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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


The Rich Rod and Anu Solomon honeymoon needs to end for Arizona football

Rebecca Noble

Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon (12) huddles with head coach Rich Rodriguez and the offense in the Wildcats’ 18-16 Cactus Kickoff Classic loss to BYU at the University of Phoenix Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 3. Solomon struggled and put the loss on his shoulders following the game.

Saturday night wasn’t the ideal beginning to the season that Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez hoped for, but losing to a team like BYU revealed that the Wildcats are due for a change. For the first time in ages, it’s not on the defense.

The defense was the brightest point of the game considering the Wildcats only gave up 18 points, which was the best performance since last year’s home game versus NAU (13).

At that time, quarterback Anu Solomon was viewed as a raw game manager and the future leader of the program.

Fast-forward to this offseason when Solomon’s spot was up for grabs with Brandon Dawkins breathing down his neck, just aching for a shot to start. Rodriguez couldn’t help but give his two-year starter a chance to solidify his reputation as one of the Pac-12 Conference’s best dual-threat quarterbacks.

Related: Anu Solomon listed as questionable with knee injury on injury report.

It was evident Saturday that Solomon’s poor performance, throwing for zero touchdowns and two interceptions, should be the writing on the wall in regards to Rodriguez moving on with his veteran quarterback. To Solomon’s credit, he owned up to the poor performance and knew that a season-opening loss on a stage like the University of Phoenix Stadium was unacceptable.

“This game’s on me,” Solomon said. “I gotta step it up, lead better and play better.”

Did I just get deja vu from the 2014 Fiesta Bowl, when Solomon took a sack on third-down to end the game in the same stadium? That was Solomon’s freshman season and, entering his third season as the starting quarterback, what’s the excuse now?

There isn’t one.

Rodriguez continued to defend his starting quarterback in typical fashion, and rightfully so, because that would look awful on his part to criticize Solomon when they’re sitting right next to each other. Rodriguez said that we can’t jump to conclusions without truly dissecting the film.

“Everyone wants to point to the quarterback—‘it’s his fault’—and then maybe you don’t know all the factors,” Rodriguez said. “Maybe there was a breakdown in the route or the protection or the play call. There’s always a lot of factors.”

Saturday’s season opener was supposed to be an experiment, and Solomon stayed on the field one drive after another. BYU

sacked him four times and pressured him for most of the game; a situation like that almost forces Rodriguez to flirt with a more mobile quarterback like Brandon Dawkins.

“Well we talked about it for a little and not so much from Anu’s play, but because of how they were playing us,” Rodriguez said. “There might have been a thing or two that Brandon could’ve changed up for them, but I’ve got 100 percent confidence in Anu Solomon.”

It may just sound like Rodriguez is in denial that there is actually someone on the team that is better than his two-year starter. Not just better at the basics of throwing the ball and understanding, but the ability to extend plays on the ground.

For instance, if Dawkins were in action the same play Solomon threw the interception in the second quarter, he would’ve tucked the ball and ran for a first down rather than staring down his receiver, resulting in an interception. Of course that’s all speculation, but between the fine lines of offensive production, Solomon managed the game the same way he played in the Fiesta Bowl as a freshman.

Rodriguez can’t make a case for who’s better just from the sidelines, because he has to manage personnel on all different levels. He said that outsiders shouldn’t jump to conclusions about the quarterback performance.

However, there’s the old football expression: The film never lies.

“Unless you guys are a whole lot sharper than I am and that I should hire you, you usually got to watch the film and see all 22 [players] in slow motion and all that to get the correct answers what happened,” Rodriguez said. “That starts with the staff and myself.”

Dawkins didn’t get the chance that most people were hoping for, especially at the start of the second half when the Wildcats were trailing and the offense was a weak link.

Why not give Dawkins the chance to start a game? He’s shown the ability to lead in shaky situations, like last season at ASU, and was neck-and-neck with Solomon up until last week.

It may be heartbreaking for Rodriguez to break up from the quarterback who was a part of his first official recruiting class at Arizona, but this is college football. Solomon had his chance last season and against BYU to prove that he’s matured as a player.

For now, Rodriguez will stick with Solomon and admires his will to play all the way until the clocks hit zero.

“The one thing about Anu—he battles, he competes,” Rodriguez said. “The one thing I’ve known well enough is he’s going to keep competing and he did all the way to the last whistle. That’s why he’s an outstanding player and whatever we gotta fix, he’ll get it fixed.”

But should Solomon have gotten to the last whistle?

Follow Justin Spears on Twitter.

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