• This story is courtesy of the Arizona Daily Wildcat
Run, run, run, and run some more. That’s the Rich Rodriguez way, at least it used to be. The expectation heading into Saturday’s game against Toledo was that Arizona would transition from the pass-happy Mike Stoops offense to the run-heavy Rodriguez system.
If the Wildcats’ 24-17 overtime win is any indication, it might be time to throw all of those expectations out the window.
Arizona had 624 total yards, its best total in more than 40 years, 387 of which came through the air.
At West Virginia, Rodriguez ran the ball as much as 70 percent of the time, leaving little room for the passing game. He didn’t run it quite as much at Michigan, coming in closer to 60 percent, but passing the ball was never the foremost thing on his mind.
Now it’s only one game, but it appears Rodriguez’s signature run-first, ask questions later offense is evolving.
“I don’t ever have a set amount of running or passing plays, we just kind of react to how the defense is playing us and make the calls accordingly,” Rodriguez said after the game.
On Saturday, the Arizona offense looked way more Stoops-esque than anyone really expected.
Now, Matt Scott has a better arm than Denard Robinson or Pat White ever did at Michigan and West Virginia, and the Wildcats are stacked at receiver with Dan Buckner, Austin Hill, Terrence Miller and company.
Throughout spring and fall camp, it was pretty clear that Rodriguez intended to pass the ball more than he did previously in his career, when he rarely broke the 40 percent mark in terms of run-pass ratio.
Against Toledo, Arizona passed the ball 46 times against 41 runs, which isn’t too astronomical of a difference, but that number is deceiving. At halftime, the ratio was 24-16 in favor of the pass and by the end of the third quarter, that total jumped to 35-23.
If Matt Scott keeps throwing the ball the way he did, though, maybe sticking with a more balanced attack is the way to go.
Scott went 30-for-46 on the night with a career-high 387 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, and won the game after avoiding a pass rush, extending the play and finding Miller wide-open in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.
In his three years at Michigan, Rodriguez’s starting quarterbacks passed the ball 40 times or more on three instances, but never as much as 46 times. In seven years as head coach at West Virginia, not one single quarterback threw the ball more than 40 times.
So, in Rodriguez’s first game as the coach at the UA, his quarterback threw more than any has in his 10 seasons as the Mountaineers and Wolverines head honcho.
In fact, in three years under Rodriguez, White threw the ball less than 15 times in a game he started on 17 different occasions, and 10 or less six times.
By comparison, in Nick Foles’ 33 career starts at Arizona, he only threw the ball less than 30 times on four occasions, one of which he had to leave the game early due to injury.
So, Rodriguez’s play-calling on Saturday was unheard of, at least considering his coaching history.
Now, the running game was no slouch. Starter Ka’Deem Carey went for 147 yards, including a 73-yard touchdown scamper, Scott added a career-high 85 yards and Daniel Jenkins even had a 60-plus yard touchdown run negated by a penalty. Carey’s performance was all the more impressive when you consider he did it on just 20 carries, giving him an unreal 7.4 yards per carry average. I’d even argue that if Carey had 5-7 more carries in the game, it might never have reached overtime, but you can’t argue with a win.
It wouldn’t shock anyone if Rodriguez shifted back to a run-first mindset to try and control the clock against tougher opponents like Oklahoma State or Oregon. Also, the Toledo game was a bit of an anomaly considering the two teams had 182 plays, setting an Arizona record. That won’t happen again.
Rodriguez might just have been exploiting an inexperienced Rockets secondary. Or, perhaps Rodriguez is re-inventing himself as a pass-happy head coach. If Arizona keeps lighting up the stat sheet, setting records the way they did on Saturday night, it might be for the best. Or it might not matter, as costly turnovers, penalties and a failure to stop the opponent on third down, like against Toledo, might deem the run-pass ratio irrelevant as Arizona takes on Oklahoma State, Oregon and USC.
But, Scott certainly isn’t complaining about Rodriguez’s newfound fondness for the pass, saying after the game, “I’m a quarterback, obviously I wanna sit back there and throw the ball.”
Going forward, if Rodriguez’s play calling stays consistent with how it was Saturday, Scott might just get his wish.