TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona cornerback Shaquille Richardson hears the whispers. He knows the criticism swirling around the UA defense.
He knows there are critics to his game, too. They come with the territory. In the cornerback business, there’s no room for bad beats, and there have been a few this year for both the Wildcats defense as a whole and Richardson individually.
“There’s been a lot of stuff, good and bad,” Richardson said of the fan’s chatter. “I don’t focus on it. But I’ve heard a lot.”
Richardson understands he’s run hot and cold from game to game. He also wants everyone to know he and the team are doing all they can to get better.
More tape review. More observation and analysis. More preparation.
He also knows that a lot of the game is measured and dissected between the ears. Mental toughness is paramount; a lack of it can be devastating.
“I’ve been pretty good about that, but then I learned that I still have progress to make,” said Richardson, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior.
He’s been tested every game, although he said the Oklahoma State game was his toughest.
“You learn how to handle the bad and try to minimize it,” he said. “You try not to let more bad happen.”
Bad has happened at times, though, especially in the past few weeks. Richardson has given up more than his share, as has the entire defense. Arizona is now 114th in passing defense nationally, giving up 297 yards a game.
“Shaq has been OK,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. “… I don’t think anyone on defense has been great. I think we’ve had some guys who have been pretty good at times, and Shaq has got a lot of ability. He just needs to play with confidence all the time. He’s a talented guy, and it’s important to him.”
It’ll have to be with Washington, which Rodriguez called one of the “most athletic teams in our league,” bringing in star wideout Kasen Williams, quarterback Keith Price and a big tight end in Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
“I’m going to treat them like they are best team in the world,” Richardson said. “A lot of it has to do with preparation, mentally and physically.”
As a team, the physical part has stilted some of UA’s progress. The offensive line has been hit hard by injuries, and it’s unclear whether some of the afflicted — specifically center Kyle Quinn and guard Trace Biskin — will be able to play Saturday. The two are listed as questionable; they are among seven players listed as either questionable or out despite coming off a bye week.
“I think it has helped some,” Rodriguez said of the week off to get his team healthy. “I think the guys that were just sore and beat up — that didn’t keep them from practicing — feel a lot better. The guys that were out, it may be a couple of days before we know if they’ll be back. Some of them we know won’t be back this week.”
The bigger question is whether Arizona will be back in the win column this week. Three straight losses — two in the final moments — have the Wildcats sitting at 3-3 but with the knowledge that a play or two in each game could have them at 5-1 entering the back end of the schedule.
“It’s not a clean slate as much as it is the second half,” Rodriguez said. “The first half is over. There were some good and some bad (moments), and now we’re in the second half.
“Every conference game is really important. Our guys understand that.”