Wildcats face gut check on road in Homecoming rematch
Though it happened nearly a year ago, it is still fresh in the thoughts of the Arizona football team. After struggling through most of the Pacific 10 Conference schedule last year - starting 2-4 in the conference - the Wildcats seemingly got the spark they needed to catapult them to their first bowl berth since 1998 when they knocked off then-No. 8 California on Homecoming last November.. This year's rematch may have similar implications as Arizona (1-2) travels to Berkeley, Calif., to take on the No. 6 Golden Bears (3-0) Saturday at 3 p.m. in the UA's Pac-10 opener. This time, Arizona won't be on its home turf. It will have to rely solely on dim postseason hopes and the motivation to salvage a season currently headed down the wrong path. "For whatever reason we just haven't played quite as well as we did a year ago," said UA head coach Mike Stoops. "Obviously this week will really test our skill across the board and test our toughness and who we are." "At least we know we beat (Cal) before and we matched up well defensively," Stoops said. "They will probably play more aggressive this year, and that is something we need to be prepared for." Arizona has shown in the past that both the offense and the defense have the ability of being a force, but so far this season they have had trouble showing up on the same day.
In week one against Brigham Young, the defense held the high-powered Cougars to only 20 points, but the offense mustered only 41 yards in the first half and seven total points. Arizona fell victim to a different problem the following two weeks, as the UA offense put up productive totals and the defense struggled. The Wildcats beat NAU handily in the second week, as the Arizona offense put on a show - gaining a total 490 yards and scoring 45 points - while the defense revealed its vulnerability, yielding 24 points to a Division I-AA opponent. The defense was exploited once again last weekend in a 29-27 loss to New Mexico, as it allowed 421 yards. The Arizona offense couldn't catch up, though it tallied 63 more yards than New Mexico. "We are a unit with a lot of returning people, and a lot of people just aren't making plays that need to be made," said defensive end Jason Parker of the defense. "It is just like basic things like tackling and penalties, but I think we will get it together and we will be all right." Arizona will need to be at its best, as Cal sits atop the Pac-10. Although Arizona has beaten the last two ranked opponents it has faced dating back to last year (then-No. 25 Washington State and Cal), the squad will need to show significant improvement from the breakdown of discipline it showed a week ago. "There is only one way to move forward and that is out here on the practice field," said linebacker Spencer Larsen. "We are all very humbled and so humility brings heart and a lot more effort." Cornerback Antoine Cason, who intercepted a pass for a touchdown late in last year's 24-20 victory over the Bears, said the memory of the victory is sweet, but that the Wildcats need to maintain focus on this year's matchup. "It was very important, and we played hard that game," Cason said. "We can't think about it too much because it is a new year and new game at their house."