The Arizona Wildcats trailed Stanford by 20 points early in the fourth quarter Saturday night. Hope and time were running out as quickly as fans were fleeing the stadium.
The Wildcats had the ball, although in the unenviable position of fourth-and-19 at the Stanford 40 after the Cardinal had sacked Nick Foles for the fifth time.
What to do?
There weren’t any good options.
Punting was the worst of them.
But that’s what coach Mike Stoops did when his team was down 30-10 with less than 12 minutes left.
“You go to the end and you go for it,” Foles said. “If I was the coach, I’d go for it. I’d do anything I could to get that fourth-and-20, I don’t care what he says.”
Stoops emphasized in his postgame press conference, referencing missed field goals, about how critical it is to score when you can against a high-powered team like Stanford. Yet, he took the opposite approach in the fourth quarter.
The outcome of the game didn’t really hang in the balance, but punting erased any doubt. There was about 11 1/2 minutes left. Arizona needed three touchdowns to have a possibility of overcoming the lead.
Even on fourth-and-19, take your chance. Play to win. You do have Juron Criner on your team, remember? He might make a play. As former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach always says, “Swing your sword.”
Not fall on it.
Worse, Stoops didn’t really have a good football explanation for his decision afterward.
“I just didn’t want to put our defense in another bad position,” he said.
Which made no sense.
The offense hadn’t put the defense in a bad position all night. The defense had put the defense in bad position all night.
None of Stanford’s scoring drives were cheapies. They weren’t set up by turnovers or bad special teams play: The Cardinal went, in order, 57 yards, 72, 64, 65, 81, 80 and 91 yards. The defense had plenty of time to stop Stanford on those drives … and didn’t.
That 91-yard drive came after the punt, as Stanford drained 6:55 from the clock and went up 37-10, which was the final margin.
Down 20 points with less than 12 minutes left is not the time to play the field position game, and punting isn’t a winning message to send to the team. See Foles’ quote: Go for it.
It would have been nice to at least take a chance on fourth-and-19.