Arizona football faces season-defining test against Oregon State this weekend
After a humiliating whipping on national television, with an overachieving Oregon State team next on the schedule, pundits like to throw around the phrase “must-win” for Arizona’s Saturday matchup against the Beavers at Arizona Stadium.
Anyone who says that is wrong, and sort of bad at math — the last time I checked it’s pretty hard to clinch anything, good or bad, in week five of a fourteen-week season.
Still, this game has the chance to define the direction of the season and swing momentum one way or another. Yes, I guess you could say it’s somewhat important.
Going into the game at Autzen Stadium, the Wildcats were a trendy team with a prolific offense, national respect and a coach the East Coast media actually knew about.
Now, Arizona is the zero in Oregon’s 49-0 blowout, and the Wildcats’ 3-0 start and upset win against Oklahoma State is just an afterthought.
Oregon State stands as a chance for Arizona to return to the national conversation, or fall back into the black hole of irrelevancy, otherwise known as the bottom half of the Pac-12.
“It’d give us a chance to get our name back on the ticker and become relevant again,” nose tackle Tevin Hood said, “I definitely think that’s what we need to accomplish.”
The Beavers played a similar role for the Wildcats in 2011.
Sure, the characters are different and the plot’s shifted a little, but the narrative coming into the game feels eerily similar.
Last year Arizona walked into Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Ore., riding a nine-game losing streak to FBS teams and had a 1-4 record in the season. But, all four of those losses came against teams that finished in the top seven of the final AP standings. Oregon State was winless at the time. It seemed like it would be an easy win and a chance to get back on track for Arizona.
“We went into the game thinking, ‘Oh we’re going to beat them,’ so we were real nonchalant,” receiver Richard Morrison said. “As you could see in the first quarter, second quarter we were chilling on the bench thinking, ‘Oh it’s alright, we’re gonna win the game 21-0.’”
Instead, the Beavers blocked Kyle Dugandzic’s punt for a touchdown, picked off quarterback Nick Foles twice and put the nail squarely in the coffin of Arizona’s season.
They also cost Mike Stoops his job, as the UA’s head coach of eight years was fired two days later.
“I don’t feel like everybody was all together as a unit,” Morrison said. “Everybody’s mind was somewhere else.”
This time around, coach Rich Rodriguez’s seat isn’t even lukewarm and the Beavers are undefeated and ranked nationally. Arizona is 3-1 not 1-4, and the season has been filled with optimism, at least before the loss to the Ducks.
But if the Wildcats fail to win the home game this weekend, a once-spectacular start could veer toward disaster, like last year, and the dream of winning the South could turn into a struggle to even qualify for a nameless bowl.
The next four games for Arizona are at No. 7 Stanford, in Tucson against Washington and No. 13 USC and then in Los Angeles against UCLA. That’s not what you’d call an easy stretch, especially if the Huskies turn it around.
Let’s just put it this way: If the Wildcats win, they’re back on track for a huge season and are alive for the South’s seat in the conference championship game.
If the Wildcats lose, then at least they have the Homecoming game against Colorado in November.
— Kyle Johnson is a journalism junior. He can be reached at
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