With No. 25 UCLA's season getting grimmer by the week, Brett Hundley and coach Jim Mora just couldn't bring themselves to embrace the usual football clichés about No. 14 Arizona's visit to the Rose Bowl.
The Bruins (6-2, 3-2 Pac-12) need a breakthrough win, and the Wildcats (6-1, 3-1) are in the way on Saturday night.
"You want to treat everything the same, but this game, there's an enhanced sense of urgency," Mora said. "There must be, and there is."
After two losses and numerous narrow escapes this fall, UCLA is essentially out of the national title discussion. Yet the Bruins are still in the jumbled Pac-12 South race right behind Arizona, which is one missed field goal away from a perfect season.
UCLA could right many of its wrongs with an outstanding November, but one more loss would all but guarantee a mid-tier bowl game and a missed opportunity of a season.
"U of A is a great team, but I think this is one of those weeks you have to understand this is a big game for us," said Hundley, an Arizona native whose father lettered for the Wildcats. "It is a huge game, a South opponent, and for us to be able to get to our end goal, which is a Pac-12 championship, we have to be able to beat U of A."
Mora and Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez entered the Pac-12 together in 2012, and both have revitalized inconsistent programs in less than three seasons. But the Bruins' defensive mastermind has won his two meetings with the Wildcats' offensive guru, holding Arizona's vaunted offense to 36 combined points.
Rodriguez realizes the danger posed by Hundley, who has passed for 515 yards and five TDs in two career games against Arizona. But Rodriguez is encouraged by his defense's resilient road performance against Connor Halliday's 79 pass attempts for Washington State last week.
"They faced adversity well, and now we have an even bigger challenge," Rodriguez said. "UCLA is a team that many people picked to win the league and thought would be in the final four. They are having a good year even though they've lost a couple of close ones."
Here are some more things to watch at the Rose Bowl:
MOMENTUM CHANGERS: Arizona is unbeaten in three road games this season, including its season-defining win at Oregon, while UCLA has lost two straight at the Rose Bowl in discouraging fashion. The Bruins haven't lost three straight home games since 1971, when they played downtown in the Coliseum. "We feel a responsibility to our fans, so hopefully we can fill that place up and give them something to stick around for," Mora said.
SOLOMON'S TURN: While Hundley attracts more attention, Arizona's Anu Solomon could add another big win to his impressive list already this season. The freshman has passed for 2,430 yards and 20 touchdowns with just four interceptions, but his versatility impresses Mora. "The way RichRod has always designed his offense is for a quarterback that can make the defense run, which this guy can do," he said.
JACK'S TURN?: No Pac-12 defense knows the danger of Myles Jack better than the Wildcats, who gave up 120 yards on just six carries by UCLA's two-way linebacker last season. Jack has made little offensive impact this fall, but that's partly because tailback Paul Perkins is having a standout year.
'ZONA MOTIVATION: Two years after UCLA's 66-10 home victory over Arizona, Wildcats safety Jourdon Grandon still carries ample motivation into Pasadena. "I was never contacted by UCLA, which is kind of a sore spot for me that I was never recruited there," Grandon said. "Now I really want to win this game, especially after the debacle a few years ago. That particular game at the Rose Bowl brought on a lot of disappointment and embarrassment."
KIDS THESE DAYS: A longtime NFL defensive coordinator, Mora still struggles to keep the attention of college students. He cites UCLA's lack of focus for some of its woes. "This generation is so easily distracted because of all the access to the Internet and Facebook and Twitter," he said. "When we were kids, you had to, like, think about stuff. Nowadays, I don't know that these kids have to think about things for as long as we used to have to process them. My point to them is, put that stuff away and think about what we're doing here. Don't go immediately to the distraction. (When) we have a practice, think about what just happened in practice instead of going to your phone and looking at the latest Instagram photos."