For the Wildcats, this time, it's personal
When Arizona takes the field against Oklahoma State on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Arizona Stadium, at least one thing is for certain — it's personal.
Losing by a combined score of 73-24 in their last two meetings with the Cowboys will do that to a team.
Arizona has been run down, run over and embarrassed by Oklahoma State. In the 2010 Alamo Bowl, former Wildcat quarterback Nick Foles had arguably his worst game as a starter, throwing three interceptions. That game was over by halftime, with the Wildcats down 23-7 heading into the locker room.
Then in the 2011 meeting, the Wildcats were unable to get any points on the board until the second half. Instead, they were pushed around by the dynamic passing combination of quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon, in addition to a bullying performance from running back Joseph Randle, who rushed 121 yards on just 15 carries with two scores.
A coaching change has resulted in a shift of the Arizona football program's mindset, but a bigger, faster and more aggressive Cowboys team still looms over the Wildcats. It's going to take more than self-confidence to win against a team that beat Savannah State last Saturday 84-0 — a game in which the starters were pulled after the first quarter.
The Wildcats are going to have to take Saturday's game personally if they hope to have a shot at an upset over the Cowboys, who are double-digit favorites.
"The result the last two years haven't gone the way we wanted them to," said Kyle Quinn, a senior center, who made his first career start against Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl.
"They've taken it to us the last two years and we want to be able to go out there and give our fans a good show and play hard, and hopefully come out with a better outcome."
Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez, although he did not coach the Wildcats during the Oklahoma State matchups, brought the games up at Tuesday's practice. He did not talk as extensively about the previous losses as senior receiver Dan Buckner, a Texas transfer who has faced Oklahoma State five times in his college career, did.
"We definitely do talk about the game last year," he said. "We talk about how we're not Savannah State and we're not the team last year. We're a new team in a new year, and we're just trying to prepare and get ready to play this game."
They can prepare all they want, but Oklahoma State is going to put points on the board against the Arizona team that gave up 10 third-down conversions to Toledo in the first half. The defense played much better in the second half, but when they get pushed, will the Wildcats finally push back?
"Our team is totally different," Buckner said. "When the first play is played, it doesn't matter what we did last week, last year, none of that. It's all about what you do in that 60 minutes."
We'll just have to see if the Wildcats allow themselves to be bullied for a third straight time.
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