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Close doesn't count for Arizona

10/26/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona was close again against USC. And close felt like taking a horseshoe to the head.

The way tight end Rob Gronkowski saw it, the Wildcats came up an inch short -- as in that critical fourth-down play near midfield when a quarterback sneak from Willie Tuitama didn't gain bupkis.

But an inch felt like a mile as he thought about Arizona's 17-10 defeat in front of a packed and frenzied crowd hoping for a breakthrough moment in Arizona Stadium.

"We have to be able to get an inch," Gronkowski said.

Arizona entered the game with a flashy offense and a no-name but fairly effective defense. But the offense showed little flash, producing just one play over 14 yards while gaining a measly 188 for the game.

Meanwhile, the defense mostly held the Trojans in check. USC averages nearly 42 points per game.

"I think we left a good opportunity out there and I was shocked we couldn't play better offensively," coach Mike Stoops said.

The Wildcats (5-3, 3-2) ran the ball fairly well -- Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin combined for 120 yards rushing. But Tuitama could only complete 14 of 30 passes for 88 yards. His longest completion went for just 14 yards.

After the emotional loss, it may be a good thing that the Wildcats have a bye before heading to woeful Washington State, where they can secure a sixth win and bowl eligibility. The program hasn't played in a bowl game since 1998.

Arizona has now played USC close two years in a row. It surrendered 10 unanswered fourth-quarter points in a 20-13 loss last year in Los Angeles.

The only other Pac-10 team to hold USC to less than 37 points combined in consecutive games during the Pete Carroll era is UCLA (33, 2006-2007).

But the Wildcats also have lost seven straight in the series and haven't beaten USC since 2000.

If Arizona wants to take the next step as a program, it needs to figure out how to be on the smiling side of "close."

"We don't play the game to lose by seven," Gronkowski said. "We play to win the game."