA 27.
The trivia was that it marked the first time the Lobos had beaten a Pac-10 team since 1979.
The fallout is that Arizona isn’t going to a bowl and coach Mike Stoops is facing the biggest crisis in his four years in Tucson.
Some of the details:
A lost fumble at the New Mexico 2-yard line. An intentional grounding penalty in the end zone for a safety. Two roughing-the-passer penalties. A coaching staff that was responsible for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty during a timeout. Twice jumping offsides to give New Mexico a first down.
After all the heavy rain during warm-ups, it seemed like Arizona’s heads were still in the clouds.
Through all the mistakes, the one thing that stands out to me is the Arizona defense. Namely, what has happened to it?
If you can’t believe in this defense, with 10 returning starters from one of the better units in the Pac-10, what can you believe in?
Certainly, you can’t believe in this season.
Arizona is 1-2 and it hasn’t even started the Pac-10 season yet. The Wildcats play at Cal next week.
UA gave up 24 first downs, 421 yards and let Donovan Porterie complete 29 of 41 passes for 327 yards, with three touchdowns, last night. Marcus Smith had 11 catches for 164 yards. Travis Brown had 10 catches for 121 yards.
Really? Against one of the best defenses in the Pac-10?
Rodney Ferguson, a running back with no discernable speed, was tough enough to gain 94 yards on 26 carries. With a victory still possible for UA, Ferguson shredded tackles for a 17-yard gain on third-and-9 with 1:23 left.
The Lobos ran out the clock, and UA left the field to a smattering of boos.
“We didn’t have the discipline tonight,” Stoops said. “We didn’t coach as well as we needed to.”
For now, let’s leave it at that.
Review the loss, painful though it may be, from our in-game blog:
Final: New Mexico wins 29-27
Arizona comes up short, despite Willie Tuitama throwing for the most yards by a Wildcat quarterback since 2002. He finishes 30 of 53 for 442 yards, three TDs and one interception.
The interception was costly and came after UA had gotten the ball back with 1:59 left on its own 18. Tuitama heaved a long pass that was picked off on third down. New Mexico then ran the clock out to improve to 2-1 and drop Arizona to 1-2.
UA had pulled to within two on a 13-yard TD pass from Tuitama to Mike Thomas with 4:23 left.
Cats need two scores
New Mexico kicks a field goal for a 29-20 lead with 6:41 left.
The crowd was fired up at Arizona Stadium after a 48-yard pass to Mike Thomas, who made an over-the-shoulder catch to the UNM 26.
Surely, UA was going to go in for a touchdown and take the lead.
But Chris Jennings fumbled on the next play, with New Mexico’s OJ Swift returning it to the UA 46. He probably would have scored if he hadn’t tripped over his own feet.
This isn’t looking good . . .
By the way, that was the first lost fumble by a UA running back in 467 carries.
Cats have life
UA got the drive it needed, going 82 yards in nine plays, capped by a 12-yard pass from Willie Tuitama to Mike Thomas, who made a leaping catch in the right corner of the end zone.
Arizona cut the deficit to 26-20 with 13:06 left in the game.
Touchdown, New Mexico
The Lobos quickly drive down field after the safety, and you have to wonder where the Wildcats’ heads are. QB Donovan Porterie found a wide-open Marcus Smith for a 23-yard score in what must have been a busted coverage in the UA secondary.
UA trails 26-13 with 13 seconds left in the third quarter. For almost all of the first half, the Wildcats seemed to be in control.
UA makes a huge play, causing a fumble and recoving it at its 1-yard line to prevent a New Mexico touchdown.
Problem was, UA quarterback Willie Tuitama scrambled in the end zone on third-and-6, pitching the ball forward to avoid a sack. But there was no receiver in the area, resulting in an intentional grounding penalty, which resulted in a safety because Tuitama was in the end zone.
New Mexico leads 19-13 near the end of the third quarter, and is driving again.
It is worth thinking about already: This would be UA’s worst loss since . . . when?
The Lobos, with fourth-and-inches at midfield, drew UA end Louis Holmes offsides. Holmes is now on the sideline with his helmet off, as the Lobos are deep in UA territory.
Another senseless play
The Lobos had third-and-five at their 36, when Yaniv Barnett jumped offsides, giving UNM a first down.
The fans don’t know when to boo. Willie Tuitama was intercepted on a long third-down pass at the UNM 3-yard line, but the play was reviewed by the replay officials. The play was overturned, as the ball hit the ground before the catch.
The reversal is exactly what UA didn’t want. The result of the interception had the Lobos backed up near their goal line. Yet, the fans cheered the reversal that took away the interception. Perhaps they realized their mistake when Keenyn Crier punted from the UA 44, hitting a wobbler that was downed at the UNM 31.
Because of the reversal and the bad punt, UA gave up 28 yards of field position.
UA has two roughing-the-passer penalties, including one on Lionel Dotson on the previous drive that ended in a 31-yard field goal for New Mexico. The Lobos lead 17-13 with 7:15 to go in the third quarter.
The Wildcats also have an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty during a timeout and a running-into-the-punter infraction.
It’s getting worse
Arizona is doing all it can to give this game to the Lobos. (Read below for the first half woes.)
