Arizona defensive coordinator Mark Stoops walked into the postgame interview room. He probably didn’t want to be there. He didn’t want to sit at the big table, just find a little corner of the room. Maybe no one would notice him.
“I’m not happy,” he started, surrounded by a semi-circle of seven or eight media members with cameras and reporters.
“Let me rephrase that,” he said. “I’m ecstatic we won. But I’m embarrassed.”
Coaching defensive football is his livelihood, so a 43-38 victory in which his unit gives up a staggering 584 yards and six passing plays of at least 30 yards is going to create all kinds of conflicting emotions … which eventually gave way to a smile.
“I hugged all the offensive coaches and kissed them all,” Stoops said.
“I said, ‘I’ve been waiting my whole life to win a game like that.’ We’ve been part of a lot of good defensive efforts on the losing end. That doesn’t feel any better. That feels worse.
“Yeah, I kissed them all. All the offensive coaches and the players. I said, ‘Thank you, thank you.’ And I mean it.
“I don’t want to make it a habit, and I’m not proud of the effort, but I’m proud of the stops at the end and I’m proud the offense put up a lot of points.”
Yeah, about those stops at the end. That was something. The defense made a couple of plays, and got a little bit of luck at the end.
Head coach Mike Stoops said it Monday. Things in life have a way of evening out.
Arizona should have won at Washington. It didn’t. Stanford should have won Saturday night at Arizona Stadium. It didn’t.
The lesson — if you can extrapolate one from two of the craziest games you have ever seen — is that if you’re a visiting team, you better put the home team away when you have a chance.
For as well as Stanford moved the ball and schemed to get receivers wide open — like by 15 yards or more — the Cardinal didn’t score on any of its last four possessions, propping the door open for Arizona’s comeback.
Arizona, down 38-29, held Stanford to a 36-yard field goal attempt early in the fourth quarter. Wide left. UA forced a punt on the Cardinal’s next possession (Stanford’s only punt of the game). Stanford, after recovering a fumble deep in Arizona’s territory and up only two points, went for it on fourth-and-2 from the UA 8 with less than six minutes left.
Running back Toby Gerhart limped off the field before the play. Game on the line? Stanford dropped a pass for a first down.
Then came the miracle. Third-and-17 … Nic Grigsby takes a handoff … does some shake and bake … does some more shake and bake …
“Just saw daylight,” Grigsby said. “That’s my specialty — daylight.”
Fifty-seven yards later, Arizona had the lead.
But Mark Stoops’ defense needed one more stop. The Cats didn’t get it on fourth-and-5 when Stanford redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck — I won’t be the first to say he’s going to play in the NFL, but let me get it on the record here anyway — scrambled for 5 yards. First down, by less than the length of the football.
Luck then hit a 36-yard pass to the UA 17, and Arizona fans’ hearts were dropping, hopes were drooping. The Cats eventually worked it to fourth-and-10. After blitzing on third down, Arizona sent only four to the quarterback.
“I knew they were coming at me. They were coming at me the whole game,” said sophomore cornerback Trevin Wade. “I just told myself and was praying, ‘I hope they come my way because I want to make a play for the team.’”
Wade was right. Luck lofted a ball toward Chris Owusu in the left corner of the end zone.
“He went outside, so I went outside … I saw his eyes light up, so I turned around quick and jumped,” Wade said.
Wade made the play. He knocked the ball down. Save for the final 23 seconds, game over.
Mike Stoops said after the game that the team didn’t have a productive week of practice. It wasn’t easy to get over the Washington loss. About 12 players were suffering from the flu, and several key guys barely practiced. Starting offensive lineman Mike Diaz didn’t play because of illness, and starting defensive end Brooks Reed (ankle) missed his third consecutive game.
Grigsby? He said his bruised shoulder is still “killing” him, maybe about 60 percent healthy. But, hey, some Wildcat needed to make a play, so …
“It was something that was supposed to be done and needed to be done,” he said of his game-winning run. “Coaches tell me to make the first guy miss, and I made him miss.”
In the end it was just another Arizona game with 1,137 yards of offense (cough, cough), just another game in which its starting quarterback, Nick Foles, goes 40 of 51 for 415 yards and three touchdowns. That’s the eighth-best yardage total in UA history. And still no foles4heisman.com?
Well, at least he got a hug from the defensive coordinator.
Hey, hugs all around. Arizona is 4-2 and has a schedule set up on a platter — UCLA and Washington State at home — to go to 6-2 overall and 4-1 in the Pac-10. Think about that for a minute. For all week, if you want.
Catch your breath, too. These Cats aren’t boring. Each Pac-10 game has been — and almost certainly will be a heart-stopping — affair. You’re going to win some. You’re going to lose them. Enter Mike Stoops, the philosopher.
“I’d rather play bad and win than play good and lose,” he said with a chuckle. “Believe me.”