Up 16-7 and with the ball to start the fourth quarter, Arizona could see that elusive first victory just over the horizon. But it also couldn’t help noticing all the potential pitfalls that existed along the remaining path, most of which had nothing to do with the opponent.
What happened next was all too familiar, both for Wildcat fans and the team itself as the losing streak has stretched to 19 games.
The UA drove down to Washington’s 28-yard line, in position to potentially put the game away, only to turn it over. An interception on a screen pass in a 9-point game with 12:58 left shouldn’t have been the deciding play, but it was, coach Jedd Fisch acknowledged Monday.
“After that there was just a deflation of a, almost a ‘here we go again’ mentality, rather than ‘okay, we’re still up nine and they have to drive 72 yards,’” Fisch said. “And then it took them one minute and nine seconds and they drove 72 yards and scored a touchdown to make it 16-14.”
Less than five minutes after that Arizona was down five points, at which time “our penalties and sacks started,” Fisch said.
Arizona has been outscored 48-0 in the fourth quarter of the last four games. Besides Washington, in which they led entering the final period before falling 21-16, the Wildcats were within one score in two of the other three.
On the scoreboard at least, only two of Arizona’s seven games this season had been decided before the fourth.
“We have to play 60 minutes of football,” Fisch said. “We’re playing like 47 minutes, and we’re just picking which 47 we want to play.”
The concept of a snowball effect has been evident with Arizona of late, the most recent examples being how a 6-0 deficit midway through the third quarter at Colorado quickly ballooned to 27-0 in just over five minutes of game time and how Washington outgained the UA 179-24 after Will Plummer was picked off on a screen.
Fisch said he has brought the school’s sports psychologists into team meetings in an effort to work on things like mindfulness, and reinforcing the notion that a single play—and its outcome—shouldn’t linger after the whistle has blown.
“We are spending an enormous amount of time on the sports pysch part of the game,” he said. “One play is one play. I actually saw Notre Dame, against SC this this past week, they were up to scores, threw an interception, USC scored and then Notre Dame went back and scored, and it went from a 6-point game back to a 13-point game. And that’s what we have to learn how to do. We have to just realize that it is not ‘here we go again.’ There is no here we go (again). Each game is a separate game, each play is a separate play, we need to be better (at) being able to handle that and get that stop after the interception. It wasn’t in our territory, it was in theirs.”
After giving up only 65 yards in the first half, Arizona’s defense suddenly couldn’t get a stop. And when it did, such as on 3rd and 3 with 2:31 left, a 1-yard loss became a first down due to an illegal substitution penalty. The UA would instead get the ball back with 21 seconds to go, down five, but couldn’t even get in position for a doable Hail Mary pass thanks to a pair of drops.
“We’ve got to learn how to win,” Fisch said, a statement he’s made far too often this fall. “We have not earned that right yet, even though we played good games against certain teams, we need to play better games and score. So, we need to figure that out.”