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Recapping Arizona football’s historic 12-game losing streak

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Come relive all the pain

arizona-wildcats-football-losing-streak-recap-history-sumlin-fisch-pac12-tate-gunnell-byu-2021 Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

(Editor’s note: Information in this article originally appeared in a story published Nov. 26, 2020)

Are you old enough to remember the last time the Arizona Wildcats won a college football game?

It sure does feel like forever since the UA was on the winning side. In reality, Arizona’s last victory was about two years ago, a 35-30 win at Colorado in Oct. 5, 2019. That gave the Wildcats a four-game win streak and a 4-1 record.

Since then? Well …

Arizona has lost 12 consecutive games, the longest skid in program history. The only longer active losing streak in FBS is Kansas’ 13-game losing streak, and the Jayhawks are like the Wildcats in breaking in a new coach this season.

As a heavy underdog for Saturday’s opener against BYU in Las Vegas, it’s very possible the skid is going to reach 13. To prepare for that strong possibility, maybe it would be cathartic to relive the entire rough stretch?

Here’s a quick recap of each of Arizona’s nine consecutive defeats:

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 two years of UA football.

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

Slow starts plagued Arizona throughout the Kevin 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 (that will now be their regular threads). 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 7-3 lead until midway through the second quarter, when ASU’s had the first of two straight touchdown runs 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.

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.

UCLA 27, Arizona 10 (Nov. 28, 2020)

It took only one play for disaster to strike Arizona, as Gunnell suffered a shoulder injury on the first offensive snap. That thrust true freshman quarterback Will Plummer into action, without even a chance to warm up, and he finished with 151 passing yards and 49 rushing yards but also two interceptions.

The UA actually led 7-0 before UCLA ran off 20 consecutive points, the 10th consecutive loss matching what at the time had been the longest winless skid in school history.

Colorado 24, Arizona 13 (Dec. 5, 2020)

With Gunnell’s shoulder still bothering him, Plummer made his first career start against a surprisingly 3-0 Buffaloes squad. He piloted the Wildcats to three consecutive scoring drives to build a 13-0 lead early in the second quarter, but after that it was all Colorado.

Colorado ran for 407 yards, 301 coming from Jarek Broussard thanks to several huge gains, while Arizona had a interception and two turnovers on downs in its final four possessions.

ASU 70, Arizona 7 (Dec. 12, 2020)

Both teams entered the latest-held Territorial Cup in rivalry history winless, but it took only 13 seconds to realize which team was going to stay that way. ASU ran the opening kickoff back 100 yards for a touchdown, leading 14-0 within the first minute and 42-0 midway through the second quarter.

Arizona turned it over seven times, including four lost fumbles, that the Sun Devils converted into 35 points.

The following day, Sumlin was fired and a few weeks later Jedd Fisch was hired to try and build back a program that had hit rock bottom.