No. 1 on list of embarrassments

2010-01-04T00:00:00Z No. 1 on list of embarrassments Opinion by Greg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 04, 2010 12:00 am  • 

In the days leading to the Fiasco Bowl, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini did three things that would lead to the single most embarrassing football game in UA history.

He told the Cornhuskers that Arizona's players were calling the Big 12 "soft" and the Cornhusker defense "overrated."

None of that ever took place -if anything, the Wildcats were a bit intimidated by the Huskers - but Pelini exercised the motivational license available to every college football coach and made it work.

"They were talking, talking, talking," Nebraska safety Larry Asante told the Omaha World-Herald. "We'd just had enough. We were sending a message. Talk is cheap."

It was Arizona that went into the game soft, unaware that the Cornhuskers were playing to defend their manhood, approaching the game as if it were for the national championship.

Nebraska played with an intensity Arizona couldn't match and had rarely seen.

Pelini also correctly guessed that Arizona's defensive coaches would spend their 14 practice sessions preparing to stop a physical, two-back, two-tight end Nebraska offense that, ugh, ranked No. 101 nationally. The UA coaches expected the Cornhuskers to try to win a low-scoring defensive battle and do little more than try to kill the clock.

Instead, Pelini and his staff installed a spread formation that Arizona suspected had been junked. They attacked with an offense Arizona wasn't fully ready to defend.

The Huskers implemented a no-quarterback, Wildcat attack, which it ran seven times for 57 yards. Arizona was so unprepared for the Wildcat that the first time it was used Rex Burkhead bolted 34 yards. A few plays later, Burkhead ran 5 yards for a touchdown and Nebraska led 17-0.

"It's something we had in our hip pocket," Pelini said. "We haven't run a lot of it this year, but it was a good wrinkle."

There would be no Arizona rally. At the time, the UA had 25 total yards.

The third thing Pelini did was play his cornerbacks at the line of scrimmage, pressing Arizona's receivers, a strategy rarely used in the Pac-10. It was Nebraska's ultimate challenge to Sonny Dykes' spread offense. If the receivers couldn't quickly get into their routes, quarterback Nick Foles wouldn't have enough time to go through his reads.

The physically superior Cornhuskers blew up the UA passing game before it had a chance to begin.

Thus, Nebraska won the three most important aspects of the game: offense, defense and motivation.

The game was so lopsided that Arizona was in serious danger of gaining the fewest yards in modern school history. When the Wildcats began their final possession (6:50 remaining) they had 37 total yards. They ended with 109.

In 1935, Arizona gained an historic-low 15 total yards against Loyola Marymount. That, however, was in a different age of football and its records are not considered relevant. The school recognizes an abysmal 93-yard game at Oregon State in 2002 as the fewest yards it ever gained.

It wasn't until Matt Scott completed a 5-yard pass to Keola Antolin with three minutes remaining that Arizona avoided setting a record for offensive futility.

Arizona lost that 2002 game at Oregon State 38-3. OSU had 13 tackles for loss/sacks in that game, but it was just another in a string of inept offensive performances by a bad football program and thus easily forgotten.

At the Holiday Bowl, however, Arizona was coming off a victory at USC and had climbed to No.20 in The Associated Press poll.

No one, not even Pelini and his staff, could've seen a 33-0 blowout coming.

Some have suggested the UA partied too hard in San Diego, or that an exhaustive conditioning program of running and weight-lifting leading up to an eight-day stay at the Gaslamp Quarter sapped the club's strength.

But the Cornhuskers attended the same functions Arizona experienced. They stayed in a high-class, downtown hotel for six nights. They ran and lifted and prepared as vigorously as Arizona.

There are no excuses. Arizona was as bad as Nebraska was good.

Until the Fiasco in San Diego, the most humbling, embarrassing and depressing game in UA football history took place Nov.30, 1968. A record crowd of 41,350 overflowed the seating capacity at Arizona Stadium to watch the 8-1 Wildcats play hated Frank Kush's Sun Devils.

To add vinegar to the proceedings, UA coach Darrell Mudra had told the waffling Sun Bowl committee - which was considering 8-1 Arizona and 7-2 ASU - that it had to take Arizona before the UA-ASU game or the Wildcats would not play at all.

The Ultimatum Bowl of '68 was thus set up as the Game of the Century in Arizona Territory.

Kush didn't have to say a word. ASU's motivation was at world-record levels.

Art Malone ran 46 yards for a touchdown on the second play of the game, the Sun Devils led 21-0 after nine minutes and won 30-7. Arizona finished with no rushing yards (zero!) and was outgained 455 to 178.

Mudra was fired a month later and UA football went into a four-year tailspin, which included four more losses to the Sun Devils.

Until last week it was the most embarrassing loss in UA history.

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

  Conference Overall
Team W L T PCT W L T PCT
UCLA 6 2 0 0.750 9 2 0 0.818
ASU 6 2 0 0.750 9 2 0 0.818
Arizona 6 2 0 0.750 9 2 0 0.818
USC 6 3 0 0.667 7 4 0 0.636
Utah 4 4 0 0.500 7 4 0 0.636
Colorado 0 8 0 0.000 2 9 0 0.182

Pac-12 North football standings

  Conference Overall
Team W L T PCT W L T PCT
Oregon 7 1 0 0.875 10 1 0 0.909
Stanford 4 4 0 0.500 6 5 0 0.545
Cal 3 6 0 0.333 5 6 0 0.455
Oregon State 2 5 0 0.286 5 5 0 0.500
Washington 2 5 0 0.286 6 5 0 0.545
Washington State 2 6 0 0.250 3 8 0 0.273
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