Bigger changes may need to be made in the offseason, but today small changes could be made. This team is not far off from being successful.
There is no doubt that the task of rebuilding the Wildcat football program is a daunting one. John Mackovic left the program in shambles from both a talent and organizational standpoint. It was not going to be a quick fix, but the Cats are not going on schedule.
The big concern is not that Arizona lost to Washington. It is how they lost to Washington. The Cats were sloppy, made critical mistakes and did not give themselves a chance to win. In year three there is no shame losing to superior teams, the USC game was a perfect example, but to lose to a team that should be equal from a talent standpoint because they made less mistakes is not good.
There is no doubt that this team is better than they were when Stoops took over the program. That was a team that lacked talent, heart, discipline and confidence. In the final year of the John Mackovic era the Wildcats lost games by 46, 38, 52, 23, 28, 29, 45 and 21. Of their 10 losses only two came by less than 20 points.
Stoops came in and made them instantly competitive. In the entire Stoops era they have lost just six games by 20 points or more, and all but one came against teams ranked in the top-12. That first year the team was close to winning against teams that would have blown them out the year before.
2005 saw more of the same. A lot of close, hard fought losses where the Cats shot themselves in the foot.
Now it is 2006 and the team does not look noticeably better than they did the year before. Yes, the Cats found a way to beat a pretty good BYU team and they showed great heart in giving USC all they could handle. But on Saturday night they were passed by a Washington team that is coming from the depths of football despair as well. In year two Tyrone Willingham's team is scrappy and finding ways to win.
Watching Saturday night's game I did not see a Washington team that was more talented than Arizona. I saw a team that made fewer mistakes. I saw a team that made some adjustments earlier and took advantage. For 50 minutes the game was fairly even, and you could argue that the Wildcats were slightly better. The problem was that for a 10:00 stretch of the second quarter it all came together for Washington. They scored on three straight possessions, shredding the previously staunch Arizona secondary. Although the Arizona offense never looked very good, they could do nothing in that stretch and kept giving the ball back to the Huskies.
It's time for some self reflection. The coaches need to look at what they are doing. They need to look at what they do in film study, in practice and on game day. Are they too excitable on the sidelines? Do they need to communicate differently? Do they need to rethink how they prepare?
The players need to look at themselves. They held a players only meeting on Sunday, but need to do some personal evaluations. They need to figure out where the dropped passes are. They need to figure out why they miss blocks, miss tackles and commit bad penalties. From Willie Tuitama to walk-on freshman Victor Yates, the players need to look at themselves.
Most of their mistakes are mental. Sure, the offensive line has gotten overwhelmed at times by bigger, stronger defensive linemen, but just as often they miss assignments. Dropped passes and false starts are, usually, due to a lack of concentration, not a lack of preparation or talent. Five games into the season the ‘freshman mistakes' need to end.
The loss to Washington is frustrating because this Arizona team is headed in the right direction. The talent is better than is has been since the end of the Tomey era. Now they have to put it together, and soon. The season can still be salvaged. There are still seven games to go and most of them are winnable.
Take a look in the mirror fellas. Take a long look and decide what you can do as an individual. If you are a player like Spencer Larsen there may not be a whole lot you need to change, but for others a few minor changes could make a difference.
Take a look today, and maybe, just maybe, when you look into the mirror after the UCLA game you will like what you see.