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Sudden change: Wildcats hope to turn shock into a spark

Nick Foles, enjoying last season's win over Cal, hopes to be celebrating again next Thursday. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Now we’ll find out how Arizona football deals with change.

The news of Mike Stoops’ firing on Monday “was a shock to us all,” quarterback Nick Foles said after Wednesday’s practice. Added cornerback Trevin Wade: “It caught us all off guard.”

In the wake of the Stoops’ dismissal, the school has made only those two players available to the media — and the team is now off limits until Monday, as the Wildcats try to close ranks and regroup this week under interim head coach Tim Kish.

Perhaps it won’t be just the same old same old for the Wildcats.

While Foles and Wade praised Stoops for what he did for the program and for them personally, the sudden change at the top, if handled properly, could energize the team for the final six games.

“It possibly could,” Wade said.

“You have to come out and you have to fight. If we all sulk now, we’re just hurting our own futures. We have to pull through and fight.”

Arizona trudged through the first half of the season, going 1-5 and extending its losing streak against FBS teams to 10. Uninspired slow starts in each of the past five games indicated Stoops wasn’t pressing the right emotional buttons.

Kish, who has a lighter touch, might be able to find and hit a few of those buttons.

He isn’t game-planning for next Thursday’s game against UCLA right now, saying he wants to just focus on Arizona’s problems and possible solutions. The most fundamental of those problems is that it didn’t look as if the team was having a lick of fun through six games. It’s been a “tight” team.

Foles talked about the players “just getting our minds right” this week in practice.

“Yesterday, we came out here and put the ball down and just ran plays. Ones vs. ones; twos vs. twos,” Foles said. “Just getting back to the fun of football. Playing football is fun.”

Nothing should change schematically on offense, as Kish, who has been the linebackers coach and defensive coordinator, will let the offensive coaches do their jobs without interference.

There is a sense Kish could do some tweaking to Stoops’ bend-but-don’t-break style of defense, which has often bent and is pretty much broken this season. Arizona ranks 115th out of 120 teams in total defense (487.7 yards per game) and 117th in scoring defense (37.5 points per game).

“I’m pretty sure we’re going to change little things,” Wade said. “Every coach has their own little twist on how they want to do things.”

More for emotional reasons than schematic ones, UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel on Tuesday said he expects the coaching change to be bad news for the Bruins, who are also off this week in advance of next Thursday’s game.

“You can only expect they’ll be a fired-up crew,” Neuheisel said. “We’re going to go into a hornets’ nest.”

That depends on whether the Wildcats really do get their minds right.

“The season is not over,” Foles said.

“I’m going to continue to prepare and I’m going to continue to get the guys to prepare. Six games, we can do a lot of things. … We have to rally around each other more than ever. It’s us against everyone right now.”

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