So, Arizona takes the second-half kickoff and drives deep into New Mexico territory, with first-and-gaol from the 4. Then, comes a run into the middle of the line. Chris Jennings is thrown for a loss of 1. Yet again, the line can control the line of scrimmage in a short-yardage situation.
On second down, Willie Tuitama (who doesn’t do a lot of scrambling) scrambled out of the pocket and was at the 2 when the ball was poked out from behind.
UNM safety OJ Swift recovered and ran it back to the UNM 41-yard line.
End of half
It’s a terrible ending to the half for Arizona. Kind of deflating like the Hail Mary touchdown pass Washington had at the end of the half two years ago here at Arizona Stadium.
Anyway, UNM scored on a 38-yard pass to Travis Brown with three seconds left in the half to take a 14-13 lead.
Let us count the things that went wrong on the drive:
First, UA called a timeout to stop the clock, early in the drive on third down, hoping to get a stop and the ball back. That backfired, as UNM came out throwing after the timeout, picking up signifcant yardage.
The strangest play came during a UNM timeout at the UA 42. The Cats were penalized during the timeout for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Not sure what happened; we’ll find out after the game.
The Lobos were in trouble after a sack by end Jason Parker and a false start penalty, but then Porterie found Brown in the end zone. Brown beat coverage by Dominic Patrick.
Definitely, it feels like UA should have the lead (see the “missed opportunities” entry below).
The UA offense has hit for some big plays, although there haven’t been enough smaller chunks. To wit: Willie Tuitama has thrown for 172 yards on 11 completions, but he is completing less than 50 percent of his passes. He’s 11 of 23.
UA has 213 total yards in the half. Arizona has rushed for 41 yards on only 10 attempts.
Some red-zone-area issues for UA.
It was forced to kick a field goal on its first possession after reaching the UNM 23. The Cats were stopped at the Lobos 20 and had to go for a field goal in the second quarter.
And on the next possession, UA had first-and-10 at the UNM 15, but then went nowhere. A pass to Mike Thomas gained zero yards, and two Willie Tuitama passes into the end zone were incomplete. Jason Bondzio then missed a 32-yard field goal.
UA still leads 13-7 with 5:39 to go before half.
Cats extend lead
UA could have gone for it on fourth-and-1 at the New Mexico 20 — and seemed poised to do so before calling a timeout — but went for a field goal instead.
After a false start penalty, Jason Bondzio hit from 42 yards — the longest of his career (he’s now in his third game as the starter).
UA leads 13-7 with 9:07 to go in the second quarter.
Star of the game
So far, it’s UA sophomore receiver Terrell Turner. He has four receptions for 96 yards and one touchdown. His score came on a 39-yard catch-and-run, and he has a leaping 27-yard grab on UA’s current drive.
End of the first quarter
Arizona’s defense has held New Mexico to very little on two possessions since the Lobos’ 16-play touchdown drive. Meanwhile, the Wildcats have done some nice things on offense . . . and UA has already picked up its usual “sideline warning” from the officials. It took only 64 seconds tonight.
UA’s spread offense is working well against New Mexico, utilizing quick passes to keep the blitz off QB Willie Tuitama.
The Cats scored on a quick slant to Terrell Turner, who turned up field and split the defense for a 39-yard touchdown. Arizona leads 10-7 with 2:18 to go in the first quarter.
Kind of. Arizona had something going with a 16-yard burst up the middle from Chris Jennings (still starting despite being pushed by Xavier Smith and Nick Grigsby) and a 23-yard pass to the sideline from Willie Tuitama to Terrell Turner.
UA had first-and-10 at the UNM 23, but Tuitama threw three conseccutive incomplete passes. The Lobos — known for their aggressiveness and unusual blitzing schemes — had good pressure on Tuitama, especially on the third-down play.
Lobos strike first
An impressive opening drive for New Mexico. The Lobos marched 80 yards in a steady 16 plays, making UA’s defense look like nothing special.
New Mexico mixed it up, with three direct snaps to either a running back or receiver. And the Lobos put quarterback Donovan Porterie on the move at times, notably on a fourth-and-1 at the UA 15.
He rolled out and lofted a pass over the middle that was tipped by linebacker Dane Krogstad . . . into the hands of fullback Josh Fussell.
It would have been a great place for the defense to make a play.
As it was, the Lobos went on to score on a 6-yard pass to Travis Brown. Porterie was 8 of 8 for 57 yards on the drive.
Arizona began the game in its nickel defense, which means linebacker Dane Krogstad was not in the starting lineup. Corey Hall was the extra defenive back on the field.
Some good luck
Arizona, for the third consecutive game, has won the coin toss. For the third consecutive game, it will defer its choice to the second half.
Oh yeah, it’s been raining again, but not nearly as hard as it was during pregame warmups.
And lightning, too
Your weather update: With 20 minutes to go before kickoff, the rain has stopped, but there is some lightning in the area. So far, so good, though.
Here comes the rain
With 40 minutes before kickoff, the rain is coming down HARD at Arizona Stadium.
That could keep attendance numbers low, although the Zona Zoo student section, which is about filled from goal line to goal line, hasn’t budged a bit. In fact, the rain might help the party mood.
Both teams are on the field warming up, with the Wildcats wearing their red jerseys as they did last week.
Check back before and during the game for more updates from Arizona Stadium.