Saturday’s game against Hawaii was looked at as a chance to wash away the stain of the 2018 season, and especially of how it finished.
After 60 minutes of football, the only thing it provided was a summary of last year’s lost season, albeit in a truncated amount of time.
The Arizona Wildcats started very slowly, rallied to the point where you thought things might actually work out, and then fell painfully short at the very end.
It was as if the Pac-12 Network did an “2018 Arizona Wildcats Football in 60” at Aloha Stadium live in front of a shade more than 22,000 fans. The 45-38 loss was a dreadful way to start the new season, and it has led to plenty of frustration and anger.
Hardly rash reactions in the heat of the moment, what people are feeling being entirely justifiable leads us to the most important question of all:
So what now?
With two weeks until their next game, what should be — nay, what damn well better be — an easy home win over Northern Arizona, there is talk about how the Wildcats are no better than last year, how one or both of their coordinators must go, and that head coach Kevin Sumlin doesn’t really care.
All of that may be true. None of it may be true. Perhaps some of it is true.
Whatever the case, the Wildcats are seemingly at a crossroads that few expected them to be at just one game into the season and just 13 into the Kevin Sumlin era.
After watching Rich Rodriguez guide the Wildcats to bowl games in five of six seasons, the idea that the program was in need of a full rebuild upon his ouster may seem a bit out there. Sumlin did not need to clean up the kind of mess John Mackovic left Mike Stoops, and it’s hard to imagine he inherited worse talent than Rodriguez did upon his taking over the program.
To a man, on paper at least it even appears this year’s Wildcats are more talented than any that has been put on the field in recent seasons. A senior quarterback, a loaded running back room, quality linebackers and an experienced secondary are all there, and there even appears to be depth along the defensive front and plenty of potential with the wide receivers.
And yet, even with all that Arizona could never so much as take the lead against what is likely a middling Hawaii team. Sure, they rebounded from the bad start to tie the game two separate times, but an interception ruined their best chance to take the lead in the fourth quarter and Tate’s last-gasp run went 30 yards when he needed 31 to get to the end zone.
Had he, would Sumlin have opted to go for the two-point conversion and the win? I hope so.
But alas, that did not happen. There was no epic comeback, no amazing plays to erase what was an otherwise putrid performance. Arizona is now 0-1 for the second consecutive season, dropping a game in which they were a double-digit favorite.
So what now?
After the loss, Arizona’s players said all the right things about using it as an opportunity to learn, while Sumlin talked about how inconsistency cost the team.
If you are the optimistic type, you can take solace in the fact that as disappointing as this game was, it does little to end Arizona’s season. It was a non-conference loss, and there’s still plenty of schedule left to turn things around.
If you are the pessimistic type, you can shake your fist at the fact that the issues that plagued Arizona last season were apparent, from the silly mistakes to the questionable playcalling and slow in-game adjustments. And without a change, there’s little reason to expect that to change.
So what now?
With plenty of time before their next game and the next three being in Tucson, if Arizona wanted to make a change — say at defensive coordinator — it would not be a bad time or necessarily undeserved.
It’s Yates’ fourth season in Tucson and although Hawaii has a prolific offense, there’s no reason why Arizona should have allowed nearly 600 yards to the Rainbow Warriors. The six turnovers were nice and should not be discounted, but they seemed to be more a product of the home team’s incompetence than anything the Wildcats were doing to force them.
While it is conceivable that Yates could have at least one foot out the door, it is less likely that offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone will follow him. Arizona should have scored more than 38 points, and ignoring the running game early doesn’t make any sense. And yet, Tate looked more like himself in this game, which should give Wildcats fans at least a glimmer of hope going forward, and had the QB made a couple of better reads or throws early perhaps they wouldn’t have needed to play catch up late.
Is that on the offensive coordinator? Not necessarily, though it is up to Mazzone — as well as the rest of the coaches on the roster — to put their players in the best position to succeed.
That didn’t happen Saturday night, and with two weeks before the next game and three before the next legitimate test, the frustration folks have with the coaches and some players will only continue to fester and build.
So what now?
If you’re a player, lick your wounds and keep trying to get better. There are at least 11 more games, providing ample time to change the narrative of this season.
If you’re a coach, look in the mirror and ask yourself the hard questions. How are you failing? How can you improve? If you’re the head coach, you must ask if the coaches below you can improve and if the answer is no, make a change before it’s too late.
If you’re a fan, well, do what you should always do with Arizona football, which is hope for the best but expect disappointment. Don’t give up on the team, but understand that being a fan of this program is pretty much always going to be messy.