Arizona once again must recover from a winnable game that turned into a heartbreaking loss after No. 18 Stanford rallied to hand UA a 54-48 overtime loss Saturday in Palo Alto, Calif.
The Wildcats gave up 617 total yards — the same number they gained on offense.
Arizona blew a two-touchdown lead in the final eight minutes of regulation and again lost a back-and-forth shootout, this one being UA’s third straight loss overall and seventh consecutive loss against ranked Pac-12 teams.
After six weeks — and with six games to go — Arizona has gone from Win Men to the Tin Men, with each of the last three losses coming in similar fashion. Arizona has gone from a team looking to be relevant again to being relevant only in defeat.
UA coach Rich Rodriguez is hoping for a recovery. Heart, and perhaps better health, should help the Wildcats get through the remainder of the season, one that looked so promising just a month ago.
They’ll need it.
“It’s not a consolation to lose, but I think they’ve got a measure of respect,’’ Rodriguez said on his postgame radio show, referring to his team playing well against another tough opponent. “I think they got a measure of respect, and they should hold their heads up.
“They have nothing to be ashamed of. We just got to get a little better. There are things we can get better at.”
Defense seems to be the obvious thing. For the second consecutive week an opponent bent and bent Arizona’s defense until it finally broke. UA lost to Oregon State in similar can’t-stop-them fashion last week.
Rodriguez referred to needing to make just “one play” a number of times … and he was right.
In the latter portion of the fourth quarter Saturday, it was Stanford making all the big plays, as the Cardinal scored a touchdown with 6:34 left in regulation to make it 48-41. On their next possession — after a fourth-down conversion in the red zone — with 45 seconds left to tie it.
“One more play and we don’t go into overtime,” Rodriguez said.
But they did. And it wasn’t pretty.
It certainly wasn’t anything like the previous 60 or so minutes, when Arizona moved the ball at will. When Stanford linebacker Chase Thomas intercepted a tipped a third-down pass from UA quarterback Matt Scott in overtime that created an interception, another can-you-believe-that-just-happened finish was inevitable.
Two plays later, Cardinal running back Stepfan Taylor ran in from 21 yards out, and the Wildcats’ collapse was complete.
Rodriguez refused to single out either side of the ball, saying UA’s offense could have made one more play, too, and it would have been over before late in the fourth quarter.
“It’s a team deal all the way around,’’ Rodriguez said. “Nobody is happy right now … and they shouldn’t be.”
If there’s any consolation, it’s that Arizona should maintain the confidence that it can compete with some of the better teams in the country. One play here, one play there and who knows?
What Rodriguez does know is that Arizona’s bye week comes at a good time. An even better time would have been earlier in the year, when UA was trying to get some important players healthy.
Against Stanford, usual starters Quinn Tebbs, Jared Tevis, Dominique Austin and Trace Biskin didn’t play, but as Rodriguez said “whoever is in there is expected to do their job and compete.’’
The time off should help.
“We need a month off,’’ Rodriguez said. “A week may help a little bit, but right now, we are as razor thin as we can be. We could have used a week off a month ago, but we will take it now.’’
An influx of both starters and depth should help heading into what might be the roughest part of UA’s schedule. The Wildcats, coming out of a stretch featuring three consecutive ranked opponents, must face 23rd-ranked Washington (a team which beat Stanford last week), preseason Pac-12 favorite USC and 25th-ranked UCLA in Los Angeles.
The good news: The first two of those three games are at home, although Arizona has shown that a lead is vulnerable anywhere. Even when Scott is putting up record-setting numbers, as he did Saturday, when he finished with a school-record 45 completions on a school-record 69 attempts for 491 yards and three touchdowns.
“Matt Scott is a stud, an absolute stud,’’ Rodriguez said. “He competes and he battles. He made a lot of great throws … maybe one or two you’d want back. I think Matt Scott showed he should be considered one of the best in the league, if not the country.
“I wish I had another year with him. I’m proud of the way he competed.”
Competing will be a must going forward as the Wildcats try to recover from another oh-so-close loss.