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UA coach Rodriguez: Our goal now is to mess somebody else’s season up

Arizona quarterback Brandon Dawkins (13) throws a pass during warm ups before an NCAA college football game against Washington State in Pullman, Wash., Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)
LISTEN: Rich Rodriguez, UA football head coach

On the first play from scrimmage Saturday afternoon in Pullman, Arizona quarterback Brandon Dawkins rolled to his right before finding receiver Nate Phillips, who bounced off a defender and raced down the field for a 75-yard touchdown.

It was the type of play that the struggling Wildcats needed, a big one that gave them an early lead on the road against a ranked Washington State team.

Just, it didn’t count, as lineman Christian Boettcher was flagged as being an ineligible man down field. A couple of short runs and a pass that went nowhere later, Arizona punted the ball away, and then quickly found itself trailing 3-0, 10-0, 17-0 and then 24-0.

That was just the first quarter.

Arizona went on to lose 69-7, with the loss marking the largest defeat in the school’s history.

“Still embarrassed, of course, and trying to do all we can to move on and get ready for a big game this weekend,” UA coach Rich Rodriguez told Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Monday morning.

Up next for Arizona is a home tilt with No. 15 Colorado, though when looking ahead to that game, Rodriguez understands there is a need to take a look at the past.

In the loss to the Cougars, Arizona allowed 614 total yards and 34 first downs. The Cougars converted on 11-of-14 third downs, and, with a quick-strike offense, possessed the ball for 37:28.

Washington State punted just once, at the end of the first quarter.

“We started talking to our staff right after the game,” Rodriguez said of the defensive disaster. “We knew we were going to be hurting a little bit; our linebacker situation — our top three — it sounds like excuses, but our top three MIKE linebackers didn’t play, so we had to move some guys around and we knew that was going to be a bad game to do that. We just had to get some bodies.

“And then we completely lost confidence and as a staff we didn’t do a good job. Then we missed a few tackles, and they were hot. He (QB Luke Falk) was very, very accurate. But it was just a poor job by the coaches, and myself in particular, and our guys didn’t execute at all. It was a bad day.”

Rodriguez said he would love to just throw the game out and start over, but noted it is important to learn from the performance in order to try and fix what went wrong. Against Washington State, plenty did.

Along with the defensive woes, Arizona’s offense was once again held in check, with just seven second quarter points and 286 total yards. The team’s QB trio of Brandon Dawkins, Anu Solomon and Khalil Tate completed 11-of-23 passes for 128 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, and receiver-turned-running back Samajie Grant led the team with 77 yards on eight rushes.

With regards to this game, Rodriguez said it is important with so many younger players to show the film, and then use the weekend walk-through as a chance to correct issues ahead of the Colorado game.

For the Wildcats, who are 2-7 and and 0-6 in the Pac-12, that game — and the two after it — offer little more than a chance to finish the season on a positive note while perhaps gaining valuable experience ahead of next season.

“You have a tendency to want to look at, ‘OK, you’ve got this guy hurt or this guy’s a freshman,’ but still it starts with the coaching staff and figuring out a way to have some success or at least try to put them in a position to have success,” he said. “When you don’t win, and particularly if you don’t play well, you’ve got to look inward first and say, ‘OK, what are we not doing?’

“I still believe in what we’re doing and who we’re doing it with and our plan, but I’ve also taken a hard look at myself and what I can do better. You can’t put anymore hours in, but I don’t think it’s about working harder, even though you’ve got to try to work a little harder. It’s about what can you do to be better without totally abandoning some of the things you believe in. You’ve got to adjust some things, and that’s our job.”

One thing the fifth-year coach says does not need much adjustment is his team’s attitude. Rodriguez said it was “remarkable” how well his team has handled this season’s struggles, and even had some of the best practices he’s seen in Tucson leading into the Washington State game. It did not translate onto the field, though, which was disappointing.

Still, the coach said his players bounce back quickly, and that could serve them well coming down the stretch. Rodriguez lamented how his senior class, which has not thrown in the towel and is leading in its own way, has done most everything the coaching staff has asked of them yet will finish their careers without a bowl game.

This is the first time in Rodriguez’s Tucson tenure where the Wildcats will not participate in the postseason, which means the goals in these final games are different.

“I tell them, obviously we screwed up this season, but our goal now is to mess somebody else’s up,” Rodriguez said of his message to the team. “That’s the only thing we can do. Enjoy the game; it’s a game, have some fun with it. You work too hard not to enjoy the game, and let’s have some fun and try to mess somebody else’s year up.”

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