Arizona playing for keeps in November … and it hopes beyond
TUCSON, Ariz. — Every month is November in the eyes of Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez.
On more than one occasion Rodriguez has told his team and the media: "the more you win, the more is at stake." And when better to make your mark on in college football’s regular season than in November?
Saturday afternoon is another test with Washington visiting No. 14 Arizona Stadium for a 1:30 p.m. MT start on FOX.
Austin Hill chuckled at how Rodriguez preaches each week is a big week because it’s about "that day and the next play."
"It’s always been the end of the year," Hill said.
Now, as Arizona reaches the home stretch, it’s actually here — sort of.
"There’s a lot at stake," said senior Jonathan McKnight. "Win this one and then get the next two."
Players live for these late-season moments, or at least should. Every game means something more and every win heightens the intensity.
At 7-2 — with an outside chance of the Pac-12 South title at 4-2 — Arizona is right there, significant in a race for the first time since 1998 when it ran the table in November and finished 12-1.
"Everything we’ve wanted — except for going undefeated — is there and still on the table," offensive lineman Mickey Baucus said. "We can still win a championship and 10-2 is a pretty good season. We know the games keep getting bigger and bigger."
Just three years ago, Arizona was riding out the storm that was Mikes Stoops’ final season, one he was fired midway through. Arizona finished 4-8. The previous year, the Wildcats started 7-1 but faded faster than winter temps, losing their final six.
"You shouldn’t feel any more pressure (in winning) than you already do because you should be putting pressure on yourself to prepare," said former Arizona player Jake Fischer, who went through that meltdown after the 7-1 start. "You don’t feel as nervous if you prepare. You know exactly what to do. Look for them to continue to prepare and work their tails off."
McKnight was part of the end of the Stoops era, too.
"The attitude of this program is very different," McKnight said, comparing coaching staffs. "People (then) were like, ‘Whatever.’ Now, people actually love the game of football."
Hill was also part of that coaching demise, but now that he’s a senior he’s proud to be part of the turnaround."
"It’s what coach (Rodriguez) came to do," he said. "We might be able to accomplish something we haven’t been able to accomplish in I don’t know how many years."
That would be play in January. Not since 1993 has Arizona done that.
"I think that makes us focus a little more each week," Hill said. "We’re trying to make ourselves relevant in not only the nation but in Tucson. But, we’re not over pressuring ourselves at the same time."
The alarms that sounded in September have the same blare in November. In Rodriguez’s mind, there’s always been a College Football Playoff. "It started in the first week," he said; "tell me the regular season wasn’t important before."
What’s clear is Rodriguez’s message doesn’t change.
"I did tell the team with three weeks left (in the regular season) that just about everything we want is at stake," Rodriguez said. "There aren’t a lot of teams that can say that (but) we can so it’s pretty exciting."
It beats the alternative. In his 12 years as a Division I head coach, he’s missed going to a bowl game just three times. He’ll make another one this year. Where Arizona goes is still to be determined — and in some ways i their control.
Added Baucus: "We’re not in it to make it close. We’re in it to win it. I’m hoping and expecting to finish 10-2."
That would mean to run the table in November for the first time since 1998.
Scooby Snacks: What hasn’t been written or said about Scooby Wright thus far? Does it matter? He’s been just short of amazing. He’s a semifinalist for the Bednarik and Lombardi awards. He is the only FBS player to rank among the top 25 in tackles, tackles for loss, sacks and forced fumbles. Wright has a TFL in all nine games (19.5 total).
Washington’s defense: Washington has a talented defense in that it gets to the quarterback and creates turnovers. Still, that hasn’t been good enough for first-year coach Chris Peterson, who is 6-4 overall and 2-4 in the Pac-12 North. Arizona might find it tough to get going early but eventually it should get moving late.
Cayleb Jones: Arizona’s most talented receiver must return to form after dropping a couple of passes last week and not being up to par the week before. He leads the team in touchdown passes with nine and receiving yards with 734. He also leads the team with 53 total catches.
— The home team has won six consecutive games in the series, with Arizona winning big in Arizona Stadium two years ago, 52-17.
— Washington leads the nation in defensive touchdowns with seven. Linebacker Shaq Thompson has four. The Huskies are tied for second in the country with 38 sacks.
— With CB Cam Denson hurt and Jarvis McCall a bit banged up, it’s now Devin Holiday’s chance to take a crack at one of the cornerback spots. He shined last week with a crucial interception.