Arizona winning ugly? Focus on the ‘winning’ not the ‘ugly’by Anthony Gimino on Sep. 26, 2010, under Sports
Arizona seemed to do everything wrong and still won. The Wildcats probably made you furious, curious, outraged and out of your mind. And they still won.
A 10-9 victory over Cal was as improbable as it was ugly. You know it. The Wildcats know it. Coach Mike Stoops knows it.
But they won.
I’m not sure I believe quarterback Nick Foles when he said “we always knew we were going to win,” because if Cal’s Giorgio Tavecchio makes that 40-yard field goal with 2:37 left, the Wildcats weren’t going to win.
But they did.
In the end, Arizona swept away stupid penalties, missed opportunities, a general lack of youthful enthusiasm and an offense that made you long for Arizona’s option days. Speaking of which, I’m going to invoke the spirit of Dick Tomey here: At the end of game, it was as if his voice was whispering, “Some Wildcat is going to make a play.”
Foles and Juron Criner did.
On first-and-10 from the UA 37, Foles stepped up into the pocket amid pressure, kept his eyes on Criner and heaved a deep ball to the junior receiver. Criner made a leaping catch for a 51-yard gain, out-wrestling Darian Hagan for the ball.
Criner said he felt about 80 percent coming into the game because of a turf toe injury that caused him to miss three practices last week.
“He looked like 100 percent at the end of the game,” Foles said.
He did. Three plays later, Foles hit a leaping Criner in the back of the end zone for a 3-yard score and the Wildcats’ only touchdown of the game. The defense made the 10-9 lead hold up with an interception, although Arizona couldn’t even do that right as Joseph Perkins tried to make a return instead of just falling to the ground.
He fumbled, but Arizona’s Robert Golden recovered.
And the Wildcats won.
A year or two ago, Arizona would have played a game like this … and lost.
Three or four years ago, Arizona would have played a game like this … and lost by a couple of touchdowns.
Five or six years ago, Arizona would have played a game like this … and got its ass kicked.
Saturday night, they won.
That’s just not progress, that’s a sign of a really good team.
“I think we’re fortunate, but the better you get the luckier you get,” Stoops said. “And the harder you play, the more good things happen to you.”
And it wasn’t karma or any kind of payback for bizarro losses last season. Yeah, you play a lot of close games, you’re going to win some, you’re going to lose some. “Fifty-fifty,” Stoops always says.
But the Wildcats won because while they were losing their poise and doing all the things that will give Stoops an overflowing to-do list in the bye week, they were playing some pretty great defense.
That is not luck. That is not a fluke. The Wildcats played 32 minutes, 22 seconds of solid defense, keeping Cal out of the end zone. That’s four games played. That’s three games played in which Arizona hasn’t allowed a touchdown.
Nobody saw that coming.
“Our defense played their tails off,” Criner said. “They played amazing.”
So, yeah, the Wildcats got lucky. But they wouldn’t have been in position to be lucky if they hadn’t held Cal to 262 total yards and if they hadn’t risen up in the red zone, holding Cal to six points in three trips inside the UA 20.
“That’s huge for our guys to play with their backs against the wall — to fight and scratch and claw and come up with a win,” said co-defensive coordinator Greg Brown.
“It looked grim there for a while, but we’re really fortunate our guys hung in there and played hard to the end. The ball bounced right for us.”
So, Arizona is 4-0 for the first time in 12 years. The Wildcats were 14th last week in the AP poll and will be creeping higher before they play again, Oct. 9 against Oregon State. They remain in the national discussion.
Enjoy it while you can because this hasn’t come around too often.
It sure seems as if the glass is at least half full, not half empty.