The Arizona Wildcats practiced early on Monday, perhaps eager to formally begin a rivalry week that's significant only in how little they have to play for.
Or maybe, it was to see which Wildcats were ready to work.
Interim coach Tim Kish will spend the week trying to sort out those who are eager to play Saturday's Territorial Cup showdown against Arizona State. Far too many players - many of them, sadly, starters - have seemingly lost interest toward the end of a fading season. Though Kish and a handful of UA seniors wouldn't name names, a look at film of last weekend's 48-29 loss at Colorado shows a disinterested team that gave a lackluster effort.
That won't happen again, Kish said.
"We going to play the guys that prepare the hardest this week and practice the hardest," he said. "We'll make that decision at the end of the week, who goes."
More than one UA player was bothered by the performance in the loss, which dropped Arizona into a tie for last place in the Pac-12 South. The Wildcats surrendered an even 500 yards of total offense to a lackluster CU team and turned the ball over four times. Arizona quarterback Nick Foles was intercepted three times and fumbled once, though it could have been worse: The UA recovered three of the four fumbles it lost.
The loss marked the low-point of an already dreadful season. Colorado hadn't won since September, and was winless in Pac-12 play.
"People get a sense that through (some players') actions, people aren't doing what they're supposed to do," linebacker Paul Vassallo said.
Luckily, a rivalry game could keep Arizona engaged. Senior safety Robert Golden said that if the UA players can't get up for Arizona State, they shouldn't be playing the game.
Asked about the UA's lackluster effort, Golden turned serious.
"No one signed up for the season to go like this, but we signed up for a marathon," he said. "We knew it was going to be a long season. We need to get back out there, keep competing and make it work. It's a rivalry game: everybody should have a lot of momentum coming out this week."
Here comes Marshall
Kish described Arizona State's Cameron Marshall as "another strong, powerful running back who's got pretty good instincts." That's bad news for an Arizona team that's surrendering 179.8 rushing yards per game.
Rodney Stewart was the latest back to torch a porous UA defense. The Colorado senior rushed 24 times for 181 yards and three touchdowns in last weekend's win; Stewart also caught two passes for 23 yards and threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to quarterback Tyler Hansen on a trick play.
Marshall is coming off the second-worst game of his season, a 16-carry, 37-yard performance in last weekend's loss at Washington State. Still, there's reason to think Marshall's due for a big game. Arizona has rendered career-and-season-best performances to six of the 10 running backs its faced this year: Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle, Oregon's LaMichael James, Stanford's Stepfan Taylor, Oregon State's Jovan Stevenson, Washington's Chris Polk and Stewart.
The Wildcats will be thin at defensive line this week because of injuries. Defensive end C.J. Parish is doubtful to play because of a sprained ankle, while defensive tackle Justin Washington is questionable to play because of a sprained MCL in his knee. Fellow defensive tackles Sione Tuihalamaka (probable, elbow infection) and Jowyn Ward (doubtful, sprained ankle) are also battling ailments.
Kish said Trevin Wade (leg) and Dan Buckner (shoulder) are both expected to play this weekend. The Wildcats' interim head coach downplayed any injury to wide receiver Juron Criner, even though he was clearly limited in a 7-catch, 86-yard performance against the Buffaloes.
Criner, the UA's biggest deep threat, has undergone an appendectomy and has dealt with hand, foot and knee ailments this season.
"He should be playing," Kish said.
Kish said the Wildcats might "make a couple little changes, move some people around and get the best 11 on the field" defensively.
That might include "downsizing" in the secondary, swapping larger safeties out for smaller players so they can cover more ground.
"We're going to play that by ear and see what happens," he said.
• What: Arizona at ASU
• When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
• TV: FSAZ
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM