Stanford Cardinal 54, Arizona Wildcats 48: Rich Rodriguez's team still learning to win

Jason O. Watson - Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats fell to the Stanford Cardinal 54-48 despite holding a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter.

Execution and talent aside, the Arizona Wildcats have yet to find the winning formula to turn those two things into a Pac-12 victory. Rich Rodriguez's team fell in Palo Alto, Calif., 54-48 to the Stanford Cardinal in overtime despite another prolific offensive performance that produced a two-touchdown lead with nine minutes to play in Saturday's game.

Three games in a row now, and the Arizona's battered mental state is of major concern. And when the Wildcats will learn how to close out games remains to be seen.

Ka'Deem Carey was the only bright spot that could make up for the painful loss.

Had it not been for the final score, Carey upstaged Stanford's Stepfan Taylor, one of the best backs -- if not the best running back -- in the Pac-12. The sophomore rushed the ball 29 times for 133 yards and three touchdowns. Carey added seven catches for 69 yards for the biggest game of the Tucsonan's young career.

Matt Scott completed a program-record 45 passes on 69 attempts, throwing for 491 yards and three touchdowns. It was again two of his biggest passes, however, that made that irrelevant. A missed throw on a late fourth-quarter three-and-out and a tipped ball that led to an overtime interception were part of what did Arizona in.

The Cardinal picked off the final of Scott's many tipped passes at the line, and they scored on a 21-yard scoot by Taylor to win in overtime.

In Arizona giving up 617 yard to the Cardinal offense, the loss is not all on Scott by any means.

And it was how the game got to overtime that was painful for Rodriguez's team.

Arizona (3-3) led 48-34 on Scott's 18-yard fade to Terrence Miller -- he returned from injury -- in the end zone to make the Cardinal pay for receiver Ty Montgomery's fumble at the Stanford 31.

Stanford responded behind the growing confidence of quarterback Josh Nunes. He didn't hand the ball off once on a nine-play, 75-yard drive that included a third down and a fourth down conversion, and he punched the ball in from the 1-yard line leaving Arizona with 6:34 left to burn off the clock.

But the Wildcats whimpered at the first signs of the Stanford homecoming crowd getting into the game.

The UA offense went three-and-out as Scott overthrew a seemingly open Tyler Slavin on a out route, and all of a sudden the Cardinal had life.

That possession may have been more impressive than the one prior. David Shaw's defense was reeling and tired in the second half against a UA offense that piled up 618 total yards on the day and snapped the ball over 100 times.

So the Stanford coach decided to go back to Stanford football. The Cardinal burned five minutes off the play clock on a 14-play, 79-yard drive that included two key third down plays and a fourth-down conversion that set up a third rushing touchdown on the day by Nunes.

That left 45 seconds on the clock. Rich Rodriguez, with UA on its own 18, controversially decided to run the ball twice, running out the clock in regulation. The decision not to push the ball downfield with Scott alluded to his pick thrown late in the Oregon State game, but hindsight showed that any lack of confidence in Scott wouldn't end well in overtime either.

So what was this game?

Simply, Stanford showed that despite any inefficiencies in an offense that had a quarterback controversy coming into it, it sttill has that winning spirit that the Wildcats haven't found.

And despite Stanford's struggles to stop Arizona's offense, the Wildcats ultimately undid their solid first three quarters of play.

Stanford came out of the gates looking like they'd blow Arizona out of the water, using a heavy dosage of Taylor -- seven carries to be exact -- on a touchdown drive to start the game. But oddly, Shaw went heavily with Nunes passing downfield from then on.

It looked like it was a bad idea.

Carey scored a touchdown to tie it, and only a couple passes that got to tight end Levine Toilolo, -- a 46-yard gain and a 12-yard touchdown -- showed any signs that Nunes could keep up with Scott and Arizona's offense. Toilolo had five receptions for 146 yards, often slipping behind a confused UA coverage.

UA kept it close in the first half. Two other first-half drives led to two 33-yard field goals for John Bonano, and Arizona trailed 14-13 at the half.

For Shaw, the pay-off in giving Nunes the passes in the first half came in the second after the Wildcats threw the first punch.

Arizona went 75 yards in less than two minutes on the first possession out of the locker room, as Carey gave UA a 20-14 lead with a score at the goal line. Stanford responded before Austin Hill scored on a 12-yard touchdown pass, again putting Arizona ahead 27-21 with 8:17 to play in the third.

Hill led Arizona with 11 receptions for 165 yards, two touchdowns and a key two-point conversion.

Taylor sat out for a series, but backup Kelsey Young dashed 55 yards for a score in his place as the back-and-forth continued. Arizona regained the lead on another Carey touchdown run with 12:29 to play in the fourth, and Hill's two-point catch gave UA a 41-34 advantage.

They'd score again before the wheels came off.

Now it's a matter if Rodriguez can get the wheels back on.

The numbers

  • Receiver Johnny Jackson might have earned himself a spot in the starting receiving lineup, catching 10 balls for 75 yards as an inside receiver, and many times catching those balls with big hits coming his way.
  • Josh Nunes grew up against Arizona's defense. He threw for 360 yards on 21-of-34 completions. He threw two touchdowns had no interceptions and scored on the aforementioned three rushing touchdowns.
  • Arizona was 11-for-19 in third-down efficiency. They compiled 39 total first downs to Stanford's 28.
  • Stanford's offense put up 617 yards to Arizona's 618, and used 257 yards on the ground to do so.
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