Arizona fans will forever remember the collapse in Rosemont, Ill., when the Arizona basketball team had a 15-point lead over Illinois with five minutes left and the Final Four within reach.
Arizona fans will remember – and talk about – having No. 3 Gonzaga by double digits for more than half the game only to lose big in the second half last week Who would have guessed that was just the second-worse collapse in five days?
Fast forward to Saturday afternoon where Arizona played fast and loose for more than three-plus quarters … then changed gears and slowed down.
Arizona’s offense went conservative and its defense went into prevent mode – and all it did was prevent Arizona from pulling off what would have been an impressive win against in-state rival Arizona State. Instead, the Sun Devils won an improbable 41-40 game at Arizona Stadium. There will be no bowl game for the 5-7 Arizona Wildcats.
Oh, wait, let’s not forget last year when a Kevin-Sumlin led Texas A&M team blew a 34-point lead to UCLA. Big leads just aren’t safe these days.
Once again, it was a game for the ages as it pertains to the Arizona-Arizona State rivalry. Did you expect anything different?
And deep down – you know it – Arizona fans knew Josh Pollack would miss that 45-yarder to win it. That’s just how it goes when luck (such that it is), poor play calling and everything comes together at the corner of Enke Drive and National Championship Drive.
It was there – everyone involved and beyond – will remember how Arizona scored 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to get the win. Or was it how Arizona imploded late by having an interception, a fumble, poor play calling and, well, a makeable field goal.
Pollack had already done his part by keeping Arizona ahead of the curve with field goals of 29, 23, 36 and 40 yards.
Who knew a fifth field goal was needed, although the smart ones did when Arizona had chances to get touchdowns early but had to resort to field goals in the first two quarters.
Everyone knows those lost points come back to haunt you.
“Bad Luck” had nothing to do with the loss. Chasing two point conversions, conservative playcalling both in the redzone and in the 4th quarter, a pick, a fumble, and a key drop all contributed. ASU also made plays when they needed them most.
As do failed two-point conversions, two of which failed miserably during a time all Arizona had to do was get as many points as it could. Gimmees, if you will.
Instead, Arizona gave it away there, too.
Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin explained the two-point tries as following a mathematical formula he and his coaches use during games.
“Basically, we got off number early based on some statistical data that we use and we tried to get back on an even number,” Sumlin said. “It’s really based on that, the statistical data.”
He might as well throw that paper away given what happened.
But it wouldn’t have to come to any of this had Arizona just played as well as it had in the first, say, 50 minutes or so. Heck, it was arguably the best stretch of football in the young Sumlin era.
Then, well, all of sudden it unraveled like a cheap Christmas sweater. After ASU scored a touchdown shortly after Arizona ran with the strategy of running J.J. Tayler up the middle six consecutive times, Arizona still appeared safe from disaster.
But, … Khalil Tate (more later on him) threw an interception and three plays later ASU kicked a field goal to make it 40-35.
“Things didn’t go our way,” Tate said, when asked to assess the fourth quarter. “A lot of bad luck.”
On Arizona’s next possession, UA running back mishandled a handoff from Tate, leaving the ball on its own 22. A play later ASU had the lead.
Then he shut down – much like the offense he tried to lead – shut down when he refused to answer questions about the interception.
I asked Khalil Tate whether he expected to be part of the Arizona football program next year.
But, voila, the collapse was all but complete and seemingly so was the player’s press conference. Short of Tate said “next question” when asked if he was going to be part of next year’s team.
But that’s for another day. Saturday night – four hours after the game’s start – Sumlin said the game was about the giveaways.
“The biggest issue to me was the two turnovers,” Sumlin said. “Two turnovers on your side of the 50. Those two turnovers at the end of the game on our side of the 50 cost us more than anything. From a strategy standpoint, you’re not planning on turning it over twice on your side of the 50.”
Arizona still had a chance. A good chance at that, converting two third-down-and-long situations to keep the hope. Eventually, it played it safe – again – getting to the middle of the field and the ASU 27-yard line.
Then, Pollack missed right. Disaster complete.
Arizona fans have witnessed them before – heck, one just five days prior.
On a good note, at least Bill Walton didn’t call saturday’s game. So, there’s that.