The night before a game, Rich Rodriguez has trouble sleeping.
The UA coach tosses and turns and worries if his team is truly ready to play.
But there’s a very good chance that when Rodriguez woke up this morning, he was coming off his best night’s sleep of the season.
“This is an easy one,” Rodriguez said this week. “If I have to worry about motivating and getting them jacked up for this one, then I got the wrong group. I have trouble sleeping before any game the night before, because I worry about do I have to juice them up.
“This one here, they’ll be really excited to come out of the tunnel Saturday night.”
The UA will take on 16th-ranked UCLA tonight looking for an upset, but it’s more than that. The Wildcats will also try to stake a claim on a Pac-12 South title.
Today marks the 99th edition of homecoming at Arizona. Tonight’s game will be televised nationally. And the Wildcats are playing at home for just the third time in two months.
Yeah, Rodriguez’s team will be plenty juiced.
“Everyone wants to play in a game like this,” safety Tra’Mayne Bondurant said. “We take the approach that every game is a big game, but this is UCLA, it’s homecoming, ESPN primetime. Everyone will be watching us.
“We’re ready for the challenge; we’re ready for the task, and we’re ready to step up.”
They better be.
UCLA will begin tonight’s showdown with a 6-2 record, with its only losses coming on to the road to Stanford and Oregon. The Bruins’ defense is led by outside linebacker Anthony Barr, widely projected as a top-five pick in the 2014 NFL draft. The offense is orchestrated by quarterback Brett Hundley, a prospect who could also be a first-round pick.
Barr, Hundley and the Bruins thrashed Arizona last season 66-10 at the Rose Bowl.
“They out-blocked us, they out-tackled us, they outran us, they out-coached us,” Rodriguez said. “Anything and everything they can outdo, they outdid. It was embarrassing. You have to give them credit. We stunk it up.”
Bondurant would rather not even discuss that game.
“I mean we don’t even really want to talk about last year,” said the safety, who has 36 tackles and three interceptions. “It’s a game that we can’t get back. They didn’t get our best shot, but they will this year.”
Barr has 13 tackles-for-loss this season and leads the league with 1.62 per game. He’ll try to shut down UA’s Ka’Deem Carey, who had just 54 yards on 16 carries against the Bruins last season. In Carey’s last 16 games, he has been held below 100 yards just once, and it was by the Bruins.
Both teams are 3-2 in league play, one game behind ASU, which still has to play UCLA and the UA.
“This is a statement game,” Carey said. “This is about the Pac-12. We’re trying to make that championship, and this is a game we have to handle. For them, too; this is a game they have to handle if they’re trying to do what we’re trying to do.”