Arizona football: Can’t call this season a successby Anthony Gimino on Dec. 03, 2010, under Sports
Arizona Wildcats coach Mike Stoops had to think about it for a second.
Is this a successful season?
“Success, like I told them, is defined a lot of different ways,” Stoops said in his news conference at Arizona Stadium following a 30-29 loss to Arizona State on Thursday night, the happy screams of Sun Devils fans echoing into the interview room.
“I always have great expectations going into every season and every game. Those expectations won’t change. … It’s certainly disappointing that we didn’t finish better. So, I don’t know. We have to sit back and reflect.
“We just kind of ran out of gas here at the end for whatever reason. …
“It’s hard for me to answer when you’re disappointed in this outcome, that’s for sure.”
Really, the question wasn’t that hard.
The short answer would be no.
When you go from 7-1 to 7-5, ending with a loss to your rival as you have two extra point attempts blocked — one with 27 seconds left in regulation, and another that would have forced a third overtime — this probably isn’t the time to be philosophical about all the various definitions of success.
The season wasn’t a success.
It wasn’t horrible. It wasn’t Arizona State in 2009. It’s still better than anything UCLA has produced in four or five years.
But the Wildcats of 2010 weren’t as good as the Wildcats of 2009, finishing two games worse in conference play when the table was set for them to feast on something just as tasty.
Forget about two of the losses. There was no shame in losing on the road to the No. 1 team in the nation (Oregon) and the best Stanford team in 40 years. That happens.
But close home losses to Oregon State, USC and Arizona State — fellow denizens in the flabby midsection of the Pac-10 — sent this Arizona season hurtling from potentially fabulous to painfully frustrating.
For a team that has little margin of error — as Stoops has, correctly, repeatedly claimed — the Wildcats sure did spend a lot of time committing those errors.
Not even including Alex Zendejas’ blocked extra points Thursday night, Arizona:
– Dropped five or six (seven?) potential interceptions.
– Lost a fumble near midfield early in the fourth quarter when it had a 14-6 lead.
– Committed a hands-to-the-face personal foul penalty in the end zone that turned third-and-goal from the 11 into first-and-goal from the 2. ASU then scored a touchdown for a 17-14 lead.
– Went for it, unsuccessfully, on fourth-and-1 from its 29 with six minutes left. “I thought we could get a yard,” Stoops said later.
– Let ASU quarterback Brock Osweiler out of the pocket too many times; on four occasions, he scrambled for the necessary yardage on third down.
Through it all, the first half — with eight punts and 83 total yards — was such an epic failure that Arizona can only invoke the single word that captures the totality of it: Mackovic-ian.
“Everything that could have gone wrong for us did go wrong,” said senior defensive end Ricky Elmore.
“Missed interceptions, some penalties, fumbles. Just everything, all the way around. Offense. Defense. Special teams. You can’t really point a finger at something specific. It was a whole team meltdown pretty much.”
That pretty much describes the past month.
There was a time — and it wasn’t that long ago — when seven regular-season victories and a bowl game was a success. So if you blame Stoops for not reaching the bar this season, credit him for at least raising it that high.
So, what happened?
Was it a factor of coaching? Play-calling? The creation of co-coordinators on both sides of the ball? An accumulation of nagging injuries? Dumb luck?
The simplest answer: Stoops just needs to bring in better players.
He has solid, useful guys at most spots. That’s an improvement over the way things were. But if you’re counting up truly elite talent, your list starts with junior receiver Juron Criner … and junior quarterback Nick Foles is one clutch dude … and then … what exactly?
Arizona doesn’t have the talent to pull away from most of the teams in the Pac-10, so it ends up getting into these down-to-the-wire games, where, with a roll of the dice, you win some, you lose some.
“That’s just part of football,” Stoops said. “We’ve all been on the good side of it, the bad side of it. Life goes on.”
Life will go on with Arizona having lost its last three oh-so-winnable close games at home — Oregon State, USC and Arizona State.
With that, no way you can call the season a success.