Citizen Staff Writer
ARIZONA WILDCATS FOOTBALL
Perhaps the Arizona athletic department needs a big bucket of paint. Start with the weight room.
Football coach Mike Stoops imported a saying after he was hired following the 2003 season, splashing it on a wall of the weight room: Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.
It’s time to paint over it.
Arizona plays hard enough, usually. It has enough talent, usually.
What’s missing now is belief.
Replace the saying with this: Some Wildcat will make a play.
And maybe the basketball team would follow it, too.
Some Wildcat will make a play.
Put it on a placard in the locker room and make the players slap it before heading onto the field.
Paint over “Bear Down” on the Arizona Stadium turf and write in “Some Wildcat will make a play.” Never mind how small the letters would have to be. Just do it.
Make the players write it at the top of their written football tests every week. Stitch it into the backs of the jerseys.
The players should wake up with a text message from the coaches every morning: SWWMAP.
Make them believe it.
It came down Saturday night to another end-game scenario, the second in two weeks for the Wildcats.
They couldn’t catch a wide-open pass on fourth-and-3 a week earlier at Oregon, and compounded the error by failing to make an ensuing defensive stop.
Saturday at home, the Wildcats allowed Oregon State to drive 80 yards for a touchdown with 3:58 left. A missed extra point kept UA’s lead at 17-16.
But the Cats couldn’t run out the clock, gaining only one first down, and then committed a mortal late-game defensive sin – letting a receiver get behind the defense.
A 47-yard pass later, Oregon State was soon lining up for a chip-shot field goal and a 19-17 victory.
No Wildcat made a play.
“The ball doesn’t seem to bounce our way in these situations for some reason,” said senior receiver Mike Thomas.
For as much as Stoops has upgraded the talent and made Arizona competitive in every single game, he hasn’t solved the puzzle that unlocks the players’ late-game ability.
Arizona is 0-4 this season in games decided by a score (eight points) or less.
Arizona was 1-4 in those situations last season. UA is 5-16 under Stoops in games decided by a touchdown or less.
Since the middle of the 1999 season, when things started to unravel and hasten the end for Dick Tomey, UA is a miserable 10-28 in games decided by a touchdown or less.
UA fans have seen this horror movie before.
“We have come a long way,” said offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes. “We can’t seem to find a way to win it.”
At this point, near the end of Stoops’ fifth season – and we’re back to wondering if he’ll have a next season if he loses to ASU – the pattern is too established to consider it a coincidence. Whatever Stoops is doing – or not doing – on the team’s psyche isn’t working.
Quibble if you will about the late-game play-calling – Arizona did call two pass attempts in getting an initial first down while trying to run out the clock – I would suggest it didn’t much matter.
The mood wasn’t “Some Wildcat will make a play.”
It was “What can go wrong now?”
Playing tight in big games, in big situations, has been an unfortunate hallmark of Stoops’ teams.
There was some talk after the game about not being able to catch a break, but that was misplaced.
The Wildcats got breaks Saturday night – Oregon State was using a backup quarterback and the league’s best running back, Jacquizz Rodgers, went out of the game in the first quarter. And OSU missed an extra point.
How’s that for victory served on a silver platter?
Then Arizona slipped on a banana peel. Again.
Never mind that “Some Wildcat will make a play” is a Tomey-ism.
Arizona didn’t always make a play, of course, or else Tomey might have gone to one or two Rose Bowls and still be coaching here.
But it created an attitude, an identity and, at its best, a level of concentration and confidence that is rarely seen late in games anymore.
It’s something the coaches need to get the guys to believe next time Arizona is in a pressure situation.
Some Wildcat will make a play. Make it happen.
Anthony: At some point, a Wildcat will have to make a play