Citizen Staff Writer
For the past few weeks, the Arizona football team has been living with distraction.
Coach Mike Stoops is hoping a few Elvis impersonators and showgirls don’t change the Wildcats’ concentration level when they face No. 17-ranked Brigham Young in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 20.
“The worst thing you can do is just be happy to be in a bowl game,” Stoops said. “You go in there and don’t play well.”
The Wildcats (7-5, 5-4) are heading to the distraction capital of the world for their first postseason bid since 1998.
But their 31-10 victory over Arizona State on Saturday night showed they could overcome off-the-field, negative talk about Stoops’ job future, UA being stuck on six wins since Nov. 8 and ASU’s recent success in the rivalry.
“I have never felt so much pressure for one game before,” UA defensive end Brooks Reed said. “I think the coaches were feeling a lot of pressure from the fans and the media. The players were feeling the heat from the coaches. I thought we handled it well.”
The Wildcats came through by scoring 21 points in a five-minute span in the third quarter to pick up their first win over ASU since 2004. It also kept the Sun Devils from bowl eligibility.
“You have defining moments in all seasons and lifetimes of programs,” Stoops said. “This was a defining moment for us.
“We tried to not make it that way, but let’s face it, it was. We tried to stay cool, calm and collected, but it got pretty hot under the collar.”
BYU (10-2) is accustomed to the glitz and glamour of Vegas, having played in the bowl three straight years at Sam Boyd Stadium.
The Cougars have won the last two, taking care of Oregon 38-8 in 2006, and last year blocked a last-second UCLA field goal for a 17-16 victory.
Arizona fell at BYU 20-7 in last season’s opener and beat the Cougars 16-13 in 2006 in Tucson.
But BYU’s offense is more potent now, ranked seventh nationally in passing and averaging 35 points per game under quarterback Max Hall.
“We are going to take BYU serious,” Stoops said.
The Wildcats have had to block distractions since a 59-28 win over Washington State on Nov. 8 guaranteed them a bowl berth.
Coaches and players knew they needed a seventh win to guarantee the program’s first winning season since the 1998 Wildcats knocked off Nebraska 23-20 in the Holiday Bowl.
But the Cats played tight, falling to Oregon 55-45 after a poor first half and losing at home to Oregon State 19-17 in the final seconds.
“It would have been hard having three straight losses going to the bowl game,” Stoops said. “That’s never a good position to be in.
“This win over ASU gives us a lot of good feeling going into another tough game.”
Lots will happen before the Wildcats even kick off against BYU.
Elvis look-alikes and showgirls from the casinos New York, New York, MGM, Excalibur and Tropicana will greet the Wildcats the week of the game.
A “Stomp Out Loud” show and dinner at Planet Hollywood are part of the event schedule.
Five players and Wilbur the mascot will visit a local hospital before a dinner Thursday.
There will be kickoff luncheons and pep rallies, shopping sprees for coaches’ wives and family members – and tailgating.
Oh, yeah, there will be practices and a game that could put the ribbon nicely on top of the Wildcats’ Christmas season.
“I hope we show the maturity and leadership we have to this point,” Stoops said.
Is that chore tougher considering the gambling and different vices in Las Vegas?
“Kids have access to everything they want here,” Stoops said. “Everywhere is Sin City. This is not the holy ground here in Tucson.”
UA will fly into the game five days early, practice the first time at UNLV on Dec. 17, take part in the events as much as possible and then put in a curfew.
The game, early in the bowl season, is only 12 days away.
The Wildcats have recruiting issues to take care of first. Coaches will be scattered throughout the country the next three days meeting prospects.
That doesn’t leave a lot of extra time, or even the use of the full 15 allotted NCAA practices for a bowl game.
Younger players will work out Tuesday before Thursday’s full-scale practice.
A later bowl would have given the Wildcats more time to work with younger players to get them ready for next year.
“All I wanted was to come in here and (beat ASU). We would go any place, anywhere,” UA defensive coordinator Mark Stoops said. “I am not complaining a bit.”
Neither are UA players, who finally have in-state bragging rights.
“I go home and hear a lot from my friends and family, ‘Way to go, now beat ASU,’ ” UA defensive end Brooks Reed said. “We play every team the same, but you know, it’s extra special when we beat ASU.
“It means a lot.”
Las Vegas Bowl
Arizona (7-5) vs. No. 17 BYU (10-2)
When: Dec. 20, 5 p.m. Where: Sam Boyd Stadium
TV: ESPN Series: UA leads 11-9-1.
Last meeting: BYU won 20-7 in the 2007 season opener.
Continued from 1C
Cats bask in win over ASU; will face BYU in Las Vegas Bowl
Bowl tickets available only through UA athletic Web site
UA officials say about 12,000 tickets for the Dec. 20 Las Vegas Bowl will go on sale at noon Monday only through the school’s Web site, www.arizonaathletics.com. Call 621-2287 for help. Six hours before UA and BYU kick off, the Cats will face UNLV in men’s basketball at noon just down the road. Call 866-388-3267 for hoops tickets.
HOW THEY MATCH UP
(Per game averages)
Category UA BYU
Rushing offense 164 136
Passing offense 237 309
Total offense 401 444
Scoring offense 37 35
Rush defense 132 144
Pass defense 170 206
Total defense 302 351
Scoring defense 21 21
About BYU: Quarterback Max Hall has completed 69.7% of his passes and thrown 34 TDs. WR Collie Austin has 95 catches, averaging a nation’s best 118 yards per game. Harvey Unga has run for 1,061 yards and 10 TDs
Arizona State couldn’t move the ball against Arizona:
Quarter Plays Yards Time
1st 3 -1 1:06
1st 5 22 2:11
1st 9 29 4:25
2nd 5 19 2:09
*2nd 5 19 2:09
2nd 5 8 2:09
2nd 1 -1 0:29
3rd 1 -5 1:38
3rd 3 49 1:30
3rd 3 -9 1:57
3rd 7 38 2:30
4th 3 4 1:11
4th 8 24 1:25
*Touchdown after UA punter Keenyn Crier’s knee touched the ground while trying to grab low snap.