The Arizona Wildcats just can’t have nice things. They also apparently can’t have a game where both the offense and defense perform well at the same time.
Despite posting their highest scoring total since early September, with both the run game and pass attack producing, the return of a porous defense counteracted the offensive explosion in a 41-31 loss to the Stanford Cardinal on Saturday afternoon in Palo Alto, Calif.
Arizona (4-4, 2-3 Pac-12) dropped its third straight game despite big offensive performances from Khalil Tate and Grant Gunnell—who alternated series most of the day—and J.J. Taylor.
With three ranked opponents among their fourth remaining games, the Wildcats’ chances of making a bowl game are looking slimmer and slimmer.
Tate threw for 205 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 103 with three total scores, including a 57-yard TD run, but the first of his two fourth-quarter interceptions allowed Stanford (4-4, 3-3) to go up two scores. Gunnell was 7 for 7 for 68 yards with a TD but his fumble early in the final period killed what could have been a game-tying drive.
Ironically, those late mistakes by Tate and Gunnell came during one of the few times in the game in which Arizona’s defense looked solid. Overall, the Wildcats allowed 472 yards, with Stanford QB K.J. Costello throwing for 312 yards and three TDs in his first action since Sept. 21 and Cameron Scarlett running for 102 yards and two scores.
Down 31-24 at halftime, Arizona’s defense forced just its second punt of the game and used that momentum to tie things up with 9:32 left in the third quarter. Tate found Drew Dixon with a back-shoulder throw to the front of the end zone from nine yards out, his second TD pass and third score overall.
The tie didn’t last long, though, as Costello connected with Simi Fehoko on a 14-yard TD pass, his second of the game, to make it 38-31 Stanford with 5:11 left in the third.
Offsetting three-and-outs pushed the game into the fourth quarter, when Gunnell made his first appearance of the second half and quickly got Arizona to the Stanford 21. But on 3rd and 11, Gunnell had the ball poked away by Stanford’s Thomas Booker as he tried to avoid pressure, and though he recovered the fumble, it resulted in a 14-yard loss that knocked the Wildcats out of field-goal range.
Arizona forced a second straight Stanford three-and-out but couldn’t capitalize, as Tate was intercepted by standout Cardinal cornerback Paulson Adebo two plays later. That was part of a run of 10 straight incompletions for the senior, who finished 17 of 33.
Stanford turned that pick of the afternoon into a two-score lead on a 21-yard field goal with 6:18 left, and Adebo iced the game with an interception of Tate in the end zone with 12 seconds remaining.
Arizona scored on its opening drive for the first time since the NAU game on Sept. 7 via a 29-yard Lucas Havrisik field goal. A 43-yard pass from Tate to Tayvian Cunningham on third down near midfield was the key to getting points.
Stanford had no trouble moving the ball on its first possession, going 75 yards in eight plays with Cameron Scarlett scoring on a 1-yard run to put the Cardinal up 7-3 with 8:20 left in the first.
Gunnell came in for Tate after two series and led Arizona on an 8-play, 65-yard drive capped by an 8-yard TD pass to fellow true freshman Jalen Johnson for his first career score.
The Cardinal went back up 14-10 on the first play of the second quarter on a 14-yard pass from Costello to Brycen Tremayne. They upped that lead to 21-10 on an 8-yard Scarlett run with 7:55 left in the first half, finishing a drive that saw Arizona miss numerous tackles.
Tate’s third series lasted two plays, the second a 57-yard TD run by Tate that saw him pump fake a sideline throw and then burst up the middle and past the Stanford defense before it knew what happened. That got the Wildcats within 21-17 with 7:29 left in the first half.
But Arizona couldn’t hold onto the momentum from that 2017-era Tate play, as Stanford went up 28-17 on a 44-yard TD pass from Costello to Fehoko with 4:36 left in the first half.
The Wildcats pulled to 28-24 with 1:41 left in the opening half on an 18-yard TD pass from Tate to Jamarye Joiner in which the converted quarterback made a one-handed grab.
Stanford kicked a 33-yard field goal with seven seconds left before halftime to make it 31-24 but should have been up at least 10 had Fehoko not dropped a TD pass in the end zone two plays earlier.
Arizona returns home to face Oregon State on Nov. 2 for its Homecoming game. It needs to win that one and at least one more from a final trio of Oregon, Utah and ASU (with only Utah at home) in order to get to six victories and become bowl-eligible.