Cats' four turnovers prove costly against No. 17 Utes at home
What a difference a turnover makes.
What a huge difference four turnovers make.
For the Arizona football team (1-1), it was the difference between a possible upset of a ranked opponent and a defeat in which the Wildcats could muster only two field goals.
"It hurts. It cost us the game in a lot of ways," said UA head coach Mike Stoops after the Wildcats fell 23-6 to No. 17 Utah (2-0) at Arizona Stadium. "To lose the turnover battle 4-0, you're not going to win many football games. That was disappointing for us."
Offensively, the teams' numbers mirrored each other.
The Utes finished with 326 yards of total offense, while the Wildcats finished with 312 yards.
UA sophomore quarterback Kris Heavner arguably outdueled Ute quarterback Alex Smith with his 198 passing yards to Smith's 170. Heavner was 19 of 25 passing while Smith was 12 of 22.
The difference was simply a matter of execution when it counted - or the lack thereof.
The game opened ominously for the Wildcats when UA running back Mike Bell took a helmet to the knee, fumbling the ball on the game's first play from scrimmage, with Utah recovering. Starting from the Arizona 23, the Wildcats were able to hold the Utes to only a field goal.
If that first turnover only caused the Wildcats to lose a little momentum, the second one squashed it. With just over eight minutes remaining in the half, the Wildcats methodically moved down the field, facing a second-and-goal situation from inside the one-yard line late in the closing minutes after a nine-yard run by freshman running back Chris Henry.
Second and goal: No gain. Third and goal: Nothing.
4th and goal: The Ute defensive line stuffs UA junior running back Gilbert Harris on the goal line. Utah recovers.
"We needed to get points. We just guessed wrong and they guessed right," Stoops said. "They schemed us well. That hurt our momentum, no question."
The Utes had no time to score themselves, but the Wildcats were sent into the locker room to ponder how they were unable gain a single yard in three attempts, and how the score could have been down just 14-13 at the half, instead of 17-6.
In the third quarter, the Wildcats forced Utah to punt on two straight drives, and were still within range with plenty of time in the game. Then came turnover number three.
After a 39-yard punt from Utah punter Matt Kovacevich, Arizona started on its own 10-yard line with 3:22 remaining in the third quarter. Bell rushed for 4 yards before a deflected Heavner pass was picked off at the UA 11-yard line. It didn't take long for the Utes to convert that into a touchdown - a 9-yard strike from Smith to wide receiver Steve Savoy, making the score 23-6.
With just over a minute remaining in the third quarter, the Wildcats had another chance to make the game close and go into the fourth quarter down by only a field goal and a touchdown.
Heavner connected with wide receiver Syndric Steptoe for a 28-yard reception at the Utah 10-yard line. But another fumble by Bell put an end to the third quarter and the Wildcats' chances of pulling off the upset.
"You get the ball in the red zone twice and you don't come out with points; that kills you," said offensive coordinator Mike Canales. "You can't play like that. We can't win at Jones Junior High doing that."
Defensively, Arizona succeeded at keeping the dangerous Ute offense off the field, especially in the first half. The Wildcat offense was on the field for 19:16 of the first half, compared to the Utes' 10:44.
But the Ute defense created turnovers in the red zone, making it easy for the Utah offense to convert on the scoreboard. The UA's defense, on the other hand, was unable to create a single turnover.
"That's what hurts the most," said junior free safety Darrell Brooks. "We need to create turnovers and help our offense more."
While the breakdowns are obvious and the cost of the turnovers are clear, the Wildcats did take some positives from their ability to hang with a top-20 team.
"We're definitely confident," said fullback Gilbert Harris. "It's definitely not a talent issue like it was last year, where we weren't big enough and not strong enough - it's definitely not that. We have the offense, we have the talent; we just have to execute."