Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Stanford @ Arizona

After two non-conference games against overmatched opponents, Tucson was the first real test for our team. Were we for real or was the over/under of 8.5 wins a more accurate representation of our team’s chances? While I had an air of confidence about the San Jose State and Duke games, I didn’t know what to expect at the Zona Zoo. While Arizona wasn’t an elite team, they still had a lot of talent and played well at home. It was the also the first time I was flying out of McCarran after finding a place here and I needed to get my airport routine down. I ended up finding a free park and ride area at the South Strip Transfer Terminal and was able to get to the airport for a $2 bus fare – much cheaper than taking a cab to the airport and given how many of these flights I have, a good money saver.

The weekend got off to a good start when I finished 2nd in a poker tournament on Friday. It was a run-of-the-mill daily tournament but Ray Romano and Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm) were playing in it with some of their friends. I busted Cheryl and had the pleasure of sitting right next to Ray for a couple of hours. He ended up finishing 4th and was a nice guy and decent player. After he busted, it was off to dinner and then a performance at the Mirage.

I got up bright and early on Saturday and was in Tucson before I even knew it. Since it was a late game and I was in no particular hurry, I took the bus and walked 1.5 miles to my hotel. It was a beautiful day and not as hot as I’d expected it to be. After checking in and catching a bit of the Notre Dame – Michigan State game where Notre Dame for the third week in a row was the superior team but plagued by turnovers early on, I headed over to Dirtbags which was the pre-game gathering point of choice among some of the Cardinal faithful who had made the trip. The alumni tailgate didn’t strike me as particularly appealing when the only mode of payment was mailing a check. We had several hours to kill and managed to do so with drinks, football and coeds. We ran into former Stanford football player Luke Powell who had driven over from Tempe and was waiting for former team mate QB Chris Lewis.

By the time kick off came around, it was a beautiful evening in Tucson and all the talk about dehydration and the heat seemed pretty unwarranted. As we headed over to the stadium, there was some mild heckling but nothing out of the ordinary. I ran into an old acquaintance from my senior year travels as we found our seats and another friend from junior year. Albert and I ended up moving down right next to the band which allowed us to stand for the whole game. We were joined by the Bernard family who stood for the whole game as well and got to see their kid play in the nickel package. I also spotted Ty Montgomery’s mum who probably is going to make it to every single game this season!

The overall atmosphere was great as the Arizona fans were pumped up for their first conference game. The first half was excruciatingly painful with the offensive struggles, defensive shakiness without Skov and injuries that had piled up. There was no doubt in my mind after watching the replay on Arizona’s ridiculously large scoreboard (my bus driver told me that it had cost $7 million) that Skov was done for the season. The one bright spark was our kicker Williamson’s play – something that one comes to appreciate after playing Duke and Arizona. I would bet good money that we lead the nation in field goal percentage allowed (with a minimum number of kicks).

I was not in the best of moods at half time as it felt that everything was unraveling. An overreaction for sure but such is the pressure of high expectations. That sinking feeling was reinforced at the start of Arizona’s second half opening drive but we managed to get our act together and make the necessary adjustments. I would have taken a 1 point victory at half time so I couldn’t complain about the 2nd half dominance. Just like how we discovered power midway through the season in 2009, hopefully we’ve found our offensive identity this year which in my mind is the no WR set that used to open our last TD drive. It allows us a lot of run-pass flexibility and while we should probably run a fair amount out of it, play-action possibilities should keep defenses honest. By the end of the game, it was yet another blow out with lots of room for improvement although the Skov injury puts a real damper on things. Hopefully he will come back even stronger from it either at Stanford or in the NFL.

With the late kick off, it was a quick stop at Dirtbags which had a Stanford contingent reveling in the victory before returning to my hotel. The next morning brought yet another early morning flight and I bumped into a player’s father (Jeff Trojan) over breakfast and we had a nice chat. I saw a fellow Cardinal diehard at the airport and almost missed my flight as we chatted about Stanford sports. He was less fortunate and by the time we realized it, his plane was already leaving the gate. I got back to Las Vegas just in time for another poker tournament which I ended up winning. Not a bad weekend!

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