TUCSON, AZ - SEPTEMBER 08: Head coach Rich Rodriguez of the Arizona Wildcats reacts on the sidelines during the college football game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Arizona Stadium on September 8, 2012 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
"Not this again."
After all, in Arizona's two losses to Oklahoma State, the Cowboys outscored the Wildcats 40-7 through first halves. Had Mike Gundy morphed into Steve Spurrier for those two nights, the Wildcats might have lost by 100 points.
Coaching regime changes began with no shortage of rhetoric about culture changes. Oftentimes, these prove promises prove to be little more than placebos. In that 14-0 deficit, Rich Rodriguez had an opportunity to make good on eradicating one of the program's most plaguing epidemics.
UA had a nasty habit of digging insurmountable holes early the last season-and-a-half, starting games without energy or sound strategy. Reversing this tendency was going to be Rodriguez's greatest initial challenge, and his staff responded.
The obvious byproduct of Rodriguez's brand of medicine was UA's 30-0 run, spanning the latter half of the first, all of the second and the early third quarters. The zone-read option offense and Matt Scott's unique twist on it chomped up yardage and capitalized on opportunities against the Cowboy defense. On the opposite end, defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel made adjustments to his varied 3-3-5 stack that limited OSU's chances.
And make no mistake, despite giving up 38 points and 636 yards, the Wildcat defense did its job. Todd Monken's high powered offense is always going to get yards, but not allowing those to become points is what gives an opposing defense a chance to win. Few coordinators know that like Casteel, who worked under Dana Holgorsen a season ago. Holgorsen employed the air raid spread at OSU before heading to Morgantown, including in 2010 when it torched UA. Casteel came in Saturday with firsthand knowledge that shutting off opportunities is key against the explosive system.
Turnovers don't hurt, either. They were the Cowboys' undoing in their sole 2011 loss at Iowa State, and they were the difference maker Saturday night in Tucson.
Casteel's calls forced the young Lunt's hand, and none was more significant than a cornerback blitz with Shaquille Richardson. Richardson burst past the line and pressured Lunt into a throw that Jonathan McKnight plucked out of the air and ran back for a score that kept OSU at bay.
Indeed, the box score does not tell the full story of the defense. The box score also cannot convey another critical facet in stark contrast of Wildcat teams past. This game was much closer than a three-touchdown gap would suggest. Maintaining a sizable advantage was vital to UA's effort.
Wildcat upsets past like Iowa in 2010 and Oregon 2007 followed an arch that likely had fans wringing their hands last night: build a big lead, watch it slip away then hold on late. Such a formula has also led to disaster. Look no further than Oregon's visit to Arizona Stadium in 2009.
The Cowboys got off the mat after UA's hay maker in the third quarter, but the adjustments Rodriguez and staff employed kept OSU delivered the KO punch.
UA was not without help, though. OSU was penalty plagued, racking up 167 yards worth of flags to assist the Wildcats in extending drives. Conversely, UA was penalized four times for 27 yards. The only memorable Wildcat penalty was a late hit on rover Jared Tevis, who otherwise had another outstanding game (Tevis' performance thus far into the season is further testament to Casteel's defensive acumen).
The penalty breakdown was a refreshing role reversal for the Wildcats, who became notorious for drawing flags at the most inopportune times in recent seasons. UA ranked No. 117 in penalties per game last season.
Differences were abundant, and evident across all phases of the game. Arizona football has a new look under Rodriguez.