Stand up and put one foot in front of the other. Walk exactly 288 steps in one direction. Turn around and look at the gap.
That very distance — 96 yards — was the difference in Arizona's 29-27 loss to New Mexico on Saturday night. The difference between responsibility and recklessness, legitimacy and laughability.
The UA football team was assessed nine penalties for — you guessed it — 96 yards in Saturday's nonconference finale.
The fouls ran the gamut from false starts and holding calls to offsides and late hits. Arizona coach Mike Stoops was cited for unsportsmanlike conduct following a sideline tantrum in the second quarter.
As far as respectability goes, Britney Spears had a better week.
"We made mistakes early in the game and couldn't recover because of a lack of focus," linebacker Ronnie Palmer said. "A loss is a loss, but when mental errors cause the loss, it's more difficult."
There was enough blame to go around. The defensive line couldn't handle UNM's hard counts, defensive backs were duped twice for deep touchdowns and tackling was a problem again.
Offensively, quarterback Willie Tuitama and tailback Chris Jennings both fumbled in the red zone. Anthony Johnson dropped a half-dozen passes. Rob Gronkowski (two catches, 13 yards) was a nonfactor. Even the UA special teams, typically a strength, struggled. Kicker Jason Bondzio missed a 32-yard field goal attempt.
Stoops, meanwhile, lost his cool. Arizona's leader took the blame for the Wildcats' lack of discipline. He even announced that four yet-to-be-named players have been suspended indefinitely for breaking team rules.
"We did not play disciplined," Stoops said. "We didn't coach as well as we need to, and obviously, the discipline and the coaching starts with me."
Arizona (1-2) could not have picked a worse time to implode. The Wildcats will open Pac-10 play with a game at No. 6 California on Saturday. The Golden Bears have started the season 3-0, and look very much like a contender for the conference title. Arizona's players know they must play mistake-free to have a chance from this point on.
"We need to get our swagger back and let this loss go," wide receiver Mike Thomas said. "The Pac-10 is coming and people say that's what counts."
Three scary thoughts
• Technically, the Wildcats were better a year ago. As bad as Arizona was in 2006, it at least entered conference play with a winning record. This year's UA team will head into Pac-10 play with losses to BYU and New Mexico on its record. Where's Stephen F. Austin when you need it?
• The Pac-10 is up — and Arizona is down. A quick look around the country on Saturday showed that USC and California are as good as advertised, Washington can compete with some of the nation's best teams, and that Oregon State and Washington State can pile on points with the best of them. Even woeful Stanford won, prompting the question: Just who can Arizona beat?
• Cal is torching people. The Wildcats will open conference play on Saturday against a California team that has been enjoying a once-in-a-generation surge. The Golden Bears' 42-12 win over Louisiana Tech over the weekend was their ninth straight at Memorial Stadium.
Three silver linings
• At least the Air Zona offense seems to be working. Arizona is averaging 26.3 points per game, up nearly 10 points from last season. Quarterback Willie Tuitama has thrown for eight touchdowns in the last two games, and is on pace to smash Marc Reed's 41-year-old school record for most TD passes in a season (20). Tuitama threw for 446 yards and three touchdowns in Saturday's loss, a mark that is good for second on Arizona's single-game yardage list.
• Cam Nelson is fitting in. The Wildcats sophomore was third on the team with seven tackles in Saturday's loss. The defense's lone newcomer is fourth on the team — behind Spencer Larsen, Ronnie Palmer and Antoine Cason — with 17 tackles.
• The Wildcats are due for an upset. The UA has pulled off at least one Top 25 upset a year since Stoops took over in 2004. Given the Pac-10's success this season, the Wildcats will play plenty of ranked teams.
For more on the Wildcats season, visit azstarnet.com/wildcats
The Wildcats were dogged by mistakes and poor play throughout Saturday's 29-27 loss to New Mexico at Arizona Stadium. A sampling of their mistakes:
• With Arizona facing first-and-10 from UNM's 29, Wildcats tackle Eben Britton is called for holding. Arizona scores anyway, on a 39-yard pass from Willie Tuitama to Terrell Turner.
• Arizona's offense is called for a false start while going for it on fourth-and-one from UNM's 20. The Wildcats opt to kick instead, and Jason Bondzio hits a 42-yard field goal.
• Defensive tackle Lionel Dotson hits QB Donovan Porterie late on a third-and-nine pass, and is flagged for roughing the passer after the incompletion. The Lobos are awarded a first down on Arizona's 48.
• Bondzio misses from 32 yards.
• With the clock running out before halftime, UA coach Mike Stoops calls a timeout before UNM's third-and-three attempt. The Lobos connect on passes of 18 and 13 yards to move deep into Arizona's zone.
• Stoops is called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty coming out of a New Mexico timeout. The Lobos move up to Arizona's 27.
• Porterie finds Travis Brown for a 38-yard TD with three seconds left before halftime. The Lobos take a 14-13 lead.
• Tuitama fumbles while trying to scamper for a touchdown from UNM's 5. The ball is recovered by New Mexico's OJ Swift and returned to the Lobos' 41.
• UA defensive end Louis Holmes jumps offsides on a third-and-five play. The Lobos are awarded a first down.
• Three plays later, Holmes does it again. His early jump on fourth-and-one from midfield hands New Mexico a first down.
• New Mexico is awarded a safety and two points when Tuitama is called for intentional grounding in his own end zone. The safety gives UNM a 19-13 lead.
• UA running back Chris Jennings fumbles on New Mexico's 24 as the Wildcats, trailing 26-20, drive in an attempt to take the lead. Swift returns the ball to Arizona's 46.
• Trailing 29-27, Tuitama is intercepted by Frankie Solomon on a third-and-long pass from Arizona's 19. UNM runs out the clock and wins by two.