Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images
The last 10-win season since 1998
Many of us attended barbecues over Memorial Day Weekend. For those of us attending these barbecues in the state of Arizona, we might have (unfortunately) spent time with Arizona State fans.
Arizona fans know that Sun Devil fans are probably the most insufferable fans in the collegiate base. If not THE worst, they’re at least up there and give the worst a run for its money.
Here’s an encounter that captures this thought in a nutshell. The conversation started with Sean Miller and the recent under achievements as a program.
To be clear, I don’t fully disagree with that notion. It’s just comical coming from a fan of a program who has won two tournament games (this includes their First Four victory in 2019) since 2010.
ASU fan: “That guy that the Suns drafted a few years ago who’s a bust.”
Me: “Deandre Ayton?”
ASU fan: “Yes, him! He’s such a bust.”
The ignorance of this part of the conversation is amazing. To start, if you really care and follow basketball (NCAA or NBA), how do you not know Deandre Ayton by name?
Perhaps it was a simple brain cramp that we all experience from time to time. I’ll grant him the benefit of the doubt on forgetting his name. However, a player who averages 17 points and nearly 11 rebounds per game through his first 101 games is hardly a “bust”.
It became increasingly clear that this fan’s perspective is skewed by his bias for ASU and there was no point in trying to persuade him into a rational position.
Ultimately this encounter led to “when was the last time Arizona had a good football team?”
Objectively speaking this is a very fair question because despite the notion that there’s a legitimate case to be made that UA should have won five of the last eight Territorial Cups, it has only won two.
My answer was obviously, “2014 when we won the South.”
I often think of this team as it’s probably the most complete team Arizona fans have seen since 1998 and might see for a while. It was the perfect combination of the blossoming of the final Stoops’ players and harvesting of RichRod’s offensive gems (and Scooby Wright III).
It was also a point in time where the true power house of the Pac-12 South, USC, was still rebounding from their scholarship reductions.
Not to mention it required an epic choke job by Jim Mora Jr. and UCLA during the regular season finale at home against Stanford.
This was the last time that Arizona has had a complete team in all three phases of the game.
Riggleman was the punter for the Wildcats from 2013 through 2015. He finished with 184 punts and averaged 44 yards per attempt. The bulk of these numbers came in 2014 when he registered 76 punts and average of 46.1 yards per attempt.
For perspective, Arizona recorded 57 punts and 39.4 yards per attempt in 2019. Riggleman earned All Conference Honorable Mention that season and deservedly so.
Casey Skowron might be remembered for the missed field at the end of the USC game which would have propelled the Wildcats to 6-0. However, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Skowron offset that miss with a touchdown run for the ages and game-winning field goal against Washington five weeks later.
It should also be noted that he converted 100 percent of his 57 extra point attempts that season. You might feel that’s insignificant but just think back to the 2010 Territorial Cup for a gentle reminder that it’s an impressive feat.
Offensively speaking, this Wildcat’s team was not as potent as the 2017 team but they were far more balanced. In 2014, Arizona averaged 40.3 passing attempts to 41.1 rushing attempts per game. That’s nearly a perfect 1:1 ratio or 50-50 split.
In 2017, they averaged 22.7 passing attempts to 46.9 rushing attempts per game. Obviously not as many plays per game but it speaks to chunk plays or long touchdowns created by Khalil Tate.
Solomon recorded 3,793 passing yards while completing 58 percent of his passes and 28 touchdowns with only nine interceptions. He also registered 291 rushing yards and two more touchdowns.
Wilson was good for 1,375 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns. He tacked on 12 receptions for 90 yards and another touchdown.
Durability was not much of an issue for Wilson but he was fortunate to have the depth of Terris Jones-Grigsby and Jared Baker behind him. These two combined for 165 touches, 903 total yards and six touchdowns.
It should also be noted that this was the last time Arizona saw a 1,000-yard receiver in Cayleb Jones. The receiving corps as a whole was actually impressive with talent and size.
More evidence of the perfect storm: Austin Hill returned as a redshirt senior after suffering a torn ACL during 2013 spring practice. That injury caused him to miss the 2013 season which would have effectively ended his collegiate career.
Had that injury not occurred he would not have played with Jones and the “Hill Mary” would have either not happened or would have been renamed.
The offensive line, per usual, was possibly the most critical piece and biggest unsung hero. The luck of health certainly played into this but seniors Mickey Baucus, Fabbians Ebbele and Steven Gurrola provided the experience, leadership and talent to really pull it all together.
Last but not least is of course the defense. I want to start with the secondary here because in the 3-3-5 defensive scheme that was run during that time, it was the safeties that were asked to do the most.
Will Parks, who might be remembered as having the best overall football career, had a strong season with 81 total tackles and two interceptions. He just wasn’t quite in the mix for starting snaps.
Tra’Mayne Boundurant, like Grandon and Tevis, was a member of the remaining players brought in by Mike Stoops. He had a knack for making big plays at the right time (see the Washington game).
Boundurant wasn’t the secondary’s leader in tackles but did record 82 total tackles with five forced fumbles, two sacks and two interceptions.
Jonathan McKnight was the team’s best and most experienced cornerback, having played in every game during his first three seasons.
The defensive line wasn’t as undersized as recent UA teams but it didn’t have the best depth. This was another stroke of luck with health that avoided completely exposing this aspect of the depth chart.
Worthy always came up big on goal-line packages as he had the ability to torpedo the middle of the offensive line to disrupt the running plays. This happened multiple times throughout the season but it was best highlighted in the Territorial Cup when the Wildcats stymied ASU’s goal-line offense in the first quarter, which resulted in a turnover on downs.
The last group on the defensive side of the ball is of course the linebackers. Everyone remembers Scooby Wright from this group and even the team.
He recorded 163 total tackles and 14 sacks. He was also peppered with all types of accolades ranging from First Team All-Conference to Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year to Chuck Bednarik Award (awarded to the nation’s top defensive player) to Heisman Trophy votes.
This team was the only 10-win season for the program over the last 21 seasons. I don’t think there’s any debating the talent on the roster. It was fortunate to avoid any serious injuries and came up with big plays when it seemed to matter most.
Although Arizona closed the 2014 season with two losses, it was able to capture its first and only Pac-12 South championship. This of course came when it was able to outlast ASU in the Territorial Cup, which was possibly the highest-stakes matchup of the storied rivalry.
There’s no telling if or when the football program will reach this level again. So for now we have to relish the 2014 season and hope a meaningful season is achieved sooner rather than later.