During the closing minutes, instead of finding a way to lose as the Wildcats have done so many times this decade, they ran the ball effectively, controlled the clock, and played stellar defense in finishing off the Cougars.
Willie Tuitama, in his return to the starting lineup, provided the spark the Wildcats needed early on as he connected with Anthony Johnson for a 78-yard score on the third play from scrimmage. From there, the Cougars responded with a 10 quick points to take the lead.
Arizona then answered with a 13-play, 80 yard scoring drive and never looked back. They led 20-10 at halftime and traded touchdowns with the Cougars in the third. Both teams held the other scoreless in the fourth.
The victory revealed several things. First, when Tuitama is healthy the Wildcats are tough to beat because teams must honor both the run and the pass. Second, when playing with a lead, an already good defense becomes ferocious. Third, this bunch of Wildcats has not given up on their quest to go to a bowl game this season. Fourth, the future of Arizona football is bright.
This young team has endured growing pains this season, but the game experience the youngsters are getting will make the Wildcats tough to beat in the future.
Junior running back Chris Henry ran the ball a school record 35 times against the Cougars. Sophomore receiver Mike Thomas executed a 22-yard reverse play during a critical moment in the game. Despite suffering two concussions this season, Sophomore Tuitama showed poise in the pocket, throwing for 159-yards on 10 of 17 passing. The young offensive linemen opened holes for the running game and, for the first time all season, created a perfect pocket with open throwing lanes for the passing game.
The Wildcats have stunned a ranked opponent in each of the last three seasons. This game falls into that category. What will differentiate this season from the previous two is if the Wildcats avoid the temptation to pat themselves on the back too much. The Wildcats have failed to translate one big win into a string of wins in years past.
With California, Oregon and Arizona State still on the schedule, the Wildcats have the opportunity to really make some noise in November. They are finally healthy, and two of their final three games are at home.
The final stretch begins this weekend when the Cal Bears come to Tucson. It is homecoming weekend in the Old Pueblo and anything can happen. Just ask UCLA who's still dizzied from last year's 52-14 loss at the hands of the Wildcats.
The highly ranked Bears will face a gritty Wildcat team and a hostile crowd. To win at home the Wildcats will not have to be perfect.
They must play well, though, and more importantly, must again display the heart of a lion.