Wildcats struggling since Pac-12 started
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP)
Rich Rodriguez has everything he needs to build a winning football program at Arizona: new, state-of-the-art facilities, good coaches, strong support from the school and the community, and a solid recruiting base.
The only missing ingredient so far has been the winning, at least on a consistent enough basis for an impatient coach.
''I feel as good as any place I've been ... all that is in place as well as I could have possibly hoped in less than two years,'' Rodriguez said during his weekly news conference on Monday. ''But I wish we were deeper, better and won more games.''
The Rodriguez era got off to a solid start despite numerous deficiencies, particularly roster depth. The Wildcats won eight games in their first season under the new coach, capping it with a program-rousing comeback victory over Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl.
With a year of seasoning and a deeper roster, Arizona went into this season with even more expectations.
It hasn't worked out as well as Rodriguez or the Wildcats would have hoped.
After opening the season with wins over Northern Arizona, UNLV and UTSA, Arizona has stumbled at the start of the Pac-12 season.
The Wildcats lost 31-13 to then-No. 17 Washington in sloppy conditions on Sept. 28 and were beaten 38-31 by Southern California in its first game under interim coach Ed Orgeron last week.
Arizona's biggest problems so far have been a continued lack of depth on defense and inconsistent play by quarterback B.J. Denker and his young receivers.
Against USC, it was a slow start; the Trojans were charged up in their first game since coach Lane Kiffin was fired and the Wildcats didn't come close to matching that energy early on.
Arizona can't afford another slow start this week, either. Next up is Utah, a big, physical team that knocked off No. 5 Stanford last weekend for its biggest upset victory at home in school history.
''The effort was pretty good but there was a certain intensity that wasn't quite what I thought it could have been, playing USC Thursday night on national television at the Coliseum,'' Rodriguez said. ''Hopefully, being back at home will help us play with great intensity because we're going to need it.''
They'll also need a whole game from Denker.
The senior won a tight preseason battle to become Arizona's starter and had some uneven performances to open the season, throwing for 445 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions on 45-of-90 passing the first four games.
After missing a couple of potentially big plays in the first half against USC, Denker was the quarterback Rodriguez had expected all along in the second half, suddenly getting in sync with his receivers while throwing for 363 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions.
''We obviously made a lot of progress,'' Denker said. ''I was happy with the performance from the offensive unit, definitely in the second half. Going through film was a little frustrating watching the lack of execution in the first half, if it would have been like the second half, I would have been a lot happier after the game.''
The Wildcats could be a little better on defense, too.
Though Arizona is still in the FBS' top 50 for total defense, it has allowed 69 points and 906 yards the past two games combined.
The Wildcats do have more depth, but still not enough to satisfy Rodriguez, who expanded his rotation some against USC.
''We rotated more up front, but we still don't have the rotation in the whole defense as we need to,'' Rodriguez said. ''But if you're putting a true freshman in that spot and he's not quite ready, are you doing yourself any good or the young man any good putting him before he's truly ready? I don't know.''
The two opening Pac-12 losses puts the Wildcats in a tight spot.
Arizona is facing a team that's on an emotional high after one of the biggest wins in program history and certainly the Wildcats don't want to drop to 0-3, particularly with games against No. 2 Oregon, No. 16 UCLA and rival Arizona State still left on the schedule.
''I wish were 5-0 and could show that because as good as I feel about the infrastructure, most people only just look at the results of the game. That's just the world we live in and I'm the worst one at that,'' Rodriguez said. ''I should feel good with all of the things we have in place, but I'm mad because we lost the two games. It's just the way we're wired, I guess.''