Greg Hansen: Wildcats turn back clock, rediscover fun

2011-10-21T00:01:00Z Greg Hansen: Wildcats turn back clock, rediscover funGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 21, 2011 12:01 am  • 

The 16th clause of Rick Neuheisel's contract exonerates him if his coaching is interrupted by "acts of God, fires, flood, war, public disaster, strikes or labor difficulties."

Alas, not a syllable about a streaker dressed as an official who ignites a brawl while Neuheisel's team is getting smoked 42-7 by one of America's worst college football teams.

On Thursday night at Arizona Stadium before God, country and ESPN in HD, Neuheisel's UCLA Bruins were so inept it became possible to forget that 10 days earlier Arizona paid its coach $1.4million not to show up for work.

These haven't been "acts of God," but in a football sense they do qualify as labor difficulties and public disasters. Can you imagine Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, who has spent two years rebuilding the image of this conference, watching in horror somewhere in Walnut Creek, Calif.?

"My Lord," he might have muttered, "it looks like an Idaho-Portland State game."

Arizona won 48-12, but the only thing really determined was (a) Neuheisel's attorneys will be getting a workout in contract-buyout law this weekend, and (b) Arizona isn't as bad as it looked at Oregon State.

"It's better than losing," said UA quarterback Nick Foles. So you can't say he didn't become numb from the neck up during that 10-game losing streak against BCS opposition.

But let's not get carried away. If the NCAA approved Arizona and UCLA to merge rosters for the season's final five games - the best of the Wildcats and Bruins - they would still be 10- point underdogs Nov. 19 at Sun Devil Stadium.

The UA announced that 46,565 attended Thursday's game, but in reality it was closer to 30,000. It was surely the smallest in-house attendance since the 35,779 of November 1985 when UA coach Larry Smith advised fans to "stay home" if they didn't like what they saw.

The difference is that UA fans didn't need any encouragement Thursday night. They stayed away - about 16,000 of them ate previously purchased tickets - in a mass protest against watching lousy football.

It is probably too late to save Arizona's 2011 football season. The Wildcats may stay strong and unified under interim coach Tim Kish, a good guy among good guys who said Thursday's victory was "a tribute to the foundation Mike Stoops built here."

The Wildcats are still good enough offensively to beat Utah, Colorado and Louisiana-Lafayette and finish 5-7. What they can do over the next five weeks is to continue to restore the dignity of the program. Thursday's game was a good start.

But all of the important games have been played. Once UA director of athletics Greg Byrne introduces Stoops' replacement, the UA will begin another cycle in its everlasting fight for football relevance.

Not that Thursday's game didn't have a cleansing effect.

Not that it wasn't fun, too.

The Wildcats' third-string kicker, John Bonano, mysteriously buried on the depth chart since the Willie Tuitama era, has suddenly resembled Lou Groza, or for those younger readers, Nick Folk.

Rarely have six point-after-touchdown kicks drawn such rousing applause.

"We've got somebody," said Kish. "He's on my 'good list.'"

Now that the Wildcats have nothing more to lose, they are unafraid to experiment. On Thursday, Kish's defense actually called a B-L-I-T-Z. Remember what a blitz is? Arizona hasn't blitzed for eight years, eschewing that style of football for the soft-and-safe, numbers-in-your-favor scheme that broke down against better teams.

If you think it was a shock to see a UA kicker drill six consecutive PATs, it paled next to sacking UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince on back-to-back plays.

Kish and his defensive assistants get all the credit there. They spent the 10 post-Stoops days in what Kish called "a cocoon." They went back to the future and resurrected Dick Tomey's double-eagle flex defense of the Desert Swarm years.

"It made sense to use it," said Kish, who tapped into the expertise of ex-Desert Swarm assistant coach Jeff Hammerschmidt. The system not only neutered UCLA's ridiculous Pistol offense, but it reintroduced stressed-out UA defensive players to something they had forgotten - fun.

"I felt like I was on the playground again," said UA linebacker Paul Vassallo. He said the new/old defense was fun because "there weren't as many rules and things of that nature."

In the Stoops system, everything had a schematic value. An X and an O couldn't be interchanged. In Kish's system, nobody had a letter. Hammerschmidt simply told Vassallo that he was playing Tedy Bruschi's position.

Maybe when the Wildcats go to Washington next week they should tell Trevin Wade that he is Chris McAlister and Justin Washington he's Rob Waldrop.

After rediscovering their kicking game and trotting out a defense from the '90s, the Wildcats won for the first time since Labor Day weekend.

It's just too bad they can't play the Bruins again next week.

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Pac-12 South football standings

Team W L T PCT
Arizona 5 1 0 0.833
Utah 5 1 0 0.833
USC 5 2 0 0.714
ASU 5 1 0 0.833
UCLA 5 2 0 0.714
Colorado 3 4 0 0.429

Pac-12 North football standings

Team W L T PCT
Oregon 6 1 0 0.857
Oregon State 4 2 0 0.667
Stanford 4 3 0 0.571
Washington 5 2 0 0.714
Cal 4 3 0 0.571
Washington State 2 5 0 0.286
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