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Arizona football could see change at defense, quarterback

Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon warms up before an NCAA college football game against Northern Arizona, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
LISTEN: Rich Rodriguez, UA football head coach

Rich Rodriguez, head coach of Arizona Wildcats football, is hoping for a turnaround year.

Two seasons ago, Arizona went 10-4, reaching both the Pac-12 Championship game and the Fiesta Bowl. Last year, Rodriguez’s squad was just 7-6 overall (3-6 in Pac-12 play).

Rodriguez spoke to Burns & Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM on Wednesday to discuss the schools inability to sustain success.

“It shouldn’t be as hard,” he said. “There’s a lot that happened. When you finish 7-6 you are average. That’s not acceptable for us. You could point to a lot of things certainly, injures and things that happened. But at the end of the day I have to make sure that we are building a strong enough program that, maybe we don’t win 13 every year, but that’s our goal.”

Going into the upcoming season, Arizona is without top receivers from last year in Cayleb Jones, Johnny Jackson and David Richards. They’ve also lost Jared Baker, who led last year’s Wildcats in rushing yards.

Rodriguez is tasked with filling the voids that those players have left behind.

“I am excited about this year. I am a little more nervous on certain facets of our team that don’t have as much experience,” Rodriguez said. “But that’s okay. We are going to have some young guys and some new stuff we are going to do and it’s going to be fun to watch.”

He also must revamp a defense that has a new coaching staff. Last season, the Wildcats allowed at least 40 points in five of their 13 games, and allowed 35 points or more seven times. That prompted Rodriguez to dismiss defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel and defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich.

“That was the hardest thing I have ever had to do in 20-some years as a head coach because those guys are friends of mine, outstanding coaches and good people,” Rodriguez said. “It’s just that I felt like I had to blow the whole thing up and start over again. Not from a standpoint of the players, because we have some of the players coming back. But from a scheme, and philosophically, start all over again and that’s hard to do.

“We may not see the results right away, but I think you’ll see the results eventually. It’s paid dividends already in recruiting, but I think it’s going to pay dividends on the field starting with our first game.”

They’ll play that first game on Sept. 3 at University of Phoenix Stadium against BYU. They’ll do so with Marcel Yates as the new defensive coordinator, formerly of Boise State.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez could see change of a different kind at quarterback: not necessarily in the results, but in the personnel.

Junior Anu Solomon was the team’s starting quarterback last year and took more than 70 percent of pass attempts for Arizona. Still, there has discussion surrounding the possibility of sophomore Brandon Dawkins starting, as well.

“I do feel comfortable that we can push [Dawkins] but I am also comfortable with Anu in what he has done,” Rodriguez said. “Last year was a little up and down more because of injuries. I think competition is good. We are are a little different in that we don’t feel like we have to name a starter at any position, that we have to have a guy.

“I think Anu Solomon is going to be a better player than what he was the last couple years, and he’s been pretty good. I think Brandon Dawkins has gotten better and he is going to push him for the starting job. That’s a good thing. I want two guys that we can win with and I think we have at least two at that position in our program.”

Though the team might see changes at both quarterback and defense, Rodriguez is hopeful in the long term.

“We want to win a championship,” he said. “We want to win a national championship and we can do it here. It’s not as easy here as it is in other places, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be done and we are committed to doing that.”

The Arizona Wildcats reported to preseason camp on Wednesday, with practices beginning on Thursday.

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