Matt Scott, Arizona seniors prepare for last 'Duel in the Desert' bout
Kyle Quinn has been at the UA for five years. Coming into his fourth “Duel in the Desert”, Quinn knows what to expect. He has experienced the fervor that accompanies an Arizona-ASU battle for the Territorial Cup.
“There’s electricity in the air,” said Quinn, Arizona’s starting center.
To prepare for “duels,” Quinn would watch highlight tapes of past year’s games “to see the great things that have happened in this rivalry,” which he considers one the best in college football.
This year marked Matt Scott’s first full season as the starting quarterback, but he’s already made two appearances against the Sun Devils as a backup behind former Wildcat Nick Foles, in 2009 and 2010. He completed 2-of-2 passes for four yards and ran seven times for 39 yards in the two games.
“I can’t even explain how I feel about these guys,” said Scott, a fifth-year senior. “Obviously we don’t like them, they don’t like us. It’s a big rivalry game.”
For Quinn, Scott and 17 other seniors, this will be their last ‘duel’.
For head coach Rich Rodriguez, it’s his first. On Thursday, it will be a year since Rodriguez was introduced at McKale Center as Arizona’s new head honcho.
Rodriguez said he doesn’t remember if he watched last year’s game, where a two-win Arizona squad upset ASU, a team in pursuit of the top spot in the Pac-12 South.
He didn’t have to.
“I don’t think it’s a revelation to say, “boy this is a big game,’” Rodriguez said. “It’s a rivalry game. It’s a huge game, it always will be.”
At West Virginia, both as a coach and player, Rodriguez had the “Backyard Brawl” with rival Pittsburgh.
He coached at Michigan for three seasons and was at the helm for three losses to Ohio State. In one of the most heated rivalries in sports, with some of the most fanatic fans in the country, that didn’t exactly cut it in Ann Arbor.
Rodriguez knows what he has to do to appease his fans, as if winning seven games and clinching a bowl berth wasn’t enough.
“I know a lot of people say ‘If you’re gonna win one game, make sure it’s the ASU game,” Rodriguez said. “’Then we’ll be happy.’ I don’t think you will be, but I think it’ll at least make them less angry if that’s the one game you win.”
But, as the Wildcats celebrate this year’s seniors in their last game at Arizona Stadium, Rodriguez wants to give them a proper send-off, because that’s what he promised when he spoke with them for the first time.
“He just told us ‘Guys, its your team. It’s the seniors team,’” Quinn said. “He said ‘I may not have recruited you guys and it’s your last year. I want you to have the best senior year possible. I may not have recruited you, but you’re my guys.’ We really bought into that and we bought into his philosophy, his mindset.”
Now, the Wildcats sit at 7-4, with the possibility of getting two more against ASU and whatever bowl Arizona gets invited to.
Perspective: In eight years with Mike Stoops as head coach, Arizona won seven or more games just three times and made three bowl games.
Much of that success has come thanks to Ka’Deem Carey’s rise to superstardom at running back — the sophomore leads the nation in rushing yards — but seniors have played an integral part.
Offensive lineman Quinn and Trace Biskin, receiver Dan Buckner and fullback/defensive lineman Taimi Tutogi, punter Kyle Dugandzic and even kicker John Bonano have all contributed.
“We’ve come a long way,” Tutogi said. “We lost some games, some crucial games but a lot of people can see we fought our tails off. It’s gonna be my last regular season game against ASU. Next time I see Wildcats and Sun Devils play, I’ll probably be watching from my TV, or on the field and not in the helmet that has the ‘A’ on it.”
Scott, though, has been the headliner in Rodriguez’s successful first season at the UA.
After losing his starting job to Nick Foles in 2009, and redshirting in 2011, Scott had one last chance to prove he belonged.
And he did. The 3,008 passing yards, 443 rushing yards and 26 total touchdowns can attest to that. Just imagine what he could have done with another year in Rodriguez’s system.
“Matt’s been a leader for this team ever since Coach [Rodriguez] came here,” Quinn said. “We grew up together. We’ve both been here since we were 18, well he was 17, but we’ve just grown up together and we’re ending our career on a positive note.”