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Cats trying to figure out what went wrong vs. OSU Topping ASU to salve wound?

Citizen Staff Writer
ARIZONA WILDCATS FOOTBALL

A last-second loss left the Arizona football team frustrated and looking for answers.

The Wildcats would like nothing more than for Arizona State to feel the same way after the Dec. 6 “Duel in the Desert” showdown at Arizona Stadium between the rivals.

A victory over the Sun Devils won’t make up for Justin Kahut’s 24-yard game-winning field goal in Oregon’s State’s 19-17 win Saturday at Arizona Stadium, but it would improve the Wildcats’ psyche and bowl possibilities.

“(ASU has) beat us three times in a row. I think our kids will take that to heart,” Arizona coach Mike Stoops said.

After failing to make critical plays needed in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats (6-5, 4-4) are trying to rebuild their confidence by putting an end to the Sun Devils’ season.

ASU knocked the Wildcats out of bowl contention the past two seasons.

ASU (4-6, 3-4) needs a win over UCLA on Friday and a victory against the Wildcats to get the six wins needed to be bowl eligible.

Arizona is guaranteed its first bowl appearance since a 23-20 win over Nebraska in the 1998 Holiday Bowl.

“Losing to Arizona State the last three years has been a problem and it has cost us opportunities, obviously big ones,” Stoops said. “That negative ending, not winning your last game, can have a negative effect.”

The Wildcats’ not holding in the final seconds against Oregon State might have consequences, too.

Kahut’s field goal on the last play of the game left the Wildcats solemn and their fans wondering once again where the program is headed.

Talk shows and Web message boards are questioning Stoops’ job security after the loss to the Beavers dropped UA to 6-5 despite the Wildcats having one of the easiest schedules in the country, ranking 112th out of 119.

Stoops, who is 23-34 in five years with the Wildcats, has a contract through the 2010 season.

“There are no moral victories,” Stoops said after the loss to an OSU team that is a win away from the Rose Bowl. “We are 6-5, it is what it is, but again we showed the heart of a champion and to me that is coaching.

“We (do) have to do some things better.”

The Wildcats have lost two straight since guaranteeing their first bowl appearance in 10 years.

ASU defeated Arizona 20-17 a year ago when the Wildcats needed a win to become bowl eligible. The Sun Devils won 28-14 in 2006 in a game UA had to win to get to a bowl, despite already having six wins.

ASU won 23-20 in the final seconds in 2005 after Stoops’ team upset No. 18 ASU 34-27 in 2004.

“(ASU) is trying to get into a bowl game. I would love, looovvve to do to them what they did to us,” safety Nate Ness said. “I would love it.”

There will be plenty of motivation on both sides.

Arizona has nearly two weeks to prepare and to put the loss against Oregon State behind.

The Beavers overcame a 17-10 deficit to score on a 7-yard Sammie Stroughter touchdown with 3:58 remaining, but missed the extra point to stay down 17-16.

Stroughter then made a 47-yard catch on the final drive to put OSU in field position.

The Wildcats haven’t been able to make big plays in clutch situations this year. Their five losses have come by 27 total points.

Fourth-quarter frustrations are adding up:

• Arizona had the ball in the fourth quarter with a chance to tie New Mexico with a touchdown and a two-point conversion in a 36-28 loss.

• The Wildcats settled for a pair of short Jason Bondzio field goals instead of getting touchdowns against Stanford in a 24-23 defeat.

• UA’s offense couldn’t find the scoreboard in the fourth quarter of a hard-fought 17-10 loss to USC.

• A failed fourth-down play last week against Oregon stopped UA from coming back to win after trailing by 31 in the third quarter. The Wildcats lost 55-45.

“We have come a long way,” UA offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes said. “We can’t seem to find a way to win it.”

Arizona’s most likely bowl destination, provided the Wildcats beat ASU, seems to be the Las Vegas Bowl. A loss could mean the Emerald or Hawaii Bowl.

This isn’t the time to think about that, though.

“I’m not thinking about Thanksgiving or anything like that,” Ness said. “My objective out there is to whip them (ASU).”

John Moredich’s e-mail: jmoredich@tucsoncitizen.com

JOHN MOREDICH

UA FOOTBALL

Arizona State (3-6, 3-4) at Arizona (6-5, 4-4)

When: 6 p.m. Dec. 6

Where: Arizona Stadium

TV: ESPN or ESPN2

Radio: 1290 AM

Series: UA leads 44-36-1

Last meeting: ASU 20-17, 2007

Devil data: ASU plays UCLA on Friday before getting ready for the annual rivalry game. The Sun Devils have won two straight this year after breaking a six-game losing streak, their longest since 1929. Quarterback Rudy Carpenter is 3-0 against UA in his career.

MORE UA FOOTBALL, 5C:

> Stroughter makes big play for OSU

> UA notebook

> Season stats

Arizona’s offense disappears

A week after scoring 45 against Oregon the Wildcats went relatively silent against Oregon State. The following is UA’s drive chart:

Qtr. Start Plays-Yds. Result

1st UA 22 3-3 Punt

1st UA 20 7-34 Punt

1st UA 18 16-72 Field goal

2nd UA 10 5-23 Punt

3rd UA 20 3-2 Punt

3rd UA 11 3-0 Punt

3rd UA 24 13-76 TD

4th UA 50 8-50 TD

4th UA 25 6-19 Punt

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