It was bad enough that the Wildcats lost, but how they lost was the real punch in the gut. Even the most optimistic Wildcat fans knew there would be growing pains to the new offense, but few could imagine that the spread born of the Texas Tech ‘Air Raid' offense would be so conservative.
The first half performance was as bad an offensive performance as there has been in the last 10 years. That includes some talent deficient Mackovic era teams. While things got better in the second half, it was really too late as the Cats did not have enough to battle back against a speedy BYU defense.
That is why the NAU game is vital. The Cats must show improvement on offense and what better way than by playing a lower division team? Not only is this an opportunity to work out the kinks and audition players, but it should be a chance to show the Wildcat fans the potential of the new offense.
Frankly, the team needs to win back fans. The offense has to show a glimmer of hope, while the defense needs to dominate. Even though the defense surrendered just 20 points, it never made BYU look uncomfortable.
Not only do the Cats need to win, and after Appalachian State's upset of Michigan anything can happen, but they need to look good doing it. They need a blowout to get the fans watching. Casual fans who may skip the game and catch the highlights on the news want to see a lot of points. Truth be told, they need to get into the 40's if at all possible. There is something about eclipsing the 40-point mark that makes a game seem out of hand.
In three games against IAA teams in the Stoops era the Cats have scored 21, 31 and 28. In fact since the Board of Regents mandated that the Cats play NAU every other season the team has never scored more than 37 against the Lumberjacks.
The Cats will need to do better than that, or at least look like they are. While they don't need to be ridiculous, they do need to look inventive. They have to come out throwing, looking to put points on the less talented Lumberjacks. If they hope to have fans in the stands next week against New Mexico they need to show some innovation and some flair. They can't look conservative and afraid to open the playbook.
The fans are not the only ones who need this game. The players need to prove to themselves that they can put away an opponent. In reality the only real blowout they have had was the 52-14 throttling of UCLA two years ago. While they have had some convincing wins, they have not had the offensive firepower to really take it to someone, even if that someone is an IAA team.
They also need to show the recruits that there is some life to this offense and program. Talking to a few players off the record last week, they were dismayed with what they saw. This was not the offense, or the effort that they had been promised by the coaching staff. The staff has been selling that Arizona is a team on the rise for several seasons, but that sales pitch is getting old, now they have to show some real improvement. They need to show recruits that they are a team that is not only a bowl team, but a program that contend for bowls every year.
I don't think Mike Stoops and his staff thought that the NAU game would be important. While they couldn't ink in a win against BYU on the road, they had to believe that it would be a battle. Since it wasn't they need to go out and show the fans, the players and the recruits that there is hope for the offense and hope for the season.