By Connor Doyle
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday September 30, 2002
They're normally referred to as "cupcakes," or "creampuffs." They're the games that litter major-conference teams' non-conference schedules, and this season, Arizona had two of them. In the first one, against Northern Arizona, the Wildcats did what they were supposed to do: put up big numbers on offense, pitch a near-shutout on defense, play scrubs most of the second half.
In the second, against North Texas ÷ a better team than the Lumberjacks, but a presumed pushover, nonetheless ÷ the Wildcats did the opposite. The offense was miserable, the defense porous, and the scrubs played, but because the starters either got injured or benched.
So any proclamations from players or coaches who claim that "a win is a win" should be looked at as nothing more than denial.
North Texas had no business making Saturday's game close. Thankfully, at least one Wildcat was willing to admit it after the game.
"Offensively, this should not have been a close game," senior quarterback Jason Johnson said.
The UA offense, so impressive in the first two games of the year, put together its second-straight lackluster performance. Against Wisconsin, there was room for excuses to be made. The Badgers were a ranked team with a tradition of tough defensive play.
North Texas, for all the hyperbole surrounding their performance on defense this season, is no Wisconsin. Johnson should have been able to throw for more than 189 yards, Bobby Wade should have had more than 37 yards receiving, and Clarence Farmer should have rushed for more than 70 yards. But none of them did, and that's why Arizona almost lost Saturday.
Saturday's game might have been the death knell for the double-eagle flex, once one of the best run-stopping schemes in the country. Granted, standout corner Michael Jolivette is lost for the next few months and middle linebacker Lance Briggs missed much of the game to injury, but it's almost unfathomable to think that even the second-string defense for Arizona would give up 282 rushing yards to a team averaging 100 coming in. And it's not like the Wildcats were good against the pass.
As disturbing as the performance on defense was, great things weren't exactly expected out of this unit coming into the season.
The offense, on the other hand, was expected to be better than this. Johnson was a senior with a year under Mackovic's system, Wade was considered one of the best receivers in the conference and Farmer was a preseason Playboy All-American. Truth is, there has been something wrong with the offense since that first game against NAU.
Despite the gaudy total yardage numbers, the offense has been sputtering in the red zone. In 14 red-zone opportunities so far this season, the Wildcats have managed only three touchdowns. "For us to be the offense we want to be ÷ we think we can be ÷ we have to score touchdowns down there," Johnson said. "That's what I'm really disappointed in. It doesn't matter how many yards you have. You can have 500 or zero (yards) ÷ it doesn't matter if you don't score touchdowns."
Both Wade and Johnson said there were plenty of reasons Arizona scored just 14 points Saturday, and thankfully, none of them had to do with North Texas' defense.
They did have a lot to do with the fact that Wade, Johnson and Farmer ÷ players who are expected to perform ÷ didn't.
Now, with the possibility that Farmer might miss time with an injury, there's even more pressure on Johnson and Wade to do what they're expected to.
Since there aren't any more cupcakes or creampuffs on the schedule anymore.