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Down to the wire

By Connor Doyle
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 16, 2002

For three quarters Saturday night, it appeared head coach John Mackovic's dream had arrived.

The passing game looked as prepared as it's ever been, with quarterback Jason Johnson playing what Mackovic referred to yesterday as "perfect football" making good throws to his receivers Bobby Wade and Andrae Thurman, who always seemed to have five yards between them and the closest defender.

Running back Clarence Farmer, while not quite spectacular, was eating up yards and time on the ground. By halftime, he had rushed for 61 yards more than double his total against NAU.

The defense appeared to be in prime form, playing it tough against a Utah rushing attack that was one of the best in the country coming into the game. The unit gave up two touchdowns, but both came on the heels of Arizona turnovers that left the Utes with a short field.

It was the fourth quarter when the problems with this team came to the surface. The offense was no longer indomitable, as proven by Farmer's losing three yards on a fourth-and-one. Sure, the play call toss sweep left was far from a stroke of genius, but these are the yards the All-America hopeful needs to guarantee for this team. To make matters worse, Wade and Thurman just weren't as open any more. The Utes defense called off the dogs up front, and forced some bad throws, dropped passes and broken routes. And the defense, so dominant in the first three quarters of the game, couldn't stop the Utah passing attack, which isn't going to be compared to Miami's anytime soon. Utes quarterback Lance Rice, who had thrown for all of 94 yards going into the final frame, had 78 in the fourth.

To top it all off, there will be lots of people out there who feel Utah got screwed by a bad call in the end zone. Not that it matters, because the mere fact that the Utes were in the Arizona red zone was proof enough that, despite three brilliant quarters, the Wildcats were poised to give it all back. Fortunately for them, Utah didn't or wasn't allowed to take them up on the offer.

At this point, the Utah game is nothing but a win for the Wildcats and hopefully an important lesson learned. Arizona was clearly the better team, despite what Las Vegas odds-makers thought Utah was favored by three. Yet the game came down to what Wade described as a "last-second shot."

Last-second shots, while thrilling for the fans, will probably mean losses once conference play rolls around as evidenced by two loses against Washington and Southern California in 2001. And if that's the case, everyone can start planning for an open December.

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