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A crossroads? Let’s see how Arizona rebounds at USC

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kevin-sumlin-arizona-wildcats-practice-coronavirus-asymptomatic-isolation-2020-college-football Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Like all of you, last Saturday’s loss to Washington left a bad taste in my mouth.

With so much on the line — momentum, crowd support, legitimacy — the Arizona Wildcats ultimately fell flat on their face in the 51-27 defeat.

Khalil Tate looked about as bad as ever, with poor decision-making buttressed by inaccuracy. And the defense, which had made some strides, appeared to take a giant step back in the second half. There was also the coaching, which was unable to make the necessary adjustments and neutralize what the Huskies were doing.

It was a poor performance pretty much all the way around, and if the goal was to summarize what went right I’d need a sentence, two at most.

But the more I think about it, while the loss did nothing to earn more confidence or belief in the Wildcats, for me it did little to shake what was already present.

To wit: Arizona played rather poorly in the first half, with bad turnovers and mistakes leading to Washington points, and yet was still up 17-13 at halftime. Then, for as much of a struggle the second half was, the Wildcats were within 7 early in the fourth quarter, a deficit that sans a silly penalty would have been even smaller.

A moral victory? No, because at the end of the night Arizona lost by more than the spread and was not competitive late.

Instead what Arizona showed last week was that they are not ready to compete with the conference’s best when they turn the ball over four times and make countless other mistakes.

Who knew?

But really, did anyone truly think Arizona’s talent level was high enough to where it could play a sub-par game and beat a good team? Hopefully not, which is why what happened last week, while upsetting, shouldn’t be concerning.

As ugly as it was, the only thing the Wildcats did was lose to a team they were supposed to lose to.

Of course, more performances like that will mean a second-straight bowl-less season and even more heat on the seat Kevin Sumlin is sitting on. But I’m more inclined to believe that what we saw the previous three games was more indicative of who the team is than the anomaly.

Where that perspective might run into trouble is the next part of the schedule.

The reason why it was so important for the Wildcats to get off to a good start was because we all knew that after Colorado, the schedule was set to get much, much tougher. As it is, Washington was just the beginning.

There’s a decent chance that Washington will be one of the top two teams on Arizona’s schedule this year, which means until they head to Eugene every other game may *technically* be a bit easier. That’s all relative, because other than Oregon State the talent advantage will not be on Arizona’s sideline.

But when Arizona plays well, or at least does not look like a bunch of drunk toddlers, they have enough to compete with — and beat — anybody.

That includes this week’s opponent, USC, who is undoubtedly more talented than Arizona yet certainly seems ripe for the upset. That is, if the Wildcats can move on from the disappointment that was their last game, re-focus and get back on track.

Again, I think Arizona is a pretty good team that can be good in any given game. Just, their margin for error is basically non-existent against better teams, and the Trojans are certainly a better team.

All that leads to a few questions leading up to the Saturday evening kickoff.

Will Khalil Tate rebound from one of his worst performances ever?

Will the defense maintain its confidence after a half that some believe exposed them?

Will the coaching staff, which had seemed to find its footing, make the necessary adjustments to give the team its best chance to succeed?

If the answer to at least two of these three questions ends up being “yes,” then there’s a really good chance the Wildcats earn their fifth victory of the season this weekend and put themselves in a great position going forward. Shoot, a victory in Los Angeles would go a long way toward affirming what Sumlin is doing in Tucson.

Short of that, however, and don’t be surprised if Arizona loses its second straight game, with the defeat leading to concerns about a prolonged losing streak and fear that the four-game winning streak didn’t mean much. If Arizona loses every game it’s supposed to there aren’t many more wins left on the schedule.

In short, a once-promising season would very much find itself on the brink.

That would be difficult to swallow.