Greg Hansen: Stanford shows Wildcats never were in line for roses

2010-11-09T14:00:00Z 2012-11-30T19:29:21Z Greg Hansen: Stanford shows Wildcats never were in line for rosesGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
November 09, 2010 2:00 pm  • 

Editor's note: This story first appeared Sunday as an exclusive for our print readers.

STANFORD, Calif.

It is early in the third quarter, and I am looking at the Arizona roster as I type, careful to get the spelling correct.

B-r-y-s-o-n.

B-e-i-r-n-e.

Yes, Bryson Beirne, third-string quarterback, is warming up.

If you follow Arizona football, you know what this means. It is the exercise done so many times during an autumn crisis. When the third-string quarterback starts to get loose, Arizona's Road to the Rose Bowl detours into maddeningly familiar territory.

One year you would slowly type an unfamiliar quarterback's name like this: R-y-a-n H-e-s-s-o-n.

Another year, a season shattered by quarterback injuries, you would recheck the typing while punching up B-i-l-l-y P-r-i-c-k-e-t-t.

On Saturday night at Stanford Stadium, with Matt Scott injured, unable to play, and with Nick Foles absorbing more hits than a YouTube video, it became necessary to type b-l-o-w-o-u-t for the first time this season.

The most fortunate thing Arizona did all night was get out of town before Foles got beat up any worse, keeping him upright for the most important games of the season.

Stanford won without much of a challenge, 42-17. The Wildcats were mugged, punched out by a bunch of smart guys who usually try to beat you with finesse and long passes.

"We didn't tackle, we weren't aggressive, we were out-executed and out-blocked," said UA co-defensive coordinator Tim Kish. "They did just about everything better than we did."

This time, Stanford beat the Wildcats at a new game, smash-mouth football. The Fighting Harbaughs are no longer the softies who lost 43-38 last year in Tucson, yielding 553 yards as Foles came off as a latter-day Dan Marino.

The difference between Stanford and Arizona this year is that the Cardinal dumped their co-defensive coordinators of 2009 and hired former Colts, Texans and Panthers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio from the NFL.

Stanford's defense was so ambitious on Saturday that Foles must've felt like a guy attempting a getaway over a razor-wire fence. There was rarely a good option.

"I told the team that I thought it was (our best game), that it was our most complete game," said Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh. "I think our line took it personal. They were excited about going against a good defense. Our guys wanted to prove something as well."

Blitzing out of Fangio's newly-installed 3-lineman, 4-linebacker defense, Cardinals Michael Thomas, Chase Thomas, Owen Marecic and Thomas Keiser used the stationary Foles for target practice.

At times, Foles appeared so rattled that he missed on 20 of 48 passes, many of them badly off target. It was so uncharacteristic: Foles entered the game leading the planet with a .753 passing percentage.

"Their defense got a lot of pressure on us," said Foles, who said an injury to his left shoulder - which led to Beirne's hurried warm-up tosses in the third period - is "just tweaked a little."

This was the price Arizona had to pay for Scott's wrist injury, and for the general rustiness of Foles, whose customary on-the-button passes often skipped on the turf or were off just enough for a Stanford defensive player to bust the play.

And once Stanford crushed the UA's offensive spirit, the Wildcat defense played soft and without purpose. Stanford probably could've scored 50 had it chosen. Arizona never did sack Cardinal QB Andrew Luck.

It makes you wonder how good Oregon is. The Ducks beat Stanford 52-31 a month ago.

"(Stanford) did so many good things," said UA coach Mike Stoops, standing outside his team's dressing room within earshot of some loud singing in the Stanford locker room. "They just do a wonderful job of understanding who they are and what they have to do."

Once the damage assessment is completed, the Wildcats will understand that only one thing was lost Saturday: a rather remote chance to go to the Rose Bowl. Most of the reasonable goals of the 2010 season remain intact.

The great unknown is how much hurt was done to the team's psyche.

As long as the Wildcats don't suffer from a Stanford hangover, they should be able to gather themselves in time to beat USC on Saturday, or at least make it close, and be in contention to finish third in the Pac-10, survive against Arizona State and go to the Alamo Bowl, Holiday Bowl or Sun Bowl with a 9-3 record.

All of those things seem easier than beating a vintage Stanford team at The Farm.

The lingering question is what went wrong with Arizona's defense? It came into the game ranked 10th nationally in total defense (287 yards per game) and seventh nationally in scoring defense (14.4 per game).

Stanford easily sped past those numbers, gaining 510 yards and scoring six touchdowns.

"Our kids don't know how this will play out," said Stoops. "We haven't talked much about what's still out there."

By now, however, the time for talking is over. If Arizona doesn't play any better than it did on Saturday, it is apt to lose out, four straight, and make last year's Holiday Bowl debacle against Nebraska seem like the good, old days.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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