Arizona Football

Five off-the-beaten-path storylines of Colorado Buffaloes vs. Arizona Wildcats

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Five off-the-beaten-path storylines of Colorado vs. Arizona while wondering if the Wildcats choked last week against UCLA or was it a cough?

1. Easy does it, that loss was a hiccup.

Don’t babies hiccup a lot when they’re young and developing? Arizona is only in its third year of the Rich Rodriguez era and he entered the month of November with one loss in conference play before the 17-7 loss at UCLA last week.

Larry Smith and Dick Tomey accomplished the same progression in their respective third year of the program after going through growing pains in their first two years.

— Smith’s team was 2-1-1 in conference play heading into November in 1982. The Wildcats finished fifth in the conference with a 4-3-1 record.

— Tomey’s team was 4-1 before November in 1989. The Wildcats lost two of three games that month to finish in a three-way tie for second with a 5-3 record.

Therefore, Smith, Tomey and Rodriguez — Arizona’s three best coaches since Jim Young from 1973-76 — are a combined 3-5 in November after entering the month with promise in the conference standings in their third year in Tucson.

Does that mean they are choke-artists? Perhaps if it was their fifth season or beyond at the school. They are actually ahead of the game, making Arizona competitive faster than expected in only their third seasons. Entering this year, Rodriguez’s team was selected fourth in the Pac-12 South.

As Tucson sports journalist Anthony Gimino noted in his TucsonNewsNow.com blog, “It’s tempting to say the Wildcats are ‘who we thought they were’ and mean it as insult. But they’re not. They’re better.”

2. How come Arizona has never turned the corner in November?

That “choke” word might apply for Arizona never reaching the Rose Bowl in seasons the Wildcats were viable contenders but they remained competitive to the end in those years.

In the 11 seasons in which Arizona has entered November with only one conference defeat, including this season, the Wildcats’ overall conference record at that point is 36-11-2 (winning percentage of 75.5 percent). Their record in November in those seasons: 18-17 (51.4 percent).

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ARIZONA WITH ONLY ONE PAC-10/12
LOSS HEADING INTO NOVEMBER

How Wildcats fared in November with that being the case

Year PreNov NovRec Final Finish
1982 2-1-1 2-2 4-3-1 Fifth
1985 2-1 3-1 5-2 Second
1986 3-1 2-2 5-3 Fourth
1989 4-1 1-2 5-3 Second
1992 3-1-1 1-2 4-3-1 Fourth
1993 4-1 2-1 6-2 Second*
1994 4-1 2-1 6-2 Second
1998 4-1 3-0 7-1 Second
2009 3-1 2-2 6-3 Second
2010 4-1 0-3 4-5 Fifth
2014 3-1 0-1 ??? ?????
Total 36-11-2 18-17


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That’s a significant drop, but in the three years during the Tomey era in which Arizona was a realistic challenger (1993, 1994 and 1998), the Wildcats were a respectable 7-2 in November.

Arizona lost on Nov. 13, 1993, at Cal after the Wildcats led 20-0 at halftime. Cal’s go-ahead touchdown, an interception return by Cal’s Eric Zomalt of a Dan White pass, occurred on a controversial play in which Ike Booth stripped Arizona’s Terry Vaughn, popping the ball into the air. It appeared that Vaughn made the catch on the sideline pattern and Booth stopped his forward progress but a whistle was not blown.

Arizona and its Desert Swarm defense lost at USC 45-28 on Nov. 12, 1994, allowing the Trojans to gain 550 yards in total offense. No excuses there.

In 1998, Arizona ran the table in November with a 3-0 record but so did UCLA, which was unbeaten (including a win over the Wildcats) in conference play that year.

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3. Tomey had impact on Mike MacIntyre’s success at San Jose State

The second-year Colorado coach, who is 49, is the son of former Vanderbilt coach George MacIntyre and he was hired by Bill Parcells and David Cutcliffe to be part of their staffs.

He coached the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive backs in 2003-2006 under Parcells. He was part of Cutcliffe’s staffs at Ole Miss and Duke.

Upon replacing Tomey as San Jose State’s coach in 2009, MacIntyre avoided negative comments about the Spartans under the former Arizona coach despite their 2-10 record the year before his arrival.

“Coach Tomey is a legend in our field and I’ve followed him from afar,” MacIntyre said at his introductory press conference.

With many of Tomey’s recruits, MacIntyre made San Jose State a winner in only only three seasons, going 1-11 in 2010, 5-7 in 2011 and 10-2 in 2012. The Spartans’ 2012 roster included 11 seniors who signed with Tomey out of high school in 2007 or 2008. Tomey still had his imprint on the program.

4. Will Scooby get his snacks (or sacks) against Colorado?

The Buffaloes’ offensive line has been effective protecting quarterback Sefo Liufau, allowing opponents only 1.67 sacks a game. That ranks No. 1 in the Pac-12 and 36th in the country.

Arizona sophomore linebacker Scooby Wright has almost as many sacks (12) as Colorado has allowed (15). The Wildcats have 23 sacks as a team.

Colorado features an offensive line with two five-year seniors (left guard Kaiwi Crabb and right guard Daniel Munyer) and three-year starting junior right tackle Stephane Nembot.

Three teams have not recorded a sack against Colorado: Colorado State, Cal and UCLA.

Against teams with aggressive defensive fronts and talented players, however, such as Washington and USC, the Buffaloes allowed seven sacks. Wright is in the “aggressive” and “talented” categories, although Liufau said this week that he has not keeping an eye out for him.

“I wouldn’t say I need to keep an eye out,” he said. “Obviously you’re aware of their playmakers on defense but I wouldn’t say that we’re trying to run the ball away from him or anything like that.”

It will be difficult for Liufau to keep his eyes off that meddling Scooby. A semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award, Wright is the only FBS player to rank among the top 20 in tackles (97), tackles for lost yardage (18.5), sacks and forced fumbles (five).

5. How would Colorado junior receiver Nelson Spruce fare in Arizona’s offense?

Spruce a 6’1″ and 195-pound fourth-year junior, ranks fifth in the nation with 1,002 receiving yards on 90 catches. Arizona is led by sophomore Cayleb Jones’ 716 yards on 50 receptions.

Jones would be the definitive star in Colorado’s offense but he shares the bulk of receptions with six other targets for Anu Solomon on Arizona’s roster. Eighty receptions separates Spruce from the No. 7 receiver on Colorado’s roster. With Arizona, that number is only 32 (between Jones and David Richards).

To the credit of Liufau and Spruce, they have successfully connected despite facing the opposition’s best cornerbacks and weighted coverage Spruce’s way.

He exposed Washington’s young, inexperienced and injury-riddled secondary last week with 13 catches for 138 yards.

“I have never seen him drop a ball,” Rodriguez said this week.

ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.

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