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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona football’s mental toughness to be tested on the road

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Larry Hogan
Larry Hogan / Arizona Daily Wildcat

The Arizona Wildcats (6-4, 3-4 Pac-12) have already achieved bowl eligibility after last week’s win over Colorado.

On this week’s agenda: Pick up the first road win of the season against a stout Utah run defense.

“We have a big challenge this week,” Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez said. “I told the team yesterday that this will be one of the most physical and biggest teams we’ve played this year.”

Arizona’s season has been a tale of two teams: the competitive and exciting Wildcats who play at Arizona Stadium, and the dull, lethargic Wildcats who take their place in road games.

On the road this season, the Wildcats have been outscored 153-45, with blow outs at Oregon and UCLA and a loss to Stanford in overtime.

Despite their road struggles, Rodriguez does not anticipate changing his preparation tactics, as he did prior to the Stanford game, when he moved practices to 6 a.m. so players would be ready for an early gametime.

This road game will be tougher than the previous three because of the unknown status of senior quarterback Matt Scott, who suffered a concussion two weeks ago against UCLA and sat out against Colorado. The good news is Scott was listed as probable on the weekly injury report and could potentially return this week.

If Scott is forced to sit out the Utah game, though, the Arizona offense will look much as it did a week ago. There were a lot of handoffs to sophomore running back Ka’Deem Carey, who ran for a Pac-12 record 366 yards, and short passes from backup quarterback B.J. Denker, who threw for 136 yards and two scores.

“It was the simplest scheme in a game that I have used in 20 years,” Rodriguez said. “The simple scheme allowed us to run it efficiently and our tempo was pretty good, too.”

Against Utah, Arizona will face the third best rush defense in the Pac-12, which gives up just 110.7 yards per game, 105 yards less than the Wildcats’ rush offense averages.

The biggest piece of the Utes’ defensive puzzle is defensive lineman Star Lotulelei, who is expected to be a high first-round NFL Draft pick in April.

Lotulelei has forced three fumbles and accumulated nine tackles for loss this season.

“He’s a big physical player and an anchor of the defensive line,” offensive lineman Trace Biskin said. “For us it’s just going to be a matter of handling assignments and playing physical off the ball. If we do that and allow Ka’Deem to run and open some passing lanes, we’ll be okay.”

Denker has thrown only 37 passes for 259 yards in four games, so if Arizona’s run game cannot have the same success it’s had in almost every game, Denker could be pressed into uncomfortable situations in a “tough environment,” as Rodriguez put it.

“No pressure,” Denker said. “We’re going to have a game plan to run fast and be ready to go up-tempo because that will tire them out. They haven’t played a team that can go as fast as us. In the third or fourth quarter, they won’t be able to keep up with us.”

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