With a heralded group of quarterbacks in the mix for the starting job, the Arizona Wildcats decided to go with the freshman — at least for now.
On Monday, third-year head coach Rich Rodriguez announced that Anu Solomon, a four-star, top-100 Rivals.com prospect in 2013, earned the starting nod over a trio of other former four-star recruits: redshirt senior Jesse Scroggins, redshirt junior Jerrard Randall and redshirt sophomore Connor Brewer.
But Rodriguez made it clear Solomon’s title is probationary.
“I thought he deserved the right to start the first game,” he said. “I don’t know who the next guy is, but I told all four of the guys to be ready to play, because all four could play.
“But at the same time, I’m confident that Anu will play well and he’ll be the starter for as long as he plays well and we win.”
One reason why RichRod is going with the freshman in UA’s season-opener Friday night at home against UNLV? He’s a winner. Solomon led Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High School to a 57-3 overall record and a state championship in all four of his high school seasons.
And he keeps his cool on the field — something that Rodriguez can personally attest to after putting Solomon through the ringer during summer camp.
“I’m glad I didn’t rattle him. Maybe I could and he didn’t let on,” he said.
“We put pressure on all those guys. I think (co-offensive coordinator Rod) Smith did a really good job of getting these guys reps and having a good rotation, but now with a few days left before we’re playing, (number) 12 will take all the reps with the first group the rest of the week…”
Senior center Steven Gurrola said Solomon takes charge of the game in a manner that one might not expect from a freshman.
“He does really well at taking control of the o-line, telling us the plays, being clear and being loud,” he said.
Whether it’s Solomon or another QB who earns the long-term starting gig, he will have the benefit of throwing to one of the nation’s most gifted wide receiver corps.
Arizona’s WR depth chart is impressive enough just looking at last year’s freshman class. In 2013, Nate Phillips emerged as a go-to guy with 696 yards and seven touchdowns, Samajie Grant had nine games with at least three receptions, and Trey Griffey came on late with a two-TD performance in UA’s AdvoCare V100 Bowl win over Boston College.
But in addition to those up-and-comers, the Wildcats are set to debut Notre Dame transfer DaVonte’ Neal and Texas transfer Cayleb Jones. A pair of redshirt sophomores, Neal and Jones were ESPN’s No. 8 and No. 147 overall prospects, respectively, in 2012.
And then there’s Austin Hill, whose 1,364 receiving yards were second-best in the Pac-12 in 2012. The redshirt senior is set to return from a torn ACL he suffered before the 2013 season began.
“It’s good to have Austin back simply because he’s a veteran guy. I think he’s hungry to be back; in fact, I’m pretty sure of that,” Rodriguez said. “He can play at all four receiver positions and he’s got great hands. He has a feel for the game and I think he’s even better in game time. He’s one of those guys that’s pretty good in practice, but he’s better when the lights came on.
“(Jones) had a really good camp. He’s in shape. He’s like DaVonte and Austin — those three had to sit out last year and watch the action, so they should be a little extra hungry than some of the other guys.”
That’s not to say the QBs and wideouts routinely got the better of the Wildcat secondary during camp. Senior safety Jared Tevis said the defense, which returns six starters from last season, has gotten its licks in, and newcomers such as redshirt freshman cornerback Jarvis McCall, Jr., are ready to contribute right away.
“I felt like we were whooping up on the offense most of the time,” Tevis said with a laugh. “I felt like some of the young guys were getting more comfortable, getting more settled in, and I think we’re going to have a lot of guys ready to go Friday night… Jarvis and some of our linebackers were able to get comfortable and be able to progress to help us out this year.
“I think we have the potential to have the best year we’ve had since I’ve been here. I’m excited about it, but we’re still going to have to do the things we need to do, and that includes just consistency and being focused every week.”
After getting plenty of looks at Solomon from the other side of the ball, Tevis said the freshman is a multi-faceted QB with the ability to beat defenses in a variety of ways.
“Anu is a kid that has a lot of capability. He can hurt you with his arm or his legs,” Tevis said. “Most importantly, he’s pretty consistent in having good reads, and I think the best attribute he carries is composure. I think that will be big come game time.”
Rodriguez said Solomon earned the right to earn top billing to begin the season — even though he reserves the right to change his mind based on what happens Friday night.
“I think he’s got a good feel for the game, and I want to make it clear it’s not like he did this thing and these other guys didn’t. I think he did more things better on a consistent basis for him to start,” he said.
“Jesse Scroggins has come a long way since the spring, Jerrard Randall has got a lot of talent and he’s gotten a lot better, and Connor Brewer has had some good days in camp. Really, all four of them have benefitted, I think, from the way we did things this August.
“Who knows? We may need all four of them at some point.”
Things to watch for
– You do not really replace Ka’Deem Carey, who left UA as the school’s all-time leader in most rushing categories. However, Terrise Jones-Grigsby sits atop the running back depth chart and will get the first crack at filling in, and he is joined by Adonis Smith and Nick Wilson.
– Much has been made of the Wildcats’ talented group of wide receivers, especially the Texas transfer Jones. A star all throughout camp, it will be interesting to see if that translates to the games.
– The Wildcats have a veteran offensive line. It must play like it, especially in front of a freshman QB and an unproven group of running backs.
– Not much has been made about the losses the defense suffered, but you don’t easily replace starters like Jake Fischer, Shaquille Richardson and Marquis Flowers. It will be imperative for Scooby Wright and William Parks to build off their 2013 seasons, while it would be very beneficial if freshman Jeff Worthy and Cam Denson proved ready for big roles.
Arizona Sports’ Adam Green contributed to this report