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A look back at Arizona football’s historic losing streak

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Reliving the pain is cathartic

arizona-wildcats-losing-streak-college-football-recap-highlights-breakdown-pac12-2020 Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Following a 35-30 win at Colorado in October 2019, the Arizona Wildcats sat at 4-1 and were riding a four-game win streak, tied for their longest since the start of the 2014 season.

Since then? Well …

Arizona has lost nine consecutive games, the longest skid in program history. A loss Saturday at UCLA—where the Wildcats haven’t won since 2010—would match the team’s longest winless streak. The UA went 0-9-1 over a 10-game stretch in 1956-57.

On Monday, coach Kevin Sumlin was quick to point out that the vast majority of his players are only 0-2 since many weren’t part of the program in 2019.

“I’m the common denominator,” said Sumlin, who is 9-17 in two-plus years at Arizona. “We can lump it all into everything but you (can) just lump that on me, because in the end my name is on it.”

While the recent losses may unfortunately still be fresh in your mind, the ones from early on in the skid may have escaped your memory. So for anyone who wants to relive this rough stretch, here’s a quick recap of each of Arizona’s nine consecutive defeats followed by some ... ugly numbers about the skid:

Washington 51, Arizona 27 (Oct. 12, 2019)

Despite being 6-point underdogs, Arizona led Washington 17-13 at the half at Arizona Stadium, the announced crowd of 47,933—the largest of the 2019 season—coming to their feet when J.J. Taylor scored on a 1-yard run just before halftime.

It was all downhill after that.

Washington scored 31 of the next 34 points, capitalizing on four turnovers to stop the Wildcats’ win streak and set the tone for the next year-plus of UA football.

USC 41, Arizona 14 (Oct. 19, 2019)

Slow starts have plagued Arizona through the Sumlin era, particularly on the road, and this game was a prime example. The Trojans scored the game’s first 34 points, holding the Wildcats to 167 yards of offense through the first three quarters.

Khalil Tate, playing for the final time in his hometown, had one more completion (seven) than times he was sacked (six) as Arizona lost at the Coliseum for the fifth straight time.

Stanford 41, Arizona 31 (Oct. 26, 2019)

A good old shootout in Palo Alto saw Arizona and Stanford trade the lead three times in the first 15-plus minutes before the Cardinal built a two-score lead late in the first half. The Wildcats rallied to tie the game at 31 midway through the third quarter but, despite outgaining Stanford 495-471 managed 123 yards and zero points on their final five drives, two of which ended in turnovers.

Arizona ran for 222 yards, most of any Pac-12 game in 2019, with both Taylor and Tate topping the 100-yard mark, but another game where the Wildcats failed to pressure the quarterback allowed Stanford’s KJ Costello to throw all over the field.

Oregon State 56, Arizona 38 (Nov. 2, 2019)

Arizona’s Homecoming game also served as the game in which it honored all-time wins leader Dick Tomey, with the Wildcats donning sweet Desert Swarm-era throwback uniforms. If only the defense played like those units from the early 1990s.

Oregon State scored touchdowns on eight of 11 possessions, including five in a row to turn a 7-6 into a 42-19 affair early in the third quarter. The Wildcats allowed a season-worst 8.41 yards per play to a Beavers offense that had gained less than four per play in their previous two games.

Not long after the game Sumlin fired defensive coordinator Marcel Yates and linebackers coach John Rushing, the start of what would become a major purge of the defensive staff.

Oregon 34, Arizona 6 (Nov. 16, 2019)

Two Lucas Havrisik field goals was all Arizona could manage on a cold night in Eugene, as the Wildcats averaged a season-low 3.48 yards per play including just 132 through the air.

The six points were Arizona’s fewest since a 49-3 loss at Washington in October 2015, and began a trend of woefully bad offensive performances to finish out the 2019 campaign.

Utah 35, Arizona 7 (Nov. 23, 2019)

A 7-yard touchdown by Grant Gunnell with 1:50 left was all that prevented Arizona from being shut out for the first time since 2012, as the Wildcats managed a mere 135 yards and 11 first downs.

Utah controlled the ball for nearly 40 minutes, rushing for 297 yards and four touchdowns as the UA was powerless in defending the Utes’ ground game. Also worth noting in this game was that, while Tate played in his final appearance at Arizona Stadium, it was Gunnell who got the start on Senior Night.

ASU 24, Arizona 14 (Nov. 30, 2019)

All that remained for Arizona was pride as it finished out the 2019 season in Tempe, where it hadn’t won since 2011. The Wildcats actually held a 7-6 lead at the half, but ASU’s Eno Benjamin had the first of two straight touchdown runs in the third quarter as part of a 21-0 run for the Sun Devils.

The UA outgained ASU 383-338 but turned it over three times, with the Sun Devils converting those takeaways into 10 points. Tate threw for 228 yards and two TDs but also had three picks, while Jamarye Joiner had a breakout performance with seven catches for 140 yards and two scores.

USC 34, Arizona 30 (Nov. 14, 2020)

Playing for the first time in nearly a year, and a week removed from having its opener at Utah canceled due to COVID-19 issues, Arizona put up a spirited effort against USC in front of a friends-and-family-only crowd at Arizona Stadium. The Wildcats went up 30-27 with 1:35 left on a TD pass from Gunnell to Stanley Berryhill III but their defense couldn’t get a stop on the final drive as the Trojans went ahead for good with 25 seconds remaining.

The game marked the debut of numerous new faces on defense, both in terms of starting players and a staff led by coordinator Paul Rhoads.

Washington 44, Arizona 27 (Nov. 21, 2020)

Having come so close to pulling an upset the week before, Arizona’s first road game of 2020 could have been an opportunity to get over the hump or suffer an emotional letdown. The latter was evident early on, as the Huskies went up 17-0 after one period and led 37-0 after three.

Four garbage-time TDs by the Wildcats made the final score look closer, but in the end the losing streak had reached a program-record nine games.

The streak, by the numbers

  • Arizona has been outscored 367-194 during the skid, 354-177 since halftime of the Washington game.
  • The Wildcats have only led for 37 minutes and 27 seconds out of 540 minutes during the winless drought, or approximately 6.9 percent of game time, never holding more than a four-point advantage. They’ve trailed by 21 or more points for the equivalent of more than two games’ worth of clock.
  • Arizona has scored in single digits twice during the streak, the first time that’s happened in a nine-game span since the 2006 squad did so three times in a five-game span. It also failed to gain 300 yards in consecutive games (at Oregon, vs. Utah) for the first time since 2016, and the 196 against Utah was its fewest since a 109-yard effort in the 2009 Holiday Bowl.
  • The UA is minus-10 in turnover margin during the skid, failing to record a takeaway in six games including the last three.
  • The Wildcats have recorded just 14 sacks over the losing streak, never more than three in a game. Their opponents have sacked UA quarterbacks 35 times in that span, including nine so far this season.