It's been a hard road traveled for Arizona football
Wildcats have struggled away from home and Utah won't be a walk in the park
Maybe it’s been the crowd noise at Autzen Stadium or the Rose Bowl disrupting the offensive flow or the nerves of a young and inexperienced team, but something’s been different when Arizona’s football team has played outside of Tucson.
The Wildcats haven’t won on the road and had two humiliating blowouts to Oregon and UCLA. But, the explanation is simple.
“We’ve gotten beaten by three teams better than us,” head coach Rich Rodriguez said. “We hadn’t played well … We’ll win on the road when we’re better, when we play better.”
A winless road record has only happened once in the last 15 seasons for Arizona, during the 2003 season when the team went 2-10 overall and former head coach John Mackovic was fired. During the 15-year stretch, though, Arizona hasn’t played such a brutal road schedule or had so few games to pick up a win.
Arizona played its three hardest opponents, No. 2 Oregon, No. 17 UCLA and No. 13 Stanford, on the road this year. The Wildcats nearly toppled the Cardinal, but fell short in overtime, 54-48.
The other two games, Oregon and UCLA, were a different story. The Pac-12 foes blew out the UA by a combined score of 115-10.
“The bottom line is, when you’re really good and really experienced, it doesn’t matter where you play,” Rodriguez said.
“But when you’re not as experienced and you’re not as good — overall or talented or however you want to say it — then you have to have more things go right. And when they don’t go right, you have to be mature enough to handle the down times.”
While it’s clear, talent-wise, that the Wildcats aren’t on par with Oregon, it’s not that they haven’t competed well against talented opponents. Eight of the 10 teams Arizona has played this season have been ranked at one time or another, and its only home loss to Oregon State was a nail-biting, three-point defeat.
“I don’t think to veer and have a completely different game plan and change something — other than you have to prepare for crowd noise and all that,” Rodriguez said. “I think you just have to do what you do and have a lot of resiliency ‘cause you know you’re gonna have adversity.”
Utah is not nearly the same caliber team as the other three road opponents, but the Utes have been strong at home, as their 4-1 home record shows. Utah’s only defeat at home was by 10 points to USC, and it beat a then-ranked BYU team early in September.
Oh, and Utah is very cold at elevation.
But Rodriguez said he’s been trying to teach his team to be uncomfortable, and the projected 42-degree night in Salt Lake City with a 30 percent chance of rain could make the warm-weathered Wildcats very uncomfortable. The added 1,583 feet of elevation won’t help either.
“We got to learn to be uncomfortable and enjoy being uncomfortable,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t want us getting comfortable, and I think it’s a tendency with athletes. I think it’s a tendency for everybody to get comfortable.”