Strange penalty on late pass play costs Cats dearly
Climb the 75 rows from the field to the top of ancient Memorial Stadium and, on a clear day, you can see Alcatraz Island. The legendary prison is a perpetual monument to rash decisions, impossible escape attempts and — ultimately — despair. The 18th-ranked Arizona Wildcats didn't need the institutional reminder Saturday. Following a disheartening 24-16 loss to Cal, they know.
Cal's Giorgio Tavecchio hit four field goals, including a 22-yard go-ahead kick with 4 minutes 46 seconds remaining, to boost the Golden Bears past a desperate UA team. Arizona (6-3 overall, 4-2 Pac-10) can still earn a share of the Pac-10 title by winning its remaining games against Oregon, Arizona State and USC. But Rose Bowl talk seems distant, almost silly, now. "We lost focus this game," UA safety Cam Nelson said. "Everybody was too worried about Stanford, USC and what the other guys were doing this week instead of focusing on ourselves. That's why we came out flat. … We were so excited to be ranked and finally have something going that we lost track of what we were going after."
The Golden Bears were locked in all night, in part because of Tavecchio's left foot. The Italian-born kicker hit four of his five attempts, including two 46-yarders, to pace Cal's scoring attack. Tavecchio contributed in other ways, too. After hitting the field goal that put Cal ahead for good, the kicker tackled Arizona's Travis Cobb on a kickoff return. Bolstered by Cobb's return, Arizona drove deep into Cal territory. Foles was finally making all the right decisions — until he made a disastrous one.
Arizona faced third-and-three from the Cal 25 when Foles dropped back and attempted a short pass. The ball deflected off a Cal defender and back into the hands of Foles, who rolled right and threw it forward again — this time for a completion to Delashaun Dean.
Foles was flagged for an illegal forward pass, and Arizona was penalized 5 yards from the spot of the penalty, 9yards behind the line of scrimmage. Arizona's field goal unit stood on the sideline when, on fourth-and-17 from the Golden Bears' 39, Foles attempted a desperate pass to David Roberts that was broken up. Coach Mike Stoops called Foles' flub "a natural reaction." The Cats quarterback was harder on himself. "I should have just batted it down," Foles said. "It's something I know." Foles' mistake was emblematic of the Wildcats' struggles. Arizona gained just 274 yards, 174 below its season average. Foles completed 25 of 41 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown, but was intercepted once and sacked three times. The Wildcats rushed for just 73 yards as a team, a 2.6 yards-per-carry average that rarely equates to wins. And yet Arizona had its chances.
Cal (7-3, 4-3) scored a late touchdown but botched a PAT attempt, leaving Arizona a chance to drive for a game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion. The Wildcats had hope, but struggled to make the simplest of plays. Their last drive included an incomplete pass, a holding call (which was declined) and two sacks. "I didn't feel like we got in any kind of rhythm offensively, at all," offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes said. Things weren't much better on defense. Cal tailback Shane Vereen gained 159 of his team's 357 yards. Quarterback Kevin Riley struggled, but still threw for 181 yards and a touchdown.
"I'm so disturbed and disappointed, it's hard to even reflect back," defensive coordinator Mark Stoops said. "We felt like we were doing some good things, but I felt we really had to be on the money."
Instead, the Wildcats were — metaphorically speaking — on an island all night. Every escape attempt failed. "You're looking for a big play," he said. "We didn't really execute at the end, and it hurt us."