The collapse against ASU nine months ago is still fresh on the mind for Arizona fans because they were not accustomed to such a drastic failure.
They knew all about close losses, but a defeat like that at home?
Arizona led by 19 points at the start of the fourth quarter and inexplicably lost 41-40 to its archrivals when everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
How does a team get outscored 20-0 in the fourth quarter in a game that means so much to Arizona and its fan base?
“We wanted to be better,” Kevin Sumlin said.
When posed the question of what they are looking forward to the most this season, some fans responded this way:
Umm simply not falling apart in crunch time — JC Boyd
A better defense! No reason to lose to ASU at home the way they did! — Habib Pierce-Byrd
Overall, Arizona outscored its opponents 100-86 in the fourth quarter in 2018. Before the loss to ASU, that margin was 100-66.
In the second half last year, the Wildcats outscored opponents 226-152, a stark contrast of getting outscored 239-150 in the first half.
If anything, Arizona started too slow last season but came on strong later in games. That makes the loss to ASU even more troubling — the Wildcats generally did not fall apart late in games, especially like that.
Fans have a point about crunch time, however.
In games decided by seven points or less, Arizona was 1-4 last season with three of those losses at home. A couple of plays go the other way, and the Wildcats beat ASU, BYU (28-23 loss) and USC (24-20) at home and UCLA (31-30) on the road. Win those winnable games and Arizona would have been 9-3 instead of 5-7.
Sumlin would be considered a saint in Tucson.
What’s interesting of those losses, except the heartbreaker against ASU, the Wildcats tried to make a comeback too late. In the fourth quarter, they outscored BYU and USC 13-0 and UCLA 10-7.
The losses were not necessarily in crunch time but in the first and second quarters.
“To me it’s when you get off the field. Every coach is going to ask them about academics and football, academics and football, but they’re people. So to me, when they walk in a room everyone is different … As soon as that guy walks in a room you can look at his face and tell he has something on his mind whether it’s football related, family related, whatever it may be. You have to do more than just talk to them about school and football, you have to ask them about how they’re doing.” — Arizona defensive coordinator Marcel Yates on building relationships with his players.
By the numbers
Believe it or not, that was the longest punt return last year, by Shun Brown against Oregon. Special teams for Arizona need more of an impact in 2019. The Wildcats also missed eight of their 27 field goal attempts, six from 40 yards or longer.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.