One of the biggest underlining factors to the Arizona Wildcats of late has been their resiliency. Not just from the best win of the Rich Rodriguez era to this point over USC last week, but how they have bounced back this season overall.
The Wildcats had a stretch where it seemed nothing could go their way. A blowout at the hands of Oregon followed by two more losses that were ultimately lost right at the end of the game against Oregon State and Stanford. But the Wildcats haven’t folded and are right back in the thick of things in the Pac 12 South.
“Our guys were resilient,” said Rodriguez. “It was a good win. It gave us a little confidence, but I think our guys focus and understand we have to turn the page and after 24 hours that’s pretty well understood now.”
While this resilient characteristic the Wildcats are showing is something those who follow the team are just learning of, this is a trait that head coach Rich Rodriguez has known about with his team for quite some time.
“I first saw it sometime in the spring,” explained Rodriguez. “We had a new coaching staff and were teaching a new system and just tested them a little bit mentally to see whether they would respond or go in a shell. We were hard on them about all the things you’re supposed to teach and develop and to see how they react. I saw that early in the spring that these guys do want to get better and they’re trying to take to the coaching and system.”
“Coach (Rodriguez) doesn’t play around, he’s straight forward in his coaching style,” added defensive tackle Tevin Hood. “We responded well to that. Some people may get down on themselves but we took it to heart and understood what he is trying to do. As a team we responded well to that. I think it played a major role with the hard edge. If the coach has a hard edge, you need to have a hard edge if you want to make the cut.”
With the big two game winning streak, Arizona now controls their own destiny with their remaining schedule. While the Wildcats can ill-afford anymore blunders if they want a shot at the Pac 12 Championship game this season, none may be as crucial as the road test upcoming against the UCLA Bruins.
UCLA is coming off a dramatic road win over Arizona State last week and like Arizona, the Bruins face a must win every week to control their own destiny in route to the conference championship game. The Bruins, who are also in the first year under a new regime under Jim Mora Jr., have two of the top offensive playmakers in the conference. Running back Johnathan Franklin and quarterback Brett Hundley.
“He’s (Franklin) one of the best backs, probably in the country, definitely in the Pac-12,” Hood stated. “He’s a hard runner. With the lead option and lead zone they run, we need to focus on keeping up with him and (Brett) Hundley. We can’t have any holes in the defense.”
“I think you need to get more than one person there,” explained Rodriguez. “That’s the key for us. We’ve done okay at times with tackling and other times we haven’t. We’re not fast enough to not have multiple people there. We have to get guys down the blocks to get more than one person. Part of the design of their offense is to get open guys down the field, so that’s a concern. We have to get them on the ground.”
The last time the Wildcats were ranked heading into a tough conference road-game this season, it didn’t work turn out well up in Eugene, Oregon. Now with the Wildcats back in the Top 25, earning the respect by staying there is something they are striving to achieve.
“We just need to keep winning,” said quarterback Matt Scott. “We can lose respect really easy by losing a couple games here or there. So we just want to keep going, keep fighting, and try to get Ws. If we can do that we’ll keep getting respect.”
Arizona travels to Pasadena on Saturday to face the UCLA Bruins on Saturday. Kick-off is at 7:30 pm from the Rose Bowl.