Arizona football adapting to Rodriguez's offense system
Arizona quarterback Matt Scott drops back, sees an open receiver and slings him the ball. Before the receiver can make a move and get downfield, he’s on the ground.
It’s a first down for the Wildcats, but not exactly what Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez wants to see. His spread-option offense is supposed to get the offense down the field in a hurry, without giving the opposition time to bring in new defenders.
By all accounts, Rodriguez’s system is working, as only one of the Wildcats’ scoring drives this season has lasted longer than five minutes — a five-minute and one-second drive against Oklahoma State in which Scott moved the ball 75 yards in 13 plays.
For the season, the Arizona offense is averaging 6.1 yards per play and averages the most first downs in the country, with 32.17 per game. Those numbers aren’t enough for Rodriguez, who is constantly trying to push the tempo when the Wildcats have the ball.
“We need to have some more explosive plays offensively,” Rodriguez said. “Explosive players will outrun angles and make people miss tackles, and can take a 10 or 15-yard pass and go 50 with it.”
So far the Wildcats have only had one play for more than 50 yards — a 73-yard rush by sophomore running back Ka’Deem Carey against Toledo. Of Arizona’s 543 total offensive snaps, the Wildcats have had just 12 pop for more than 30 yards.
Rodriguez said that because Arizona is still learning his system, it’s hard for the Wildcats to know where to go once they catch the ball, or where the downfield blocks are going to be on long run plays.
“When our guys really truly understand every play in the scheme, they’ll make the plays more explosive, because they’ll know where the pursuit is coming from, where defenders are going to be,” Rodriguez said. The Wildcat offense has put up a total of 193 first downs in six games and 37 points per game, third in the Pac-12, so to grumble about a lack of “explosive plays” is like complaining that the new Ferrari in the driveway gets 20 miles to the gallon instead of 35.
Still, the lack of plays down the field may be because the offensive coaching staff knows that they are facing a challenge.
“I think some teams may be keying [in] on it,” receiver Austin Hill said. “From my point of view, I don’t think we’re really looking that deep. We’ve been running a lot of short game. Matt really has no time to look deep.”
Running the short game works for the Wildcats as it keeps Scott, Carey and the offense on the field longer, meaning that Arizona’s defense – its Achilles’ heel this season — has more time to rest.
“We’ve gotten a lot of first downs, which has really helped us possess the ball and give us a chance,” Rodriguez said. “We’d like to have more explosive plays, but as long as we’re getting first downs, we have a chance.”