After a historically bad performance against their biggest rivals on national TV – the culmination of a three-year descent – questions abound about the Arizona Wildcats football program.
The biggest one: Will Kevin Sumlin still be their coach by the time you read this?
Arizona hit rock bottom against Arizona State on Friday night. The Wildcats lost 70-7 to the Sun Devils – the largest margin of defeat for the UA in 94 Territorial Cup matchups. Arizona twice has lost to ASU by 47 points – in 1951 and ’58.
Arizona was down 14-0 less than a minute into the game, and it only got worse from there. The Wildcats gave up a touchdown on the opening kickoff, committed seven turnovers and got stopped four times on fourth down.
Based on practice and pregame preparation, Sumlin thought his team was ready to play. Clearly, that was not the case.
“No matter what your emotional level is,” Sumlin said, “when you turn the ball over like that, particularly early in the game, with short fields, it’s not a good recipe.”
Arizona’s school-record losing streak reached 12 games. The Wildcats are 0-5 for the first time in program history. The 1957 Cats, who finished 1-8-1, didn’t post a victory until their next-to-last game, but they opened that season with a tie.
Arizona lost its fourth game in a row in the series for the first time in more than 40 years (1975-78). Sumlin fell to 0-3 against Herm Edwards, whose hiring in December 2017 was ridiculed as much as Sumlin’s was praised a little over a month later.
Sumlin’s record at Arizona fell to 9-20. His winning percentage of .310 is the second worst for any UA coach who has presided over at least 20 games.
Sumlin has two years left on his contract. His buyout would be $7.5 million if he were let go before mid-January. Like most athletic programs during the pandemic, the UA faces a significant revenue shortfall this year. But Athletic Director Dave Heeke might not have a choice after Friday’s result.
Sumlin said he isn’t concerned about his job status.
“It’s what we sign up for,” he said. “It’s a tough deal. But as a coach, you can’t approach life, your team, anything like that. We’ve just gotta keep working at it. That’s what I’m gonna do.”
After an offseason filled with personnel losses – including the transfers of key defenders when it appeared the Pac-12 wouldn’t play this season – not much was expected of the Wildcats. They were picked to finish last in the Pac-12 South.
After nearly beating USC in the opener, Arizona got blown out at Washington. The Wildcats were competitive in defeat against UCLA and Colorado. Then came Friday night.
ASU’s 70 points were the most either side has scored in the Territorial Cup. The Sun Devils improved to 1-2.
“It’s tough,” senior tight end Bryce Wolma said. “Everyone’s extremely frustrated. No one’s happy. Everyone knows that we can be doing better.
“No matter the situation, we’re a brotherhood. We’ve gotta rely on each other when things aren’t going well, we’ve gotta communicate with each other, we’ve gotta lift each other up.”
It would have been difficult to conceive of a rougher start for the Wildcats.
ASU’s D.J. Taylor returned the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. Taylor fielded Lucas Havrisik’s kick about 6 yards into the end zone. Taylor met little resistance while racing up the right sideline.
Knowing Havrisik’s penchant for touchbacks, the Sun Devils positioned both of their returners near the back line. A short, high kick likely would have negated a long return.