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Coming Back From Disaster: How Arizona Moves On From UCLA

Arizona hit its low point not just of the Rich Rodriguez era, but its deepest valley since the dreaded John Mackovic years. Moving on in time for a bowl-clinching win rests squarely on Rodriguez and his staff.

Andrew Fielding-US PRESSWIRE

To call Arizona's loss at UCLA the low point of the Rich Rodriguez era would be an understatement. Not since the first year of Mike Stoops' tenure was a Wildcat team so thoroughly dominated in all facets of the game, yet allusions to another period of Arizona football came to some minds Saturday night:

Yikes. Of course, John Mackovic's 21/2-year reign of terror brought weekly beatings akin to the one UCLA handed an Arizona team that looked asleep. Scared. Bewildered. Responsibility for such ill preparation resides with the coaching staff, as does remedying the situation.

For those who remember the Mackovic era, Saturday night was a weekly occurrence. Mackovic had no answer for responding, rather exacerbating the Wildcats' problems. One can understand observers' comparisons to UA last night and those teams from the turn of the millennium -- doubly so, considering the No. 66 has added significance when discussing both UCLA and one John Mackovic.

The Arizona teams of his era were simply over-matched across all phases, every week. Then was a deconstruction; now is a reconstruction. That's easy to forget when Arizona entered the Rose Bowl in the AP top 25, fresh off a defeat of the Pac-12 Conference's symbolic measure of greatness and in control of its postseason destiny.

UCLA gave UA its receipt for a stretch of seven years in which the Wildcats took six from the Bruins. The first in that stretch was a 52-14 rout that snapped the Bruins' perfect start and crushed their BCS dreams during the 2005 season. That loss can be looked on as a watershed moment, because UCLA has not been as good since -- until now. Several consecutive highly ranked recruiting classes are now meeting their potential under Jim Mora's guidance.

It was UCLA that took control of its destiny. The many frustrations of recent mediocrity were exercised on the Wildcats. The Bruins deserve credit, particularly offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, who set the tone with the conference's 1-B top running, Jonathan Franklin.

Defensive coordinator Lou Spanos matched the ante Mazzone laid down, doing something no one else in the conference has been able, and slowed Rodriguez's offense -- unlike Oregon, Arizona never even had opportunities. And that's the most difficult part for the Wildcats to shake off moving forward.

There aren't positives to take from Saturday night's performance, the first time that can be said of a game this season. That can be crushing for a team's collective psyche, and with the mounting physical toll, the Wildcats need a clean bill of mental health more than ever.

Such is Rodriguez and staff's challenge this week. Colorado is an easy opponent to overlook, particularly amid the background noise of Homecoming. As Coach Harris of Revenge of the Nerds told his Adams Atoms, "Homecoming is the key to the season."

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For Arizona, that might be the case. A win against the hapless Buffs ensures a bowl game, despite the many problems UA now faces. CU is an easy team to overlook, but frankly, Arizona's showing at UCLA was very Colorado'ian. A Buffalo win wipes away much of the good that's occurred this season, and with the many injuries CU might not even need Icy Hot to bolster its chances.

Rodriguez must pinpoint the cause of Arizona's lackluster effort. Blame for such debacles reside with the coaches. A focused week of practice and a short memory -- beyond the pure mechanics of what didn't work, that is -- are essential for the Wildcats to bounce back.