Arizona football wins despite conservative playing style
Wildcats run 47 offensive plays against NAU
UA Quarterback B.J. Denker runs the ball on Friday in the season opener against NAU.
When head coach Rich Rodriguez watches a playback of his offense, he wants to see his team perfect the fast tempo he builds the program around. After watching the film of Friday’s 35-0 win over NAU, he seems happy, but not comfortable, with his team’s strategy, most notably on the offensive line.
“[The offensive line] was just kind of leaning on people,” Rodriguez said. “We’re going to have to play a whole lot better up front if we’re going to beat the next group.” The offensive line’s lack of mental focus could have been connected to Arizona’s conservative play calling. The Wildcats threw the ball a total of 13 times Friday night for 87 yards, the fewest amount of yards since they threw for 46 yards against Nebraska in the 2009 Pacific Life Holiday Bowl.
“Most of us were pretty nervous — first game of the year — the nerves got to us. We were hesitant at times, which is what caused us to lean on people,” senior offensive lineman Chris Putton said. “We were just thinking too much. Our coaches stress us to not think too much after the ball is snapped.”
Senior quarterback B.J. Denker, who made only his second collegiate start Friday, on tape, he appeared to be hesitant on some of his throws, especially on third down.
“We got to throw the ball better than we did Friday night, but I was really conservative in the play calling,” Rodriguez said. “And we could get by with it because we were running the ball well and we had a lead. But in practice we work on the passing game more than running.”
The Wildcats quickly scored on most of their possessions, and the Lumberjacks pushed a much slower tempo on offensive. Rodriguez said Denker could have shown more with his arm if he had been given more opportunities and if they’d open up the playbook a little more.
Last season, Arizona’s offense averaged 83 plays a game. Rodriguez said he would like to see them get over 90 a game this season.
“I don’t like being [conservative], but I didn’t really feel conservative Friday night because we got the lead and we didn’t have the ball very much,” Rodriguez said. “But we could have let loose a little bit more. And I told the players that’s on me, we got to let it loose.”
While the Wildcats’ offensive execution may not have been crisp, the tempo Friday was. Denker pushed the offense to line up and quickly get the next play off. This was most noticeable at the end of the first quarter, when Arizona’s offense sprinted to the other end of the field to where the ball was to be spotted.
Rodriguez said he believes that once the ball is spotted and the 40-second play clock begins, the offense should take no longer than eight seconds to snap the ball.
The fast tempo that equates with Rodriguez isn’t just the key to the Wildcat offense, it’s the foundation to the program. And if Denker and the offensive line can become more proficient to the point where they are accelerating it, Rodriguez will start to feel more comfortable watching his team on tape.
“Tempo is going to be a big part of our deal and that’s uncompromising,” Rodriguez said. “We will not ever say we aren’t going into a game playing fast. That’s who we are.”
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