With four weeks of the college football season in the books, the University of Arizona football team finds itself in a much better spot than it did last year. Already sitting at 2-2, it’s a far cry from the 0-4 start the team faced in 2021 and most definitely an improvement from the 2020 pandemic squad two years ago. As someone who was quite skeptical of the improvements the team would make going into the season, I’m pleasantly surprised, especially considering the challenge the first quarter of the season presented on the schedule. While I expected our defense to remain considerably stout like it had been last year, I never expected to see the growth the team has gone through.
In week one, the Wildcats made the trip out to San Diego to play the Aztecs in their brand spanking new stadium, built upon the ashes of Qualcomm (rest in pieces, you multi-purpose mess), Snapdragon Stadium. The previous year San Diego State came into Arizona Stadium in week two, delivering a 38-14 smackdown on 9/11. 34,406 attended what became one of the hottest games in San Diego football history, the area temperature 100 degrees F while on field it was a little toastier, although SDSU’s choice of natural grass aided a bit. The first quarter was all Arizona as the Wildcats jumped out to a 10-point lead. By the close of the first half, Arizona had tacked on two more touchdowns to make it 24-10, a much different match than before. In the third Arizona would extend it to 31-20, a mistake on a punt leading to a score for the Aztecs. In the fourth, the Wildcats tacked on an extra insurance TD to ride out of San Diego with the win, 38-20.
In week two, Arizona Stadium opened up its doors for the first time this season, playing host to the visiting SEC foe Mississippi State. The Bulldogs were coming off of a 49-23 dismantling of AAC Memphis at home, giving them some momentum. Kicking off at 8:10 pm on 9/10, the temperature was a solid 84 degrees. In the first quarter, Arizona struck first before MSU responded with two TDs and a field goal to make it 15-7 going into the first intermission. In a defensive second quarter, both teams simply traded FGs to make it 18-10 going into the half. In the third quarter, both teams traded TDs, making it 25-17. In the fourth, Mississippi State fully took control with two TDs, making the final score 39-17. Multiple missed opportunities for the Wildcat offense ultimately helped the final result. Despite the loss, keeping pace with the Bulldogs in the first half showed potential, but consistency was needed.
Entering week three at 1-1, the Wildcats were to face a very tough opponent, the cream of the FCS crop, North Dakota State. To say the Bison are a dominant FCS squad is an understatement as they have four of the last five FCS national titles. Detractors might say that they’re just an FCS squad, but there’s a reason that this match was only the seventh time North Dakota State faced off against an FBS school. If you let your guard down, they’ll punch you in the teeth. Just ask Michigan what happens when you underestimate a good FCS team. Entering that Saturday, the goal for the Wildcats was to play a complete game, especially as the Bison rushed for over 200 yds in their previous two games, massive blowouts of Drake and North Carolina A&T. 41,211 came to attend another 8 pm game on 9/17, almost half of the seats filled with North Dakota State fans.
The first quarter ended in a 7-7 draw as both teams clawed out TDs. Hunter Luepke, NDSU’s running back that calls back to the Mike Alstott days, made his impact known early, especially with his ability to break tackles. In the second both teams traded TDs, but Tyler Loop booted a field goal as time expired to make it 17-14 entering the halftime break. In the third quarter, the teams went back and forth into the endzone, the Bison taking the upper hand going into the intermission as Luepke broke off a 38-yard run to score and make it 28-24, leaving Wildcats in his wake. In the fourth quarter, it was all defense as both sides forced punts and turnovers until finally, with 4:53 left in the game, Jayden de Laura hit Jacob Cowing on a 22-yard pass to take the lead 31-28. The defense held on, and the Wildcats made it to 2-1, ending NDSU’s bid for an undefeated season and their undefeated streak against FBS opponents. Leaving the stadium, home fans were delighted and Bison fans bitter, contesting that a match in the Fargo Dome would have gone differently, despite it being the largest crowd they had ever played in front of.
In week four, the Wildcats made the trip up to Berkeley, California to play the Golden Bears, the only squad they beat last year with the caveat of the team being ravaged by Covid in that week nine matchup that ended 10-3. Cal entered the game at a respectable 2-1, matching Arizona’s record after taking down UC Davis and UNLV at home and taking a close loss to Notre Dame on the road. Kicking off at about 2:30 pm at a nice temperature of 80 degrees at California Memorial Stadium (I don’t care what the field is named, it’s a bad name). The mood of the game was quickly set as Arizona jumped out to a 14-7 lead after the first quarter. The offensive momentum was maintained as Cal tacked on two TDs and Arizona pushed up a TD and a FG to make it 24-21 going into the half. In the third, however, the momentum began to shift as Cal scored two TDs to take a 35-24 lead entering the final frame. In the fourth, the Wildcats and Golden Bears traded a TD each early before a long 72-yard run by Jaydn Ott iced the game with less than five minutes left to make the final score 49-31 in favor of the Golden Bears.
And so, with a third of the Wildcat football season and a round of conference play over, Arizona stands as the only Pac-12 squad with a 2-2 record, sitting behind the 3-1 Oregon State Beavers and Washington State as part of the 0-1 conference play teams. This weekend, the Wildcats will play host to the Colorado Buffaloes, who currently sit at 0-4 on the year, each loss a blowout. Week one was 38-13 vs. TCU, 41-10 at Air Force in week two, 49-7 at Minnesota in week three, and then a 45-17 dismantling at home against UCLA last week. To say the least, Colorado is eager for a win going into a 6:30 pm kickoff matchup to kick off October. Let’s hope our cats can lay on the hurt and keep the blowout streak against Colorado goin’. Bear down and go Wildcats.