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Rhett Rodriguez shows potential on big stage

Quarterback+Rhett+Rodriguez+%284%29+passes+the+ball+to+Running+Back+Gary+Brightwell+%2823%29+during+the+game+against+UCLA+on+Saturday%2C+Oct.+20+at+the+Rose+Bowl.+UA+lost+with+a+score+of+31-30.+
Madeleine Viceconte
Quarterback Rhett Rodriguez (4) passes the ball to Running Back Gary Brightwell (23) during the game against UCLA on Saturday, Oct. 20 at the Rose Bowl. UA lost with a score of 31-30.

LOS ANGELES – Rhett Rodriguez made his first career start for his dad’s former team on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl. Arizona (3-5) ended up falling 31-30 to UCLA (2-5), but Rodriguez shouldn’t hang his head too low. 

The true sophomore quarterback filled in for an injured Khalil Tate and played every offensive snap versus the Bruins. During the week there were rumblings that either one of freshmen Jamarye Joiner or Kevin Doyle could see some game reps, but Rodriguez played well enough to keep the Wildcats in the fight all night long. 

Although Arizona’s offense struggled out of the gate, much like they have for the entirety of the season, Rodriguez did an admirable job of bringing the ‘Cats back. 

Wildcats cheer on Shawn Poindexter (19) for score a touchdown during the third quarter of the Arizona-UCLA game at Spieker Field on Oct. 20, 2018 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA. The game ended with the Wildcats losing 31-30
Wildcats cheer on Shawn Poindexter (19) for score a touchdown during the third quarter of the Arizona-UCLA game at Spieker Field on Oct. 20, 2018 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA. The game ended with the Wildcats losing 31-30

Trailing 17-7 at halftime, Rodriguez really came into form after exiting the locker room for the second time. 

His second-half performance helped Arizona clinch its first lead of the night with 4:58 left in the third quarter, and again – after giving the lead right back – at the start of the fourth. 

After the game, Rodriguez lamented Arizona’s close defeat. 

“At the end of the day, I could’ve been a lot better. We lost the game, so I’ve got to look at the film and see where I can help,” Rodriguez said.

It was an honest answer from a young man that, despite falling short of a win, played his heart out on one of college football’s most iconic stages. 

“It was awesome. As I went out on the field, I just thought about all the amazing games, all the amazing players, that have been on that field. I just felt very lucky to be out there,” Rodriguez said when he was asked about his feelings about playing at such a historical venue. 

          RELATED: Arizona football loses heartbreaker to UCLA, drops to 3-5 

Rodriguez was accountable after the game, and rightfully so. It’s a quarterback’s unwritten duty to represent his team the best way he can and take responsibility for his performance – no matter the outcome. 

Quite frankly, it was refreshing to hear Rodriguez speak. In many people’s mind, one of Tate’s greatest shortcomings this season has been his body language and attitude in post-game press conferences. 

Rodriguez was a consummate pro, though, and no matter how high or how low the Wildcats were at times tonight, it has to be a confidence-booster for all of his teammates to know that they have a level-headed and optimistic quarterback leading the pack.

Arizona quarterback Rhett Rodriguez (4) runs pass UCLA's defense during the fourth quarter of the Arizona-UCLA game at Spieker Field on Oct. 20, 2018 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA. The game ended with the Wildcats losing 31-30. 
Arizona quarterback Rhett Rodriguez (4) runs pass UCLA’s defense during the fourth quarter of the Arizona-UCLA game at Spieker Field on Oct. 20, 2018 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA. The game ended with the Wildcats losing 31-30. 

In regard to the slow start offensively, Rodriguez said the team just wasn’t fully in-sync.

“It’s just about everyone doing their job … at the end of the day, I’ve just got to execute … I think in the second half we kind of got some momentum, got the ball rolling a bit, and I think we just got in a rhythm,” Rodriguez said. 

Rodriguez will have to find his groove earlier in next weekend’s game as Arizona gears up to head home to take on the Oregon Ducks. 

          RELATED: Analysis: Untimely play-calling the thorn in Arizona’s side at Rose Bowl

Even though he didn’t notch his first career win tonight, Rodriguez showed that he’s more than capable of succeeding versus Pac-12 competition. 

His father, Rich, may not be as involved with the Wildcats as he previously was, but he’s still there to remind his son to just be himself, and everything else will take care of itself. 

“He watched some film this week, and he kind of told me what he thought, but at the end of the day he was just telling me to be myself. Have fun out there and be myself,” Rodriguez said. 

Rodriguez’s final stat line – 15 of 34 for 231 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions – is a sign that there’s plenty of room for improvement. But for now, Rodriguez can just soak in the moment. 

Arizona's wide receiver Shawn Poindexter (19) catches the incoming throw from Rhett Rodriguez (4) during the Arizona-UCLA game at Spieker Field on Oct. 20, 2018 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA. The game ending with the Wildcats losing 31-30. 
Arizona’s wide receiver Shawn Poindexter (19) catches the incoming throw from Rhett Rodriguez (4) during the Arizona-UCLA game at Spieker Field on Oct. 20, 2018 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA. The game ending with the Wildcats losing 31-30. 

Arizona’s leading receiver on Saturday night, Shawn Poindexter, wasn’t convinced that Rodriguez had any early game jitters. 

“To pick out a highlight, tonight, man, it was just Rhett. For everything that’s been thrown [his way] this past year, for him to come out here and have high energy, just continue to push the guys to get better and better every single day, and, to just play the kind of game he did today – that’s the highlight,” the receiver said.

Arizona’s starter for next week’s game against the Oregon Ducks has yet to be announced, so if Tate can’t go again, don’t be surprised to see Rodriguez out there calling the shots once more.


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