So, Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez has no plays for a fiery, rah-rah speech for his Wildcats as they prepare for No. 19 UCLA on Saturday night.
What would be the point?
Aren’t these the games players come to big schools to participate in?
Ranked opponent. Check.
Homecoming game. Check.
Pac-12 South title implications. Check.
National television audience. Check.
“When you come to college you want to play against the best competition, especially when you come to play in the Pac-12,” UA senior Jake Fischer said. “This is up at the top.”
Rodriguez said if he needs to get his team all fired up, well, then he’s in trouble.
“This is an easy one,” he said. “If I have to worry about motivating and getting them jacked up for this one, then I’ve got the wrong group.”
Rodriguez, whose team is 6-2 overall and still in the hunt for a Pac-12 South Division title at 3-2 (same as UCLA), believes he has the right group. Being in the hunt for something significant — especially at home and for Homecoming no less — in November doesn’t come along every year for Arizona.
Many years in Tucson, folks are already talking about basketball season by this point.
“I could give you the standard coach-speak that they’re all important, they’re all big and all count as one — and that’s true,” Rodriguez said, “but with a ranked team, and you’re home with a lot at stake in the next four weeks … it adds to it.”
With four games to go, he pointed out, the Wildcats still control their own destiny.
Win out and Arizona will be the Pac-12 South champions. Granted, that’s a tall order with UCLA, Washington State, Oregon and ASU still to be conquered, but …
“It’s a huge challenge,” Rodriguez said, “but it’s where you want to be in November, with a lot of meaningful games.”
As far as prepping his team for this one, Rodriguez started with a review of last year’s 66-10 debacle against the Bruins at the Rose Bowl. Arizona was down 21-0 in the first quarter and 42-3 at halftime.
The Wildcats were exactly the picture of calm and composed. Saturday night, they’ll need to be different.
“We’re not going to go out there and pee our pants just because it’s UCLA, you know what I mean?” Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker said. “We legitimately believe we can come in and win.”
UCLA coach Jim Mora said the quick start fueled last year’s blowout. Witht he big early deficit, he said, Arizona couldn’t run as much as they would have liked to. In fact, it was the only game in the past 16 when Ka’Deem Carey didn’t rush for 100 yards or more.
“What could go wrong went wrong,” Rodriguez said. “We played poorly and, they played well. I was embarrassed and I hope every one of us was embarrassed because we played so poorly.”
“They out-blocked us, out-tackled us, out-ran us, out-threw us,” Rodriguez said. “Out-coached us. Anything and everything they could out do they out did. We stunk it up.”
The numbers paint the picture: UCLA had huge advantages in first downs (36-18), rushing yards (308-121) and passing yards (303-136).
“I’ve been in a couple of those, and they are not pleasant being on the wrong side of it,” Rodriguez said.
While Rodriguez said he doesn’t take much stock in the “revenge” factor, he think his team will be sufficiently motivated to play more competitively.
“I believe the guys are competitive enough and were embarrassed how we played,” he said. “We want to go out and give it our best shot.”
Denker acknowledged there’s every reason to get excited, but then again, he gets excited for every game.
“It’s about getting on the field and being able to have some fun,” he said. “There will be a little bit emotion because of what happened last year, so there will be some energy. It’ll be electric.”