University of Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez is no stranger to big rivalry games. As the head coach of the University of Michigan from 2008-2010, Rodriguez experienced what many consider the biggest rivalry in college football against Ohio State.
So when his No. 24 Wildcats welcome cross-state rival Arizona State to Tucson for the annual matchup this Friday, Rodriguez said he knows from experience that psyching up his players won't be problem. He just needs to make sure they stay focused.
"As far as getting them excited and emotionally ready, it should be easier than any game because of the rivalry, because of the intensity and because we hear about it all year," Rodriguez told Arizona Sports 620's Doug and Wolf. "What you have to do is make sure your execution is there. When you start getting too emotional or forgetting about how to execute and just run your play then I think you're going to hurt your team."
As for his opponents, who are coming off a 46-7 dismantling of Washington State this past Saturday, Rodriguez said he expects Arizona State to bring a well-balanced attack from both sides of the ball, but is confident his team will be prepared.
"They're a very explosive team on both sides. They get a lot pressure and a lot of sacks defensively. They'll blitz 50 percent of the time or more," said Rodriguez. "Offensively they've got good enough playmakers, starting with their quarterback and all the way through their perimeter. If you mess up or give them a little crease they make a lot of big plays and they do a lot of tricky stuff sometimes too. So we've got to be really really disciplined and make sure we tackle well in space."
Rodriguez went on to say his team will have to maintain its composure if it hopes to slow down a Sun Devil offense led by sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly, who's coming of a four touchdown performance against the Cougars.
"I just think you have to be sound defensively because if you don't, when you run that type of offense where [Kelly's] got multiple reads and you lack discipline, all of a sudden the guy is going to be wide open and Taylor Kelly has been really impressive with finding that guy all year," said Rodriguez.
Besides a very formidable pass offense, the Sun Devils boast the No. 1 pass defense in the Pac-12 and have accumulated the most sacks in the nation. Rodriguez said the Arizona State defense will bring a type play his team hasn't seen all year, specifically pointing to junior defensive tackle Will Sutton and senior linebacker Brandon Magee.
"They are aggressive and they bring a lot of pressure. They've got one of the first guys you want on your team in Will Sutton and the way he plays defense is phenomenal. He's a tremendous player and Magee is a great linebacker," said Rodriguez. "They're athletic, they play hard and they bring a lot of pressure. So you've got to be ready for all their looks. Our guys have done a good with that all year but at the same time we're going to see some different looks we haven't seen so we've got to work hard this week to be ready for it."