STANFORD, Calif. - The Arizona Wildcats all said the same thing following Saturday night's 42-17 loss to Stanford, hoping repetition might make it true:
"We still have a chance."
At what, though, nobody's really sure.
Saturday's shellacking all but eliminated the Wildcats from Rose Bowl competition, though there's still plenty to be determined with three games remaining.
Arizona (7-2, 4-2 Pac-10) will face USC on Saturday at Arizona Stadium, then finish its season at top-ranked Oregon and back home against rival Arizona State. Depending on how they finish, the 18th-ranked Wildcats could earn a bid to one of six different bowls.
"We're going to play next week like everything is still on the line," cornerback Robert Golden said. "You never know what's going to happen."
Fair enough. But if the Wildcats are going to contend for anything this side of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, they're going to have to improve in a handful of areas. Here's our three-step solution:
• Step 1: Play faster. Quarterback Nick Foles is at his best running a no-huddle passing attack designed to scramble opposing defenses.
The run-and-gun approach worked in Saturday's loss to Stanford, though at the time UA was too far behind for it to matter.
Arizona went 65 yards in just 1 minute 26 seconds to score its first touchdown, a 7-yard pass from Foles to Juron Criner in the third quarter. The Wildcats' second touchdown drive took just 2:54; they ran 14 plays and covered 63 yards before Keola Antolin plunged in a 1-yard score.
"That's how our offense is: Once we get into a rhythm, we can do great things. We can do very dynamic and very great things," said Foles, who completed 28 of 48 passes for 248 yards. "If you keep the tempo up, there's not much they can do."
Arizona hardly gave itself a chance Saturday; dropped passes and penalties kept the Wildcats from finding a real rhythm.
"When we play fast with great tempo and we're executing, we're catching balls, moving and running well, we do a lot of things," co-offensive coordinator Seth Littrell said.
• Step 2: Protect Foles. While the Wildcats want the ball in Foles' hands as much as possible, they can't afford to risk his health.
Foles was blitzed from all sides Saturday, his first game back since suffering a dislocated right kneecap on Oct. 16. He was sacked twice and hurried a handful of other times. Foles appeared to injure his left shoulder while taking a sack in the third quarter, but stayed in the game.
"We knew that they were going to try to get pressure on us because of the knee injury and everything, trying to hit me," Foles said.
Littrell said he will continue to build a game plan around Foles, cognizant of the quarterback's recovering knee. Matt Scott is out indefinitely with a wrist injury.
"The key is to keep Nick healthy throughout a game," Littrell said. "I don't think we're limited with Nick out there. I just don't think we made plays when we had the opportunities."
• Step 3: Tighten up. Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck shredded Arizona's secondary on Saturday, completing 23 of 32 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns. The problems continued even after the Cats replaced starting cornerback Trevin Wade with true freshman Shaquille Richardson in the first quarter.
Stanford racked up 510 yards of total offense against the Wildcats; the Cardinal averaged 6.6 yards per play.
"I don't think anybody played well, not on the defensive side of the ball," co-defensive coordinator Tim Kish said. "We weren't aggressive, not like we were in the past."
Things won't get much easier. Arizona will face USC's Matt Barkley this week, then finish its season against Oregon's Darron Thomas and ASU's Steven Threet. The three quarterbacks have combined to throw for 6,790 yards and 63 touchdowns this season.
The Wildcats may have a chance, but they're going to need to take some chances.
"We have a lot to play for," head coach Mike Stoops said. "You don't know how this is going to play out."
• What: USC at Arizona
• When: 6 p.m., Saturday
• TV: Channel 9
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)
AP TOP 25
With first-place votes in parentheses, records through Nov. 6 and previous ranking.
1. Oregon (49) 9-0 1
2. Auburn (2) 10-0 3
3. TCU (2) 10-0 4
4. Boise St. (7) 8-0 2
5. LSU 8-1 12
6. Wisconsin 8-1 7
7. Stanford 8-1 10
8. Ohio St. 8-1 8
9. Nebraska 8-1 9
10. Michigan St. 9-1 16
11. Alabama 7-2 5
12. Oklahoma St. 8-1 19
13. Iowa 7-2 15
14. Arkansas 7-2 17
15. Utah 8-1 6
16. Virginia Tech 7-2 20
17. Mississippi St. 7-2 21
18. Arizona 7-2 13
19. Oklahoma 7-2 11
20. Missouri 7-2 14
21. Nevada 8-1 25
22. South Carolina 6-3 18
23. Texas A&M 6-3 -
24. Florida 6-3 -
25. UCF 7-2 -
Others receiving votes: USC 51, San Diego St. 42, Miami 39, Penn St. 29, Baylor 23, North Carolina 20, Kansas St. 18, Pittsburgh 14, N. Illinois 9, Florida St. 6, Temple 4, Navy 3, Syracuse 2, Delaware 1.