Monday, January 9, 2012
Season grade: Arizona
By ESPN.com staff
The 2011 season is over. That means report cards are due.
Up first: Arizona Wildcats
Offense: A team that averages 465 yards and just under 31 points per game should not go 4-8, but we'll get to that. Going into the season, it was clear that QB Nick Foles and the Wildcats' passing game would be the linchpin of a successful year. It also was clear looking at the roster that the defense was going to take a step back and the running game would struggle with five new starting offensive linemen. As it turned out, Foles and the passing game were the best part of the team, but they weren't good enough to carry the Wildcats to success — or save Mike Stoops' job, for that matter. It's hard for a football team to do only one thing well and win a lot of games. Foles and the Wildcats led the Pac-12 with 370 yards passing per game, but Foles threw 14 interceptions — second most in the conference — and the lack of a running game made the dink-and-dunk offense predictable.
Defense: The Wildcats were bad on defense by just about every measure. They ranked last in the Pac-12 in total defense (460.5 yards per game) and 11th in scoring (35.4 points per game). But here are two numbers that stand out: They had just 10 sacks — fewest in the conference by three — and forced just 16 turnovers, second fewest in the conference. Eight Pac-12 teams forced at least 20 turnovers. Opposing offenses made 63 visits to the Wildcats' redzone, which was most in the conference. They yielded 44 TDs on those trips. Senior CB Trevin Wade earned second-team All-Conference honors, but the only other Wildcats defender to earn even honorable mention was fellow DB Tra'Mayne Bondurant.
Overall: Much has been made of the 10-game FBS losing streak that ended Stoops' tenure in Tucson, but it needs to be emphasized that those 10 games, extending into the final five of 2010, were brutal, including Oklahoma State, Oregon, Stanford and USC two times apiece. In the preseason, it was clear that schedule would challenge the Wildcats. It did. And, as it turned out, the apparent weaknesses in August were just as they seemed: Weaknesses. When you toss in a handful of key injuries on an already questionable defense — LB Jake Fischer, S Adam Hall, CB Jonathan McKnight, DT Willie Mobley, etc. — you see the reality was a doomed season almost from the start. You could argue that this team, at 4-8, didn't really underachieve. And beating rival Arizona State prevents 2011 from being a total wash.