And then the Wildcats gave up a 45-yard touchdown pass on the first drive of the game and were thoroughly dominated by the Cardinal, losing 42-17.
"We didn't get off to a very good start," coach Mike Stoops said. "You've gotta score. I know we missed a couple of opportunities in the first half to score some points, and it just didn't happen."
It was a rare game in which Arizona wasn't competitive, which speaks to the strength of 8-1 Stanford. But the Wildcats also have a narrow margin for error, and their mistakes added up:
--Missed scoring chances. Arizona was 3-for-5 in the red zone, getting a total of 17 points. Included in the problems was an interception from Nick Foles in the final minute of the first half. Stanford was 5-for-5 in the red zone, totaling 35 points.
--Failure to win critical situations. Arizona was 7-for-16 on third down. Stanford was 9-for-14, including converting a third-and-15 situation en route to its second touchdown when the momentum of the game was still up for grabs.
"Against Stanford, you can't miss opportunities scoring because you're going to have to score some points to beat them," Stoops said.
That didn't happen, so the Wildcats dropped to 7-2 overall and 4-2 in the Pac-10. They would have to win at Oregon on the day after Thanksgiving, have the Ducks lose one of their other two games, and have someone else knock off Stanford just to get into a tie for the Pac-10 lead.
There is still a lot to play for in the final three games, but a conference title isn't realistically one of them.
--The conference did Arizona no favors when it put together next season's Pac-12 football schedule. The Wildcats of the Pac-12 South will miss the conference's worst team, Washington State, and will have to play Stanford and skip Cal. (The Wildcats will miss one of the Bay Area schools every year.) Unlike this season, Arizona's conference schedule is front-loaded, and it won't end with the traditional rivalry game against Arizona State. Instead, Arizona ends with an unappetizing home game on Nov. 26 against Louisiana-Lafayette.
--Arizona did lose 33-0 to Nebraska in last season's Holiday Bowl, but Saturday's 42-17 loss at Stanford was the program's worst defeat since a 45-3 smack-down at eighth-ranked LSU on Sept. 9, 2006. The loss to Stanford was Arizona's worst Pac-10 loss since a 28-0 defeat at Cal on Oct. 1, 2005.
--Mike Stoops' career record at Arizona dropped back below .500 at 40-41 overall.
GAME BALL GOES TO: WR Juron Criner -- He's Arizona's big-play threat, able to catch the deep ball, turn middle screens into significant gains and run the fly sweep. He had nine catches for 98 yards and a touchdown against Stanford but didn't play in the fourth quarter because of an apparent leg injury.
KEEP AN EYE ON: QB Nick Foles -- The junior starter returned to action after missing two games because of a dislocated kneecap. He and the rest of the offense didn't appear to be as in sync as usual, and Foles' mobility -- which isn't great in the best of times -- seemed to be limited. He completed 28 of 48 passes for 248 yards with a touchdown and an interception. This could have been a game in which the coaches went to more-athletic backup Matt Scott, who played well in Foles' absence, but Scott was unavailable due to a wrist injury.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: The offense, although banged-up against Stanford and getting only one carry from RB Nic Grigsby (ankle), managed 428 yards against the Cardinal. The Wildcats should have put up more points, but it didn't make the plays needed in the red zone. What was encouraging was the use of a hurry-up offense in the second half that kept Stanford on its heels. That is something Arizona will think of using more in the final three games.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Arizona entered the Stanford game ranked seventh in the nation in scoring defense and 10th in total defense. After the game, the Wildcats are 10th in scoring defense (17.44 points per game) and 20th in total defense (311.67). Big tests for the defense are still ahead: USC, Oregon and Arizona State. As Arizona often devoted a safety near the line of scrimmage to stop Stanford's running game, the secondary gave up big plays in the passing game, unable to stay with speedy WR Chris Owusu. That coverage will be under fire in the final three games.
ROSTER REPORT: --QB Matt Scott, who had started the previous two games in relief of injured Nick Foles, was not available against Stanford because of a wrist injury suffered Oct. 30 at UCLA. Arizona kept the injury a secret during the week -- practice is always closed and the coaches put all the quarterbacks off limits to the media last week. Coach Mike Stoops said after the game that Scott's injury is a week-to-week situation.
--WR Juron Criner suffered an apparent leg injury in the third quarter and played only briefly after that. His status was not immediately known.
--RB Nic Grigsby, who sat out the second half of the UCLA game on Oct. 30 because of a sprained ankle, was able to make only one carry at Stanford. He was shut down for the rest of the game.
--RB Greg Nwoko, a third-stringer taking injured Nic Grigsby's carries in the time share with Keola Antolin, suffered an apparent leg injury in the second half. His status was not immediately known.
--DT Justin Washington (sprained knee) was back in the starting lineup after missing two games. He made three tackles.
--OG Vaughn Dotsy, who underwent offseason back surgery and missed most of fall camp, is out indefinitely. Coach Mike Stoops said the junior might have to consider ending his career if the back doesn't respond to treatment.
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