Road warriors? Not so much for Arizona football
An Arizona player flies into the endzone in the UA-Colorado game at Arizona Stadium on Nov. 12, 2016.
The term “road warriors” is often used to describe sports teams that have a knack for finding ways to win as a visiting team. It’s a term that emphasizes the toughness and determination of a team because winning away from the comfort and safety of one’s own stadium is revered across all sports.
But that term has not applied to the Arizona Wildcats football team in quite some time, especially when it comes to Pac-12 play. In fact, “road woes” is a more accurate description. As the Wildcats get set to face their first conference road test of the year against the Colorado Buffaloes in Boulder on Saturday, Oct. 7 the ‘Cats will be looking for their first road win against a Pac-12 opponent since Oct. 17, 2015. Interestingly enough, UA’s win on Oct. 17 came against the Buffs. But it should be noted that Colorado only won one conference game that year, and finished last in the Pac-12 South so it wasn’t exactly a momentous win.
However, that comes out to 720 days since Arizona won its last Pac-12 game on the road.
Since Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez took over the program in 2012, the team has compiled a paltry 7-15 road conference record. Only once since he has been the head coach has Rich Rod ended the season with a winning record away from Arizona stadium during Pac-12 play. The last two years of conference play stand out particularly because UA amassed a record of just 1-8.
It would be easy to label these losses over the last two seasons as unlucky games that resulted from injuries, last second losses or even just the fact that Arizona was playing a better team, but doing so would be lazy. The simple fact is that Arizona has played disastrously when it has left Tucson.
Of UA’s eight road conference losses since 2015, seven of them have by two possessions or more. Fans probably remember the 49-3 drubbing the ‘Cats took in Seattle, WA. against the Huskies in 2015 and most recent 69-7 loss in Pullman, WA. to the Cougars in 2016.
There is even the final road game from last season when Arizona got beat by 25 points against an Oregon State team that had only beaten one other Pac-12 school up to that point.
Yes, there have been some shocking upsets, particularly the win over No. 2 Oregon in 2014, but the larger scope is that Arizona’s habitual struggles on the road has kept the team from being remotely close to competing for a Pac-12 Championship for four of the last five years.
It’s a problem that has multiple layers to it and there’s no clear-cut easy fix. The struggles could stem from poor preparation, poor execution or a lack of intensity during games. The likely answer is a combination of all three.
Getting back to road success will be an arduous task for Rich Rodríguez, but it is certainly within the realm of possibility. Take for example the game at UTEP just a few weeks ago. The game plan was simple: run the football with authority, play hard-nose defense and don’t make dumb mistakes.
If the Wildcats can execute the same game plan in Boulder this Saturday, the losing streak has a chance to be broken. If not, the streak may live on for yet another season.
Follow Alec White on Twitter