A college football game is four quarters, but so far this season the Arizona Wildcats have treated the first two much differently than the final two. And not in a good way.
Arizona has been outscored 79-48 in the first half through five games, but after halftime it has outscored foes 110-63 with a 62-28 edge in the fourth quarter. That second half surge hasn’t produced any extra wins, though it has made some potential blowouts much closer.
Last week’s 24-20 home loss to USC is a perfect example. Arizona trailed 17-0 at halftime and was down 24-0 early in the third quarter before mounting a furious comeback to get within one score in the final two minutes.
As encouraging as the second-half performances have been it pales in comparison to the disappointment about the starts. Arizona coaches and players are searching for a reason for these sluggish beginnings.
“The consistency factor is what we’re lacking,” coach Kevin Sumlin said.
It’s been mostly an offensive issue to this point, with Arizona failing to score on its first possession in all three losses and managing just 14 points in the first quarter. The Wildcats are averaging 87.8 yards in the first quarter, the equivalent of 18.2 percent of their total offense.
“It just takes us a while to get in our rhythm,” left guard Cody Creason said. “Once we get a few first downs going we really step it up at the end of games.”
He’s right. Arizona has outgained its foes, on average, by 43.4 yards in the final period.
“We make things happen, we try to rally,” receiver Stanley Berryhill III, whose 33-yard touchdown catch midway through the third quarter against USC started started the rally. “Hopefully we can get things started sooner.”
With Arizona’s offense often sputtering early it puts extra pressure on the defense to make plays. That’s asking a lot of a unit that has started 19 different players in five games.
“In order to continue on for the whole game you have to come in locked and loaded,” cornerback Lorenzo Burns said.