Looking back on 2006: The Arizona Debacle

(Note to readers: Today we continue in our look back at the games in the 2006 season with Arizona.  Here are links to our past look backs: Tennessee, Minnesota, Portland State, Arizona State, Oregon State, Oregon, Washington State, Washington and UCLA).

The storyline:
8th ranked Cal went to a rising in respect Arizona flat-footed, looking forward to their matchup with USC the following week, and was caught off guard in a 20-24 upset.  The Arizona defense was the story of the day, holding the Cal offense to 20 points, their lowest score since the opening week loss to Tennessee.

The reality:
The only contradiction to the storyline is that Cal overlooked Arizona.  Cal was ready for this game.  The only player who really looked off the mark was Longshore, but he looked similarly weak in the Washington game.  Arizona’s defense deserves a lot of credit for their aggressive play, particularly the goal-line stand in the 4th quarter with Cal trailing by 7.  Although Cal should have scored, Arizona played incredibly well.  The key to this game was that everything that could go wrong for Cal did.  The clock worked against them.  The bounces went against them.  The referees definitely worked against them.  While we’re on the subject, I hate blaming games on the referees and I want to make it clear that Cal could and should have won the game despite the calls, but the referees in this game were atrocious.  Here’s the list I saw:

  • Bad block in the back penalty on Marshawn Lynch TD run cost Cal 4 points (TD turned to FG).
  • Pass after crossing line of scrimmage was obviously not the case and had to be reviewed to be overturned.
  • Didn’t call block in back on Cal player on punt (helped Cal, but not much)
  • Out of bounds on AZ WR not called.  Had to be reviewed and review didn’t catch where he stepped out at 19 yard line.  Cost Cal another 4 points.
  • Marginal holding penalty cost Cal an interception.
  • Bogus pass interference call on Hughes cost Cal another interception on same drive.  Cost Cal another 4 points.
  • Missed out of bounds on DeSean that review had to overturn (correctly) Cal TD.

Cal still should have won this game but the officiating cost Cal 12 points and was bad even when it was in Cal’s favor.

The forgotten:
Forgotten in this game was that Cal was up 17-3 at halftime.  This is particularly forgotten by those who say Cal overlooked Arizona.  Additionally forgotten in this game was how well Larson and Schneider kicked.  Just about every kick off was out of the endzone and Schneider nailed both his field-goals, one 46 yarder and one highly angled 20 yarder.  Also forgotten was just how poorly Longshore played.  He overthrew Jackson on a easy TD.  The interception that put Arizona up by 7 was probably Longshore’s worst decision of the year throwing into triple coverage on an out play where the corner had an easy read on the out.  In fact, that was one of many poor throwing decisions he made.  In addition there were many poorly thrown balls, one of which led to a second interception.  That said, the final interception was just bad luck on a lucky tip at the line.  The final forgotten item, at least to some, was that DeSean Jackson was sick.  It’s amazing he played as well as he did but he didn’t return punts for all of the 1st half minus the first one that he ran back for a TD.

The 2006 learnings:
Arizona was the first team to successfully slow Cal’s offense with an aggressive defense.  Washington State, Washington and to a lesser degree UCLA all slowed Cal by playing soft on Cal’s receivers.  While it was somewhat successful, it didn’t give many opportunities for interceptions or stopping Cal in the redzone.  Arizona used its hard-hitting yet fast defense to both slow Cal and force mistakes that would result in Arizona points, something none of the previous opponents had managed.  This was definitely important since interception resulted in 10 of Arizona’s 24 points and the goal-line stand stopped Cal from tying the game.  They would not have won the game without their aggressive play.  Although most focused on Cal’s offensive mistakes and miscues, the successful strategy was definitely a bad omen for the upcoming USC game.  At the same time, the Cal defense also stepped up big in this game.  Had Arizona had any offensive rhythm, Arizona could have blown out Cal starting in the first half but the Cal defense stepped up every time it was asked to.  After a weak performance against UCLA, there was reason to hope that they were back on their game heading into USC.

The 2007 learnings:
SydQuan Thompson had another incredible game.  It was Hughes who struggled.  Syd tackled well and covered well.  He’s going to be great in ’07.  As for Arizona, so much went wrong for Cal in this game that there is no reason to believe they’ll be able to repeat the performance in ’07 back in Berkeley particularly considering that despite the fact that Arizona has most of their starters back in ’07, the key contributors to the upset have graduated.

The Conclusion:
This game is EXTREMELY painful to watch.  The refereeing.  The trip by Hawkins.  The foot barely on the line for DeSean.  The foot clearly on the line for Arizona… but not called.  The poor play by Longshore.  The inability to score with a 1st and goal from the 1 yard-line.  The fake punt that should have easily been sniffed out by Cal.  The tipped ball the ended Cal’s final drive and comeback attempt.  All of it was just a disaster of the worst order.  Amongst all of that it’s easy to overlook the quality of the Arizona’s defensive play, which was the reason that all of those painful plays mattered.

2 Responses to “Looking back on 2006: The Arizona Debacle”

  1. Joshiemac Says:

    What a horrible loss, I had to take two (2!) long walks around my neighborhood to cool off. While on my walk I saw a few old blues doing the same thing.

  2. HydroTech Says:

    I do have to give credit to Arizona for playing at a higher level than expected. But the refs dragged us down and had way too much influence on the game.