The plight of the playcaller; Rich Rodriguez play calling against ASU left a lot to be desired

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Heather Newberry | The Daily Wildcat Arizona quaterback Khalil Tate during a timeout at the UA-ASU rivalry game on Nov. 25 at Sun Devil Stadium.

It’s first and ten. One minute and thirty-three seconds until halftime. Manny Wilkins stands in the shotgun, ready to receive the snap. He gets the snap and drops back, going through his reads, and sees N’Keal Harry. He lobs up a ball for the star receiver to run on to, but Harry cut to the sideline as the ball was thrown. Waiting to catch the ball is Lorenzo Burns. Burns catches the ball and starts his return by cutting inside. He’s met at Arizona’s 30-yard line by Demario Richard, who takes him down. Richard then gets flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct. Arizona gets to start at their own 45 now.

Rich Rodriguez has several options here. He can opt to retreat to the locker room up by 10 by taking a knee. He could also try to extend that lead. The second option seems pretty attractive given the explosiveness and play making ability of his quarterback. He chooses the second option.

With exactly one minute left, Arizona has to go 55 yards for seven points, or about 20-30 yards for a field goal attempt. Rodriguez decides that the smartest play on first down is to run the ball up the middle, even though Arizona had most of his success running outside the tackles. Possibly, Rodriguez was attempting to set up a play-action designed run for Kahlil Tate. No, he wasn’t. Rodriguez decided to run outside with JJ Taylor, what he could have done on first down, and what would’ve been effective. Or, on first down, he could’ve run a pass play. Kahlil Tate was 10/10 with 127 yards to that point. Tate had a long of 42 yards, but also gained yards on quick, timing routes, and on chunk yardage routes, 10-15 yards out. Tate hit six different receivers in the first half, efficient. Rodriguez could have shown faith in his Heisman candidate, but he opted to run the ball up the middle again. 

Second down and 10- the same result as an incomplete pass. JJ Taylor, lined up next to Tate, takes the handoff and cuts outside. He picks up 8 yards.

Taylor didn’t pick up a first down, nor did he get out of bounds. The seconds on the clock continue to tick away. Rich Rodriguez can stop the clock with his remaining timeout. He chooses to, but only after 46 seconds waste away. Did Rodriguez forget that he had timeouts remaining? Did he have a game plan? Will Rodriguez give a straightforward answer as to why he managed the last minute the way he did in his postgame press conference? He didn't. 

With 14 seconds left, Rodriguez faces a third down and two. He once again decides to call a run play. He is aiming for a first down rather than points. JJ Taylor gets the ball in his hands again, and picks up just enough for a first down at the Arizona State 45-yard line.

The clock starts once the chains are set. Rodriguez lets the clock run again, until there’s three seconds left. Was he reaching for a timeout and simply couldn’t find it? Maybe he was trying to set up a field goal try. After all, freshman kicker Lucas Havrisik did kick a 50 plus yard field goal earlier this season. 

Three seconds left. 10-point lead. Rich Rodriguez decides, after running the ball three plays in a row, to get aggressive. Tate receives the ball in the shotgun. He rolls right. A couple receivers head to the side of the endzone closest to Tate, including six foot five inch Shawn Poindexter. Shun Brown, however, heads to the other side of the field. Tate, despite the pressure, waits for the five foot nine inch Brown to be isolated with his cornerback. Tate launches the ball to Brown a short moment before he is hit hard. Really hard. Brown can’t come up with the ball, and Tate is hit on his already injured left shoulder. He could have thrown up a jump ball for his taller receivers, but instead waited for Brown like the play called for. That extra moment cost Tate, and the Wildcats, the game. This hail mary is the last time an able-bodied Kahlil Tate takes the field. 

Nothing came from this poorly managed possession. Rodriguez would have been better served to use the, “Ask Madden,” feature on a video-game. This lack of clock management cost Arizona their quarterback, the Territorial cup, and the opportunity at a better bowl game.


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