The Arizona football team announced Tuesday that it will turn to sophomore quarterback Rhett Rodriguez to start on Saturday at UCLA while Khalil Tate recovers from an injured ankle.
Rodriguez took over last Friday against Utah after Tate left with injury, and freshman Jamarye Joiner playing two series. Rodriguez moved the ball well, going 20 of 38 with 226 yards and a touchdown pass.
Rodriguez is no stranger to the players around the program, being around the team while still in high school when his father Rich Rodriguez was still the head coach. Even though Rodriguez' skill set is different from that of Tate, the Wildcats are getting someone more than capable of running the offense.
As a senior at Catalina Foothills, Rodriguez threw for 2,996 yards and 30 touchdowns, while also running for 592 yards and 15 touchdowns on a team that made the state title game. While people may not think of Rodriguez as someone who can run, running back Gary Brightwell says to be careful thinking that.
“He chooses to be a pocket passer, but he’s a great runner,” Brightwell said at Arizona media day Tuesday. “If he wants to run, he will.”
The adjustment to someone who is a threat to run and throw like Tate, compared to someone looking to throw more, such as Rodriguez, might seem difficult.
“It’s not that big of an adjustment because the offense is built around a pocket passing quarterback, which is where Rhett can thrive,” wide receiver Shawn Poindexter said. “He brings a positive energy and you know he’s going to play at the highest level he can, so he kind of pulls that out of you.”
Being around the program for so long as both a player and a coach’s son has given Rodriguez a familiarity to many of the players around the team. Senior safety Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles played against Rodriguez in high school while at Tucson High, and was also here two years before Rodriguez joined the team.
“He was always around practice, having fun with us throwing the ball around,” Flannigan-Fowles said. “He knows the offense inside and out, doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. He brings a smart aspect to the game.”
The Wildcats will look for Rodriguez to get them back on track this week against a UCLA team that is coming off of its first win, blowing out a Cal team that kept things close with Arizona until a late interception return put things out of reach.
At 3-4, the Wildcats have five games remaining to get to the six wins required to make a bowl game, but probably won’t have a better chance than they do this week. Every Arizona opponent after this week is either ranked, or was ranked at some point during this season, highlighted by a game homecoming weekend against No. 12 Oregon.
Arizona and UCLA kick-off on Oct. 20 at 7:30 p.m. MST on ESPN2.
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