In a season of firsts for the Rich Rod era, there is still one big first to check off

First home win, check. First signature win, check. First road win…unchecked.

In the first year under head coach Rich Rodriguez, there have been many firsts that have been achieved. Some of which, like a signature home win over USC, have happened sooner than most might have anticipated. However, a road win has still not been checked off and have added up to three for Arizona’s four losses on the season.

But the Wildcats get one more shot to check that off the list of firsts in the first season against the Utah Utes this weekend.

“It’s the same preparation,” said Rich Rodriguez. “People will say that we haven’t won on the road but we got beat by three teams that were better than us. The Stanford game we played a bit better at times. We will win on the road when we are better.”

On the road this season, besides the Stanford game it looks like a completely different Wildcats team. They are averaging 19.3 points per game on the road compared to 45.8 at home. In addition, they are giving up 56 points per game on the road compared to 24.8 at home.

There is no hiding the fact that Utah hasn’t met expectations this season. They are 4-6 and like Arizona, are winless on the road. But they are an impressive 4-1 at home in a tough environment to play. The Wildcats know that going in.

“They have a great home environment and the crowd will be into it,” Rodriguez mentioned. “It will be a little cooler than what we are accustomed to. It’s a veteran team on both sides of the ball, especially up front, and we already know our issues with being undersized. We didn’t play very physical at all the last game, and if that happens Saturday, then we will be in trouble.”

“People really need to knuckle down and be ready to play this week, or we’re going to get exposed,” mentioned Arizona junior linebacker Jack Fischer. “It’s all about desire and knowing what you have to do. If we know what we have to do, we can play all out.”

Something will have to give between these two teams. Arizona comes in the Pac-12’s second ranked team in total offense averaging 526 yards per game with 48 touchdowns on the season. Utah conversely is the conference’s third ranked team in total defense giving up 346 yards per game having allowed only 29 touchdowns. Rodriguez and his players mention the physicality of the Utes and that physical play stems mostly from their leader, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei.

“He’s a big physical player and an anchor of the defensive line,” said Arizona senior offensive tackle Trace Biskin. “For us it’s just going to be a matter of handling assignments and playing physical off the ball. If we do that and allow Ka’Deem (Carey) to run and open some passing lanes, we’ll be okay.”

That physical nature will be seen as well on the offensive side of the ball too as Utah begins and ends with their running game. Senior running back John White is sixth in the conference in rushing at 4.5 yards per carry.

“We just have to get all 11 hats to the ball,” explained Fischer. “He runs hard. I thought he ran the hardest out of any running back that we’ve played. He doesn’t give up. It’s all about will and we just have to get 11 guys to the ball.”

Speaking of running backs, you cannot forget to mention Ka’Deem Carey coming off his record-setting performance against Colorado. Arizona talks about how they have to come out fast. Carey will be an important factor as always if the Cats intend to do so. The rest of the Wildcats know he will be ready to go and will hope once again to echo his energy and passion on Saturday night.

“He really loves to play football,” mentioned Biskin. “He’s probably the most enthusiastic player in the locker room, before the game and after. It’s been a lot of fun playing with him and he’s going to have a great career.”

Wildcats kick-off against the Utes Saturday at 8 pm from Salt Lake City.

Next Reads