Sense of emptiness hovers over Cats, fans

2010-12-30T00:00:00Z 2013-07-19T21:24:44Z Sense of emptiness hovers over Cats, fans Arizona Daily Star
December 30, 2010 12:00 am

SAN ANTONIO

Bug Wright dropped a punt. Anthony Wilcox forgot to cover an Oklahoma State receiver. Keenyn Crier popped up a punt. And Nick Foles threw a touchdown pass to a guy wearing an orange uniform.

And that was before you got sleepy, and grumpy, or both, and before the Alamo Bowl was barely 18 minutes old.

It was a lot like last year's Holiday Bowl minus a few bruises from Ndamukong Suh and a whole lot of rain.

Arizona closed its football season with five consecutive losses, drubbed 36-10 by Oklahoma State in a season filled with too many flops, too few wins and a sense of emptiness that almost puts UA football back where Mike Stoops found it in 2004.

For the fifth consecutive game, the flat (and soon-to-be-flattened) Wildcats produced another low voltage performance. If you chose not to spend $700 for a plane ticket to San Antonio, and another $700 for a hotel room, souvenirs, a ticket and a few Lone Star beers, consider it money well saved.

The Wildcats didn't show up, either.

"We have to re-evaluate all aspects of our program," said Stoops. "Coaching, personnel. … We should've played better than we did."

You think?

Lots of teams get bumped off in back-to-back bowl games. Ball State was whacked by Rutgers 52-30 and by Tulsa 45-13 in 2008-09. And even Arizona State was mashed 41-24 by Hawaii and 52-34 by Texas in 2006-07 bowl games.

But those teams weren't 7-1 and ranked No. 15 at Halloween, as were the 2010 Wildcats, who then dissolved into an ordinariness few could have predicted.

The Wildcats so desperately needed something good to happen Wednesday night at the Alamo Dome. Instead, after an early series of errors on punt plays, pass plays and other assorted misplays, they were roadkill.

"We just needed a spark that we never got," said UA receiver Juron Criner. "We obviously got a lot to work on."

What makes it worse is that all five of Arizona's losses were televised either by ESPN or ABC, so it's not much of a secret. Everybody knows. You can lose the Northrop Grumman Military Bowl 51-20, as East Carolina did Wednesday afternoon, and it's just another game in a glut of bowl programming.

But when you huff and puff and attract so much attention, and then lose to Stanford, USC, Oregon, ASU and Oklahoma State with millions of Americans as witnesses, it's embarrassing.

The UA's reputation has been scarred. Much of the progress made from 2006 to 2009 has been undone.

Stoops has to hire a defensive coordinator in the next few days. He must come to grips with the status of his team's sputtering offense as operated by co-coordinators Seth Littrell and Bill Bedenbaugh, which was unable to maintain the pace set by Sonny Dykes from 2006 to 2009.

"Change is good," said Stoops.

So don't be surprised by any personnel transactions.

In the 48 hours leading up to Wednesday's kickoff, hundreds of Oklahoma State fans outfitted in gaudy orange gear with black cowboy hats, owned the Riverwalk area in downtown San Antonio. Obnoxious? Certainly.

They would stop in groups of 10 or 20 and shout:

"Orange!"

And another group of 20 Cowboys fans would shout back:

"Power!"

This repeated itself, over and over, well into the wee hours, clearly audible on the 26th floor of a certain nearby hotel.

What few Wildcat fans showed up had no answer. And so it would be when play commenced inside the dome. The Cowboys had the power. The Wildcats had mush.

Foles had his least productive night in an Arizona uniform. He was sacked five times; he had not been sacked more than once in a game all season. He threw three interceptions, two of them stopping close-in Arizona drives, and another resulting in a 62-yard OSU touchdown. He had not thrown more than one interception in a game this year.

You wonder now if he is The Man for 2011 the way he has been The Man for two seasons.

For some reason, backup quarterback Matt Scott was not activated. And let's not get started on Arizona's field goal kicking, its punting game, and its inability to sack OSU quarterback Brandon Weeden, who had more time to throw than Tim Lincecum.

Losing five straight games is a scary thing at Arizona.

Until Stoops arrived in Tucson in 2004, every UA football coach who had lost five consecutive games was fired, or asked to leave the premises: Ed Doherty in 1958, Bob Weber in 1971, Dick Tomey in 2000 and John Mackovic in 2003.

Stoops isn't going to get fired, not now, not with three years and $3.9 million left on his contract. Prospects for 2011 in a league blessed with outstanding returning quarterbacks don't seem much better.

Worse, Stoops won't be able to avoid scrutiny about his job security, a distraction that no coach, and no athletic department desperate to make a buck selling football tickets appreciates.

The Wildcats entered the 2010 season with great expectations. They exit with a tinsel strand of hope that the year ahead can be much better.

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

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