Arizona’s football challenges lie ahead, against teams with national rankings and homefield advantages and little numbers next to their names on the BottomLine ticker.
A reality check is certainly coming, maybe as soon as next weekend.
For now, though, the Arizona Wildcats can revel in the fact that they’re undefeated. Why quibble over the quality of opponents?
Quarterback Matt Scott threw for 306 yards and three touchdowns as No. 24 Arizona routed tiny South Carolina State 56-0 at Arizona Stadium. The Wildcats gained 689 yards, two fewer than the school record of 691 gained against New Mexico in 1969.
Saturday’s victory moves the UA to 3-0, ahead of the modest expectations first-coach Rich Rodriguez set out before the season. The Wildcats are halfway to bowl eligibility and flawless through nonconference play for just the second time in a decade. It might not last: Arizona will open Pac-12 play against Oregon next week, then face Oregon State and Stanford before taking its bye week.
Arizona buzzed past SCSU by scoring in bunches and relying on its flawed but functional defense to make stops.
The Wildcats scored three second-quarter touchdowns and led 28-0 at halftime. Arizona’s starters exited the game toward the end of the third quarter, with the Wildcats holding a six-touchdown edge and half of the 43,919 announced crowd still in the stands. The 56-point win is Arizona’s largest since it routed Idaho 70-0 in 2008; the game also marked the Wildcats’ last shutout before Saturday.
Though Arizona crushed the Div. I FCS (formerly Div. I-AA) program, the Wildcats were far from perfect. Wide receiver Richard Morrison fumbled as the UA drove in the first quarter; after the Wildcats got the ball back, John Bonano missed a 25-yard field goal attempt. As the UA cleaned things up, the points came. Taimi Tutogi, Ka’Deem Carey and Scott all scored second-quarter touchdowns, giving the Wildcats a 28-0 lead at the half. Dan Buckner caught a 27-yard touchdown pass and Daniel Jenkins ran for a 5-yard score in the third, extending the lead. By the start of the fourth quarter, Scott was on the sideline and backup B.J. Denker was in. The self-described “Vanilla Vick” promptly led the team on a 14-play, 87-yard scoring drive. The Wildcats scored on his second drive, too, extending the lead to 56-0.
The margin of victory, however, was secondary to larger things.
Arizona walked off the field with no major injuries. Scott, who was stellar again tonight — the quarterback completed 30 of 36 passes for 288 yards and ran nine times for 69 yards and a score — has emerged as one of the league’s best playmakers. Jenkins led the Wildcats with 76 rushing yards on 12 carries, and Buckner — 6 catches, 85 yards and a touchdown — was Scott’s favorite target.
The Wildcats’ defense kept the Bulldogs (1-2) at bay. SCSU gained just 151 yards on 53 plays. And, on both sides of the ball, Arizona was able to build a little much-needed depth. The fourth quarter was a who’s-who of who’s-he’s: Little used wide receiver Sean Willet caught a touchdown pass, and running back Jared Baker punched in a 4-yard score late. Tight end Dame Ndiaye and guard Jowyn Ward both debuted new numbers and positions. Defensively, end Dan Pettinato and linebackers Hank Hobson and Dakota Conwell all made their season debuts after missing the first two weeks with injuries.
During another tumultuous weekend of games, Arizona managed to avoid getting upset. If anything, their situation improved: Oklahoma State and Toledo both won big. Take away their losses to Arizona, and the Cowboys and Rockets are a combined 4-0 this season and have outscored their opponents 210-70.