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Arizona football notebook: On UTEP, Tristan Cooper’s homecoming, Friday Night Lights & more

Notes from Rich Rodriguez’s weekly press conference

NCAA Football: Southern Mississippi at Texas El Paso
Sun Bowl Stadium
Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

Rich Rodriguez hopes fans will take a page from John Hughes’ 1987 classic, Planes, Trains and Automobiles and get to Sun Bowl Stadium in El Paso anyway possible on Friday night.

Rodriguez and company will take a bus on Thursday night some 316 miles from the Old Pueblo east on I-10 to a place affectionately known among locals as “The Sun City.”

The game comes some eight days after the team’s 19-16 loss to Houston on Saturday night.

The longtime ballcoach said his postgame autopsy produced a mixed bag of emotions, both good and bad.

“I felt a little better (after watching the tape), because we weren’t as far off on some of the things as I thought,” Rodriguez said. “Whether it was the defense or the special teams, everything’s correctable.”

Mingling with the Miners

Rodriguez’s on-field expectations heading into a game against a winless Miners team are simple — play well and win.

“We just have to fix our mistakes in a hurry, in a shorter week and also get ready for a completely different style of play,” he said. “Particularly in what (UTEP) does on offense on Friday night.”

Things have not been rosy for the Miners (0-2) so far, having been outscored 87-21 by Oklahoma and Rice, respectively.

Rodriguez expects the Miners to bring a hard-nosed, old-school style of football into Friday’s game.

“They’re more of a power team,” Rodriguez said. “They’re a little bit, for lack of a better word, of an old, traditional team. They have a big offensive line with big, huge tight ends, and if you don’t stop them, they’ll keep running it and control the clock.”

Rodriguez doesn’t discount the Miners, expecting them to come out fighting in front of their home crowd.

“We used to play each other all the time in the WAC, so I think it’s pretty neat,” Rodriguez said. “I know that we have a lot of Arizona alums in the area and hopefully they’ll all be there on Friday night.”

Rodriguez whole-heartedly supports playing college football games on Fridays, which is a good thing, seeing how each of the Arizona’s next two games are Friday night tilts.

“I think the decision to move the game to Friday night gave us a chance to play on national TV and have something a little bit different,” Rodriguez said. “So it’s a little bit of a ride, but our guys will probably sleep the whole way down on the bus.”

De facto homecoming

Arizona’s longstanding commitment to play the Miners on the border is good news for one Wildcat in particular, in freshman safety Tristan Cooper.

Cooper played high school ball at Andress High School, roughly 16 miles from Sun Bowl Stadium.

Rodriguez expects a big crowd of Cooper supporters on Friday, but says the team’s main focus is transfixed on the task at-hand.

“I think a couple of the guys have already been talking to him about it. About how many tickets he’s been trying to get off them so everybody can come to the game,” Rodriguez said. “So I’m sure that he’s excited, but it’s a business trip for us. So it’s not like he’s going to have time to go home and have a family barbecue or anything like that.”

Loving El Paso

Rodriguez, who covered two games in El Paso in his brief football commentary days with CBS, gushed about the campus culture around UTEP.

“Maybe the last game that I did in my brief tenure on the dark side was down in El Paso,” Rodriguez joked. “It’s a neat place, and a neat venue too.”

Rodriguez touched on the unique relationship between the school and city of El Paso as a whole, based on his experience.

“It’s unique as a college town. People support the university, and I thought the stadium and the facilities that I saw were pretty nice,” he said. “So it was a pretty neat football environment.”

Follow Christopher Boan on Twitter at @cgboan