SEATTLE — Arizona fans surely remember the Thursday night thumping of UCLA two years ago.
Twelve days after firing coach Mike Stoops, the UA played inspired, fast and focused football in a nationally televised 48-12 win over the Bruins. After Stoops’ last game at Oregon State and a bye week, the Wildcats rallied around interim coach Tim Kish and played as if they had nothing to lose.
Arizona will be on the opposite side next Thursday when it travels to Los Angeles to play USC. The Trojans fired coach Lane Kiffin early Sunday, hours after they lost to Arizona State 62-41 in Tempe.
The Trojans (2-2, 0-2 Pac-12) and Cats (3-1, 0-1) both have byes this weekend. That means interim USC coach Ed Orgeron has 12 days to prepare for the UA, just as Kish had for UCLA in 2011.
If Arizona’s early Pac-12 schedule could get any harder, it just did.
The Wildcats left Seattle following Saturday’s 31-13 loss to Washington with plenty to fix and several guys battered. If that wasn’t enough, the UA will now have to deal with a desperate Trojans team playing for pride next week at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
“We’re ready to play again and get back out on the field because we have a chip on our shoulder now,” UA safety Jared Tevis said after Saturday’s loss, “but, big picture, it’s probably good to have this bye week and heel up everyone that got banged up.”
Arizona will travel west hoping to avoid what happened to the Bruins two years ago.
“We have another semi-open date, which is kind of a strange schedule, but we’ll watch the film and clean things up,” UA coach Rich Rodriguez said.
“I want every loss to hurt, and it should. Our guys are competitive,” he added. “We have to fix what went wrong because we have a very talented team in 10 days.”
And the Cats have plenty to fix. The list begins — not surprisingly — with the passing attack. Arizona ranks 119th out of 123 FBS teams in team passing efficiency. The Wildcats are 117th in passing offense, throwing for just 111.3 yards per game.
Through four games, starter B.J. Denker is completing just 50 percent of his passes —45 for 90 — and has as many interceptions (two) as touchdowns.
To put his 445 passing yards on the season in perspective, Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion threw for 443 in a game against Utah earlier this season.
“He competed well, but we put a lot on our quarterback,” Rodriguez said of Denker. “In our system, the quarterback is a focal point and I think any good quarterback wants it that way. B.J. is that way. He’ll want it to be that way and hopefully come out better the next time.”
But Denker isn’t the UA’s only problem on offense. Before traveling to Washington, Rodriguez said he was hoping to get more production out of a pair of upperclassmen at receiver in Terrence Miller and Garic Wharton. The duo had two catches for 16 yards against the Huskies and weren’t much of a factor.
The receivers as a group haven’t done a lot to help out their quarterback and either has the offensive line. Denker didn’t have a lot of time to throw against the Huskies and faced pressure throughout the game.
Rodriguez has been unhappy with the front five after nearly every game this season — and Saturday was no different. The coach said he would “watch the film and see where the execution or lack of execution broke down” up front.
The moral of the story is this: The Wildcats have lots to clean up before facing a USC team hungry to get back on track after an embarrassing loss to the Sun Devils and losing its coach.
“As I told the team, everyone has to get better,” Rodriguez said. “That includes them and the coaches—myself included. We all have to get better for the next one.”
• Linebacker Jake Fischer tweeted Sunday night he suffered a sprained ankle in Saturday's loss to Washington. Fischer was removed from the game in the fourth quarter and didn't put any weight on his leg. The senior said he hoped to be ready for the USC game.
• When Denker was intercepted on the first play of the game Saturday by Washington’s Sean Parker, it marked his first of the season. Denker had gone 55 pass attempts this year without one. The senior threw another pick early in Saturday’s fourth quarter.
• The UA had scored in 12 consecutive quarters to open the season before being held scoreless in the first quarter Saturday against Washington. The Wildcats were also shut out in the fourth quarter in the loss to the Huskies.
• Rodriguez’s team entered Saturday’s game plus-six in turnover margin, but lost the turnover battle Saturday 2-1. It’s the first time this season the UA had more turnovers than its opponent and the Wildcats are now 2-5 the last two seasons when that happens.