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Rich Rodriguez praises Arizona offensive line after Oregon State win

Oregon State defensive tackle Kalani Vakameilalo (97) reaches for Arizona running back Zach Green (34) on a short touchdown run during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, in Tucson, Ariz. (Kelly Presnell/Arizona Daily Star via AP)
LISTEN: Rich Rodriguez, UA Football Head Coach

The Arizona Wildcats are nearing the end of a turnaround season, and head coach Rich Rodriguez wants everyone to know the offensive line’s improvement as a major reason for it.

Many will point to the emergence of sophomore quarterback Khalil Tate to explain the Wildcats’ success in 2017. But two days after UA set a school record with 534 rushing yards against Oregon State, Rodriguez complemented the offensive line and said the coaching staff has not tried to complicate anything.

Facing a different defensive front every week is a challenge. That said, the linemen have performed well.

“It’s almost like a scheme of the week that they had to adjust to, and those guys do a nice job of getting ahead of that,” Rodriguez told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “It probably wasn’t our best game up front overall, but they keep competing. They play hard all the time, and we got some big runs.”

Arizona owns the best rushing offense in the Pac-12 with two weeks remaining. The Oregon Ducks, their next opponents, are second in the conference at 255.2 yards per contest, but their average is nearly 100 yards less than the Wildcats’ 347.7 yards through 10 games.

“It’s a true blue-collar look,” Rodriguez said of his line. “There are two former walk-ons that are starting. Not a group with a lot of notoriety but just a tough group of guys that understand our scheme.”

One of those former walk-ons is Christian Boettcher. The redshirt junior out of Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., made seven starts — five at left guard and two at right guard for the Wildcats in 2016. He beat out redshirt freshman Michael Eletise for the starting left guard job in training camp.

The other, redshirt senior Gerhard de Beer, is from South Africa and originally earned a scholarship to run track and field but decided to start playing football, first as a defensive lineman and then as a tight end before becoming an offensive lineman, according to the Arizona Daily Star.

After redshirting as a freshman in 2013, de Beer spent the 2014 season as a member of the scout team offensive line. He appeared in all 13 of the Wildcats’ games in 2015 and made his first start that year in November against USC in place of Jacob Alsadek at right guard. He went on to start the final three games as well.

More praise for Tate

Tate, who ran for 206 yards and two touchdowns against the Beavers, including a 71-yard run in the third quarter, was one of three players to finish with over 100 yards on the ground.

Backs J.J. Taylor (129 yards) and Nick Wilson (101) joined him as Arizona averaged 9.7 yards per carry.

Rodriguez said Tate’s awareness on downfield runs makes him special.

“He has a certain awareness of where guys are coming from,” Rodriguez said. “He can make you miss and he is a big kid.”

Tate’s ability to notice what the defense does against him reminded Rodriguez of Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

“You watch Larry every week and it’s amazing how he has the ability to get open and how good he is after the catch as well,” Rodriguez said. “Those special players just have an innate sense.”

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