The University of Arizona football team trudged through the first nine weeks of the season with the seriousness of coal miners.
Week 1, BYU. Week 2, Northern Arizona. Week 3, New Mexico. And then Cal, Washington State, Oregon State, USC, Stanford, and Washington.
Today’s homecoming game with UCLA isn’t exactly the finish line for Arizona, but it marks the end of the Wildcats’ 10-game long, strange trip.
Arizona hasn’t had a break all season.
The Wildcats won’t take their yearly bye until next weekend, at which time they will have played 10 of their 12 games.
“We played 10 straight weeks, we haven’t had a bye, and we have to dig down deep this week and try to get through the week in a positive way,” UA coach Mike Stoops said. “It’s crucial that we have our speed and our quickness in this game. Hopefully, we can get re-energized — this is a big game.”
Said cornerback Wilrey Fontenot: “We’re looking forward to the week off, but you can’t look too far past it.” Arizona (3-6 overall, 2-4 Pac-10) doesn’t have to look far for inspiration.
Two years ago, the Wildcats stunned No. 7 UCLA on homecoming weekend in a game that many consider to be the highlight of Stoops’ coaching career.
Fans stormed the field as the clock ticked down on a 52-14 victory over the crestfallen Bruins.
“That was a great game for the program and for Tucson, but that was two years ago,” quarterback Willie Tuitama said. “We’ve got a new weekend coming up, (and) a new team. We’re definitely going to try to repeat it, but the past is past.”
If anything, today’s game will show whether this year’s Wildcats have the talent to compete with the Pac-10’s heavyweights.
Tuitama is coming off the best performance of his career.
The UA junior quarterback threw for a school-record 510 yards and set a program mark for most touchdowns in a season in last week’s 48-41 win at Washington. Tuitama led the Wildcats on three fourth-quarter scores to take the victory, and was named Pac-10 offensive player of the week.
But Tuitama’s mark was tempered by the team he beat. Washington allows an average of 474 yards per game, a mark that is worst in the Pac-10 and 109th nationally.
UCLA (5-3, 4-1) is expected to provide a stiffer challenge defensively.
The Bruins start six seniors on the defensive side of the ball, including standout cornerback Trey Brown and defensive end Bruce Davis. Brown leads the nation with 15 pass deflections through eight games; Davis, a talented pass-rusher, leads the team with 6.5 sacks.
Still, Arizona may be catching UCLA at the perfect time. The Bruins will be without starting quarterback Ben Olson, fullback Michael Pitre, tailback Kahlil Bell, defensive end Nikola Dragovic, defensive tackles Brigham Harwell, Jess Ward and Chase Moline and linebacker Shawn Otis because of injuries.
Bell tore the ACL in his right knee in the first quarter of last week’s 27-7 loss at Washington State. Coach Karl Dorrell said he is confident that backup Chris Markey — and a handful of other last-minute replacements — can keep the Bruins competitive in tough times.
Like Arizona, UCLA could desperately use a break.
The Bruins won’t get one today.
“That’s kind of where we’re at right now as a football team,” Dorrell said.
“We’re just trying to get ourselves to improve and (play) solid, consistent football. We have a really good opportunity to do that.”
UCLA at Arizona
When: 12:30 p.m. today
TV: Ch. 15
Radio: KFNX (1100 AM)
Records: Arizona 3-6 , 2-4 Pac-10, UCLA 5-3, 2-4