Although the Cats gave a scare to Oregon and USC a year ago, they really aren't ready to compete against top-10 (or better) competition, especially on the road. The Cats knew going in that they had to play smart and a near perfect game. They were nowhere near that. The Cats dug themselves a hole in their first few possessions and never had a chance.
Now they have to put the loss behind them. LSU is an elite team. If they beat Auburn next week they will be a serious national championship contender. Arizona is just not in their class, but that does not mean that the Wildcats cannot rebound from this loss and still challenge for a lower tier bowl game. They need to do a lot of work, but they can still have a good season.
Teams rebound from blowouts to have good seasons. UCLA a year ago lost badly to Arizona and USC, but still had a very successful season. Oregon lost 45-13 to an elite USC team and then rattled off eight in a row to get BCS consideration. I am not saying that Arizona is anywhere near the level of UCLA and Oregon, but they prove that you can rebound from a blowout loss and still have a decent season.
Arizona is better than Stephen F. Austin. In my opinion they have to use that game as a sort of an open tryout. They have to mix and match players to find the right combination. It may be a game where they have to turn the reigns over to Chris Jennings in the backfield. They have to audition some young receivers. They have to find the right combination of offensive linemen.
If Arizona is to rebound from this loss and salvage the season a lot of things have to change.
It starts at quarterback. Willie Tuitama's two worst games have come this season. He has looked confused and shaken. Not having a running game does not help, but he has locked in on receivers and has not been particularly accurate with his passes.
Although Austin got the nod in the second half of the LSU game, this team will only go as far as Tuitama can take them. He must be put in a position to succeed. He needs to get his confidence back and having some success against Stephen F. Austin could go a long way to doing that.
The most vital position to fix is the offensive line. The Wildcats must find a combination of players that will work. Without a competent offensive line, the rest of the offense has no chance. In my opinion they have to mix it up this week. Regardless of where players are on the depth chart, every reasonably competent player should get time to see what he can do. If that means a Bill Wacholz or James Tretheway have to see time, so be it. If that means benching a veteran starter, that is what must be done. They must find the five best linemen and work them together.
If the line can't come around, the team is doomed, at least from an offensive standpoint. I don't care what motivational tactics you need to employ or what groupings you settle on, the Cats cannot continue with line play the way it has been.
One of the few bright spots on the night was the play of Chris Jennings. Although most of his yards came against LSU's second team, LSU's second team is better than many of the Cats' upcoming opponents' first team. Jennings earned a start against SFA and an extended audition. He shows more instincts than Chris Henry, even if he does not have all of the physical gifts. It may also be time to see what a Terry Longbons can do. Xavier Smith did not have a carry, but he dropped two passes that were right in his hand.
Other than the offensive line, the poorest offensive performance came from the wide receivers. Anthony Johnson had a very nice night against BYU but had a key drop on a surefire touch down and on many plays it seemed as if he and the quarterbacks were not on the same page.
Frankly it is time to give the two Terrells a long look. Terrell Turner and Terrell Reese and the type of big, fast receivers Arizona lacks. They saw their first game action on Saturday but next week they need to be given a long, long look to see what they can do. Even if they are not completely ready, it may be time to throw them to the wolves and see if in a few weeks they aren't a better option.
Defensively the Cats still have the makings to be a pretty good unit. They forced LSU into three turnovers and all too often were playing with a short field. The Tigers had only one drive of more than 65 yards and that was the final scoring drive of the game.
The unit must rush the passer better. They did not have a sack and rarely got close enough to pressure JaMarcus Russell. Their tackling was also sloppy. There were a lot of bad angles and too many attempts to arm tackle or dive at a runner's feet.
One blowout is not enough to ruin the season, but the Cats must adjust. When they lost big to Penn State in 1999, it essentially sent the program in a tailspin since. The Cats catch a break and get a Stephen F. Austin team that is not very good coming to town next week. It should be a game that allows the Wildcats to work out some kinks and find some answers. They'll need to fast, because USC heads to Tucson in two weeks.
The critical game is in three weeks against Washington. A loss to USC is to be expected, but if the Cats have any hope of going to a bowl game, they must beat Washington. Being 3-2 at the end of September puts them halfway to the necessary six wins and gets the toughest portion of the schedule out of the way.