Sept. 1, 2012; Tucson, AZ, USA; Arizona Wildcats wide receiver Austin Hill (29) dives to catch a 30 yard touchdown during the first half against the Toledo Rockets at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE
If you give a mouse a cookie, he'll ask for a glass of milk. If you give the Arizona Wildcats 623 total yards of offense, they'll pray that it produces enough points to beat the Toledo Rockets. Rich Rodriguez's team got that wish in the head coach's debut Saturday at Arizona Stadium, but they needed overtime to defeat the MAC team, 24-17.
According to Greg Hansen, that's the second-most yards gained by the Wildcats in history.
UA quarterback Matt Scott produced 384 yards through the air and connected on 30-of-46 of his passes (65 percent) to go with 72 yards on the ground on 14 carries, but it didn't help that his team committed three turnovers and had seven, mostly untimely penalties to throw away opportunities.
No more did it help that kicker John Bonano missed two field goals of 24 and 25 yards to keep the Rockets in the game. Toledo gained 347 yards of offense, moving the ball well at times but making a revamped Arizona defense appear to have improved to some degree when compared to last season.
Bonano started off the scoring, as Arizona made a defensive stop and quickly drove down the field before a drop by receiver Richard Morrison made the Wildcats settle for a field go to go ahead 3-0 with 9:38 to go in the first quarter. Toledo responded soon after with a 59-yard touchdown pass aided by UA corner Shaquille Richardson jumping a receiving route on a double-move by receiver Alonzo Russell.
The Wildcats came back with authority, as Scott moved the offense to the Rockets' 30-yard line before the UA quarterback found Austin Hill in the back of the end zone for a diving touchdown grab.
That was only the beginning. Toledo scored again and led at the half 14-10. Arizona offense found itself in a rut, and only a 73-yard bust by Ka'Deem Carey would give the Wildcats the lead once again. Carey led the Wildcats with 149 rush yards on 20 carries.
Fifteen seconds into the fourth quarter, a field goal by Toledo tied the game, and all of a sudden it was panic time for Arizona fans.
On the next possession, Arizona found itself in a 4th-and-1 situation at their own 46, but a handoff to Taimi Tutogi was stuffed out by the Rockets as UA turned the ball over on downs. The Wildcats forced a three-and-out on UT on the ensuing possession, then kept the Rockets at bay after their own failure to score.
Quickly, Scott's legs moved the Wildcats down the field, giving Bonano a 25-yard field goal as time was set to expire. But a faulty hold turned into a kick hooked outside of the uprights, and it was on to overtime (I'm slow to fault Bonano for such a close game despite the cries of a Zendejas curse).
In overtime, the Wildcats baited the Rockets into a pass interference call on first down to move to the 10-yard line. After a run for no yards and an incomplete pass, Scott was flushed out of the pocket to his right. And with a defender pulling on his jersey, Scott found Terrence Miller in the end zone to take the lead before UA's defense held one more time to earn the victory.
What'd we learn?
Arizona indeed lacks the talent to expect too much this season, especially on the defensive front. But as evidenced by Scott's gutsy game-winning throw, playmakers are present. Scott accounted for an incredible 456 total yards and despite some excited overthrows and an interception, will be a worry for opposing defenses.
While the offensive line struggled with consistency, Carey and Daniel Jenkins -- who scored on a 60-plus yard run before it was called back because of a penalty -- are big-play threats at running back. At receiver, Dan Buckner was solid (9 catches for 118 yards), as was Miller (6 catches for 80 yards). But it was Austin Hill, just a redshirt sophomore, who showed the most star potential with seven catches for 136 yards.
Most of all, Arizona will be able to survive in most games this season should they clean up their mistakes. It was concerning that the issues of last season again reared their heads, though it's understandable as the squad adjusts to the new offense and defense.
The number 623 should stand out. That's a lot of yardage, and count out the handful or two of poorly-timed mistakes -- turnovers, penalties, missed kicks or dropped passes -- and this wasn't exactly as close of a game as it felt come 11 p.m.
Toledo is a decent team as well. Aside from the one error in pass coverage, big plays for the Rockets were hard to come by. The Arizona defense, surprisingly, didn't wear down as much as you'd expect considering the tempo of Toledo's offense and the lack of depth. Nose tackle Sione Tuihalamaka was the one who made two big plays come crunch time, running down the UT quarterback in the backfield to give Arizona a final chance to score in regulation.
It wasn't pretty, but it was sure sobering. This UA squad will have its sturggles in 2012, but right now, 1-0 is better than the alternative.