Greg Hansen: Just like the look on Stoops' face, Cats nothing but serious

2010-10-26T14:00:00Z 2012-11-30T19:24:00Z Greg Hansen: Just like the look on Stoops' face, Cats nothing but seriousGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 26, 2010 2:00 pm  • 

Editor's note: This story first appeared Sunday as an exclusive for our print readers.

On game days and most others involving football, Mike Stoops is a fixed and stubborn soul whose furnace never requires stoking.

He got off the team bus Saturday evening, walked through thousands of UA fans without changing expressions, looking straight ahead, unwilling to soak in the moment.

His team was ranked 15th, the game was sold out, ESPN cared enough to televise the game in prime time, and yet he looked as though he could've been serving time.

In the 79th game of his head coaching career, Stoops was without his franchise quarterback, Nick Foles, and it didn't take much of an imagination to depict a list of dire scenarios in which his team was about to crumble and collapse.

At various times in the first half, Stoops openly chewed on special teams player Jonathan McKnight for missing a tackle, went nose-to-helmet with cornerback Trevin Wade for blowing a coverage and got in the grill of receiver David Douglas, penalized for an illegal formation. And that's just a partial list.

Finally, midway through the third period, head linesman Cleo Robinson, referee Jack Wood and side judge Nardy Samuels teamed up to chase Stoops back to the sideline when he overheated, objecting that a fumble recovery by Lolomana Mikaele was disallowed.

The coach touched off quite a rumpus or two.

Perhaps Stoops had not checked out the scoreboard. Arizona led 37-14. It had out-gained Washington 404-188, and his emergency quarterback, Matt Scott, had been so sharp, so outrageously effective, that it was a pinch-yourself-it's-true performance of almost unimaginable scope.

Maybe that's what happens when it takes 6 1/2 draining seasons just to push your coaching record to 39-40, not yet at .500, always coaching uphill. The battle never seems to be won, not even in the middle of a commanding 44-14 victory over the Huskies.

"We were hard on these guys this week and they responded," Stoops said. There were no new wrinkles. There was no motivational use of Button Salmon's death-bed speech. It was just one team outplaying and outworking another.

"This was a serious week, with a lot of serious stuff going on," said defensive end Ricky Elmore. "We played that way, too."

In some ways, Arizona's rousing triumph changes little. Hadn't everyone penciled in a victory over Washington months ago? Whipping the Huskies was the same as crossing another week off of a back-loaded schedule, waiting patiently, sometimes apprehensively, for a finish that features USC, Oregon, Stanford and Arizona State.

But because Scott was magnificent, seizing the game by force when he completed 14 of his first 16 passes for 186 mistake-free yards, the Wildcats take on a new dimension. They may be better than anyone had imagined.

If Scott can play anywhere near as good as he played Saturday, only the Nov. 26 Oregon game seems to be a real stretch.

When someone told him he completed 18 of 22 passes, he chuckled.

"Crazy," he said.

When someone asked him what he did to prepare, he said he stayed up until 1 a.m., Saturday, studying his playbook in the team hotel.

"I woke up at 9:30, pretty excited," he said. "Real excited."

Who in a red uniform didn't have a good night at the ballpark?

Arizona's defense was ambitious, displaying an energy it didn't have against Oregon State or Cal. Elmore and fellow defensive end Brooks Reed were superb. By the time the issue was settled, after three quarters, the UA defense had sacked Jake Locker four times and made him a non-factor.

On offense, any superlative works.

Co-offensive coordinator Seth Littrell so confused Washington's $650,000-a-year defensive coordinator Nick Holt that, during sideline huddles with his defense, Holt furiously diagrammed plays on a whiteboard even after Arizona took a 44-14 lead.

Finally, with 11:09 remaining, Holt tossed his whiteboard to the turf and stood, hands on his hips, the verdict settled. On the final play of the game, Holt's whiteboard remained on the ground, muddied and scratched by a misstep from someone's big cleats.

It was a metaphor for the way Arizona treated Holt and his players: 44 points, 467 yards and seven successful third-down conversions.

Littrell and quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo pushed all the right buttons. If Keola Antolin wasn't gashing the Huskies for a 78-yard touchdown run, Nicolas Grigsby had space to run, as did Scott, almost at will.

The mistake Holt made was not putting any unusual pressure on Scott in the first half.

"They were really vanilla," said Scelfo.

That allowed Scott to gather himself, feel his way through some first-quarter nervousness and never fear a pass rush, the type of blitzing that Washington State used so successfully against the Wildcats a week earlier.

"Our inability to get pressure on a guy making his first start of the year really hurt us," said UW coach Steve Sarkisian. "(Scott) was 14 of 16 in the first half. I wasn't anticipating that at all."

Who was?

"He's a good player, I'm telling you," said Scelfo.

Scelfo didn't have to be persuasive. On Saturday night, seeing was believing.

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

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