Wildcats prepare for ‘big stage’ at Rose Bowl
TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez frequently prefaces comments by saying, "This might sound like coachspeak …" but he didn’t fall back on such a crutch this week when talking about the UCLA game.
It’s not just another game.
The Wildcats sit at No. 12 in the first ranking from the College Football Playoff selection committee, and they enter November in control of their destiny in the Pac-12 South race. Those are uncommon stakes for Arizona at this point of the season as it heads into Saturday night’s game at the Rose Bowl.
"It’s the big stage," Rodriguez said.
"It’s Saturday night in a big stadium. They’re breaking out new uniforms. It’s national TV. I think any player wants that big stage."
Arizona has been 6-1 or better only five other times since joining the Pac-10 in 1978 — in 1986, ’93, ’94, ’98 and 2010. In the most recent occurrence, the Wildcats got to 7-1 under Mike Stoops … and the lost their final five games, including a lopsided loss to Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl.
Rodriguez always downplays any "revenge" angle, but his worst loss at Arizona (at least in terms of scoring margin) came in Pasadena in 2012, when UCLA won 66-10. The Bruins led 28-0 early in the second quarter and coasted to victory, spoiling Rodriguez’s first visit to the Rose Bowl stadium.
"I think it was a pretty unique venue, but then the game started and we played so poorly," he said.
"I was like, ‘This is miserable.’ It was a miserable experience there, and that was disappointing. Not that they beat us, because they were clearly better than us, but we played so poorly in every phase. I didn’t think we have them not just our best effort but our best team at that time. It has been bothering me for two years."
Former Arizona linebacker Jake Fischer, on the Sports Guys video last week, predicted an Arizona rout of Washington State, even though the Wildcats were favored by only a few points. He was right.
He said the key this week will be bottling up Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley — easier said than done, of course, but Fischer was part of an effort last season that held the potential first-round pick to 18 of 25 passing for 227 yards, and 56 yards rushing on 14 attempts.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that he forecasts an Arizona win at UCLA this week, but you can be the judge of Fischer’s logic:
"Two year ago, they threw haymaker after haymaker and we didn’t respond. This team is going to be able to respond to those haymakers," Fischer said.
"Last year, we kind of found out how to stop their run. Last year, Hundley didn’t go crazy against us. He didn’t create plays with his feet. I think we are going to be able to bottle him up. … Their receivers aren’t as good as they were last year or two years ago. They don’t have the one of the huge home-run hitter receivers. They have more possession-type receivers. I think our defensive secondary will be fine.
"I think we’re going on the road and win by seven."
Redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon has thrown touchdown passes to nine receivers, saying that now he needs to find David Richards in the end zone. Richards has 16 receptions, tied for sixth on the team.
"It’s part of my personality. I’m kind of a giver," Solomon said.
"I just want to share. I don’t want to be particularly focused on one guy, like Cayleb Jones. Obviously, he can do amazing things, but we’re too deep for that. We have other stud receivers on the wide receiver squad as well."
Solomon calls Bruins linebackers Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack "freaks of nature." Kendricks has led UCLA in tackles in every game; he 93 stops in eight games. Jack, who will still dabble at running back in short-yardage situations, had 62 tackles.
"They’re as athletic as probably anyone in the country," Rodriguez said of the duo.
"But they’re not the only ones. This might be the most athletic team, period, but particularly defensively that we’ve played all year. They have speed on the edges; they have big guys who can move. They’ll do some exotic blitzes and change the front up a lot. With all the looks they’re going to going to give us, we have to be ready."