Arizona prevails in offensive shootout

October, 18, 2009
10/18/09
1:27
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
During a game that saw both offenses succeed through the air, a 57-yard fun by Arizona's Nic Grigsby proved critical.

TUCSON, Ariz. -- On an evening when Arizona and Stanford produced 849 of the 1,137 of their game's total yards through the air, two running plays made the biggest impact. And on an evening that was a defensive coordinator's worst nightmare, two stops proved critical.

Arizona stunned Stanford 43-38 because it made all four of those plays.

The Wildcats rushed for 138 yards, 100 of which came on two touchdown runs in the fourth quarter.

On the first, Greg Nwoko ran 43 yards up the middle almost untouched, which cut Stanford's lead to 38-36. It was a perfect play call.

The second? It was a total disaster waiting to happen. It was a third and 17 draw play with less than three minutes remaining. It was sure to fail and the Wildcats fans, already grumpy about the performance, were sure to boo.

Coach Mike Stoops said he expected to punt no matter what. And then Stanford blitzed right into the play, making matters worse.

"It's really a bad call on the blitz," offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes said. "It just worked."

Nic Grigsby busted to his left when he saw the mass of white jerseys, got the edge and then galloped for a 57-yard score and the Wildcats first lead since the first quarter.

As for the Wildcats defense, it was on its heels all night. It got a little Toby Gerhart, who rushed for 123 yards and two touchdowns. And it got a lot of Andrew Luck, who passed for 423 yards and three touchdowns.

But the final two possessions by the Cardinals ended in fourth-down failure deep in Arizona territory. On a fourth-and-2 from the Arizona 8-yard line, Chris Owusu dropped a quick hitch pass. And, with 29 seconds left in the game, Luck missed Owusu on a fourth and 10 from the Wildcats 17.

It was tough to say who took the loss harder: Luck or his coach Jim Harbaugh.

"It's heartbreaking," said Luck, who's only interception was returned 79 yards for a TD by Robert Golden on the game's first possession.

"I've played sports for a long time and I've lost a lot of games in a lot of sports but this one stinks the most."

Said Harbaugh, "This is the toughest loss you could have been a part of."

Stanford has now lost two in a row after being on the cusp of a national ranking.

Things felt a little different in the Arizona locker room. Take quarterback Nick Foles. The sophomore, in just his third career start since replacing Matt Scott, completed 40 of 51 passes for 415 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He wasn't sacked, either.

"That was fun -- that was amazing," he said. "What a game, that's all I can say. What a game. It was a shootout. We knew every time we had the ball, we had to score."

Pretty much.



There were six drives of 80 or more yards. One, an 89-yarder the Wildcats made just before halftime, might have been as critical as any.

Not just because Arizona narrowed the Stanford lead to 28-20 entering the break. Nor because it gave the sagging Wildcats a confidence boost.

It's because the Wildcats went with a no-huddle attacked and it worked like a charm.

They stuck with it the entire second half and only needed to punt once.

That offense may have looked familiar. Ever heard of Texas Tech? That's where Dykes worked before Stoops hired him.

And it appears to fit Foles very well.

"We're kind of changing the offense to [Foles]," Stoops said. "He's very comfortable with it. He can distribute the football and make the reads and calls. We look a lot more like Texas Tech than we ever have."

Foles has progressed from backup best known for his long, 70s rock star hair to perhaps being the frontrunner for first-team All-Conference quarterback.

Yes, his coaches are a little surprised by what they suddenly find themselves with at the position.

"Nick is not the best practice player," Dykes said. "He's learning to be one, but he's not as good as he should be. We did notice that when he got into games -- even the spring game -- that he's kind of a gamer. He can improvise well and he has a really good feel for making decisions and staying calm."

But know who had the biggest smile during post-game interviews? Defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, whose unit came up big after getting sliced and diced by the Cardinal.

"I kissed them all of them, all our offensive coaches and players," he said. "I've been waiting my whole life to win a game like that."

Talk about emotional swings. Last weekend, the Wildcats dominated Washington but lost in a strange and controversial way when a Foles pass deflected off receiver Delashaun Dean's foot and was returned for the game-winning touchdown.

The Wildcats have been ravaged by injuries on both sides of the ball and had 12 cases of the flu this week, Stoops said.

"It was a hard week for us, coming off the loss at Washington," Stoops said. "We didn't have our best week."

But Stoops and company found a way to win, and that makes things feel a lot better.

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