Growing Pains Paying off for the Cats

In the past few years Arizona Football fans have become accustomed to watching the Cats find ways to lose game after game. Even in the first two years of the Mike Stoops era not much had changed, save some hope here and there. So when the Cats got the ball with less than six minutes to play against BYU and the game tied, I am sure many fans felt like I did.

Even though everybody that considers themselves among the Wildcat Faithful were optimistic entering the season, many of those same people were undoubtedly nervous when the Cats got the ball late in the game. After watching the Cats make mistake after mistake in years past to lose games there was legitimate reason for having that feeling.

But something changed. Finally the Cats found a way to not only get in field goal position but when Nick Folk split the uprights to win the game the Cats had finally found a way to win a close game.

As the final drive started it looked as if we were all watching the Wisconsin game all over again. The Cats were able to run the ball enough and pass themselves into decent position for the game winning field goal.

Like against Wisconsin, the Cats decided to run the ball as the clock ran down. Already within Folk's range, the staff decided to run the ball to get any additional yardage they could but, like the game against the Badgers, the first two runs went for either no gain or negative yardage. On third and long quarterback Willie Tuitama was asked to do what Kris Heavner was asked to do two years ago. Keep the ball, get as much additional yardage he could and make sure he got the ball in the middle of the field for a centered game winning attempt.

Everything was set up for the Cats to fail yet again. But the similarities ended when Folk booted the 48-yarder through the uprights and that Cats won the game.

Arizona Football is going through the growing pains that it must to become what their head coach wants it to be. Through he first two years of the Mike Stoops era the Cats consistently stayed in games and even had leads in games but found ways to lose. Now those growing pains that the Cats have gone through are starting to pay off. The experience, no matter how painful, of losing close game after close game has taught the young Cats a valuable lesson.

The Cats are now finding ways to win games rather than finding ways to lose.

Many fans of opposing teams will argue that Arizona didn't win the game but rather, BYU lost the game. But BYU didn't ‘allow' the Cats to convert two key third downs on the final drive. The Cats made the plays that allowed the drive to continue. Junior receiver Anthony Johnson made a key catch on the drive that the past two years he would have most likely dropped. Johnson also made a key down field block on the drive that he likely would not have either been able to make or he might have gotten called for a hold that would have nullified the play.

The Cats will undoubtedly go through further growing pains and they may even find a way to cost themselves a win or two. But the win over BYU signified that the young Wildcat football team has grown. It doesn't matter if it was a baby step or a giant leap, what matters is that the Cats won a game that they would have most assuredly lost a last year and the year before. And most importantly, it was a key game for the entire program.

In July, I wrote a COLUMN that explained why the Cats had a must win game, even in July. It was a win that the program needed if it wanted to make a bowl game that would show the growth and maturation of the program under Mike Stoops.

When Nick Folk's 48 yard field goal went through the uprights it proved that the Cats are most definitely going in the right direction. There will be more growing pains as the Cats are still young and are still learning. But now that they have finally learned to win a close game by making key plays down the stretch, they can take the confidence from that and continue their drive for the program's first bowl game in 8 seasons.

While the Cats actually making a bowl game is not guaranteed, they took a step in the right direction on Saturday night. Not only did they win the early key game, but they won it by making key plays in crunch time.

Now the Cats can go into Baton Rouge with literally nothing to lose. They are guaranteed a 2-1 start to their season for the first time under Stoops and it is that which will ultimately propel them to a bowl game, if they are to get there.

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