Quarterback Matt Scott listed as probable as Wildcats prepare for tough road challenge at Utah.
By STEVE RIVERAFS Arizona
TUCSON, Ariz. -- The road isn’t where Arizona’s heart is.
Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez is hoping, urging -- maybe even demanding – that changes … and quickly.
Saturday would be the optimal time for the message to sink in, as the
Wildcats head to Salt Lake City for a pivotal game against Utah. Senior quarterback Matt Scott is listed as probable after missing last week’s game against Colorado with a concussion. Backup B.J. Denker filled in and did an admirable job in UA’s 66-10 win.
But that was last week, and now Arizona faces Utah and the ever-tough road.
UA is 0 for 3 on the road this year, looking awful in two (Oregon, UCLA) of the games and blowing a big fourth-quarter lead to Stanford in the third.
Here’s Arizona’s last chance to look good on the road. It faces rival Arizona State at home in next week's season finale. In trying to get his team fired up, Rodriguez reminded them in a passionate post-practice discussion on Tuesday that they can't afford to "get comfortable." He repeated that message on Wednesday.
“We’ve got to learn to enjoy being uncomfortable,” he said. “I don’t want us to be comfortable, and it’s a tendency in society to get comfortable. I like being uncomfortable. Things in life aren’t going to be all smooth. They need to learn to be uncomfortable.”
And Rodriguez insists a 6-4 record is no cause for comfort or contentment, even after a thorough beating of Colorado last week. The Wildcats still need to learn how to handle prosperity ... as well as adversity.
“We should, because we’ve had a lot,” he said. “We should be the masters of adversity having gone through what we’ve been going through the last nine months.”
He didn’t get into the particulars, but one would think defections, injuries, depth and talent challenges, coaching and philosophical changes, et al.
Arizona linebacker Jared Tevis, back from a serious ankle injury, said his team is taking the road as another in a series of challenges.
“We just need to stay focused,” Tevis said. “That’s No. 1. We can’t let the environment get the best of us. We have to have tough skin.”
Keeping emotions at good level are important. Just two weeks ago, it seemed Arizona let down against a good UCLA team in Los Angeles, following up a breakthrough victory over USC with a 66-10 beatdown and not being in the game from the start.
On several occasions this week, Rodriguez reminded his team – and the media – that it will be facing one of the biggest and most physical opponents of the season. Utah dominated the Wildcats 34-21 last year in Tucson.
The Utes (4-6, 2-5 Pac-12) still have a shot at gaining bowl eligibility by winning their final two games. Offensively, they will try to control the ball against the undersized Wildcats with a punishing ground game, led by John White (761 yards). Defensively, 320-pound likely first-round draft pick Star Lotulelei anchors a unit that ranks 31st nationally in total defense (346.3 yards per game) and 19th in rushing defense (110.6).
Utah is coming off a 34-15 loss at Washington, but it is 4-1 at home, with the lone loss a 38-28 setback to USC. Its last two home games were blowout wins: 49-27 over California and 49-6 over Washington State.
The Wildcats can expect uncomfortable weather conditions. It’s projected to be in the 40s at game time on Saturday night.
Temperatures aside, Rodriguez said after Arizona’s two blowout losses that while conditions are a factor, ability has something to do with the outcome,too. And the better team won at Oregon and UCLA.
“Sometimes you’re just not good enough,” Rodriguez said. “When you are really good and really experienced, it doesn’t really matter where you play. But when you’re not as experienced and not as good or talented, that’s when you have to have more things go right. And when they don’t go right, you have to be mature about it.”
Hence, Rodriguez's lecture on mental toughness.
“When you are mentally tough, it doesn’t matter where you play,” Rodriguez said.