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Arizona football: Bye week recuperation

Arizona+quarterback+Brandon+Dawkins+%2813%29+runs+the+ball+during+Arizonas+45-24+loss+to+UCLA+at+the+Rose+Bowl+Stadium+in+Pasadena%2C+Calif.+on+Saturday%2C+Oct.+1%2C+2016.
Rebecca Noble
Arizona quarterback Brandon Dawkins (13) runs the ball during Arizona’s 45-24 loss to UCLA at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, Calif. on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016.

Arizona football fell off the map last weekend and with the program off to its worst start since 2011, the recuperation period from reality couldn’t have come at a better time.

The Wildcats finally received the bye week that head coach Rich Rodriguez was searching for and questioning last season, but having a week off didn’t mean drinking beverages with little umbrellas and laying out by the pool. Instead, Rodriguez focused on the two most important tasks outside of winning football games: recruiting and getting healthy. 

“It was certainly a much-needed bye week,” Rodriguez said. “For the coaches, we also spent a few days recruiting. It came at a great time, certainly for us, with certain guys being injured.”

Now that Arizona has come back to reality, the room for error is razor thin if the Wildcats wish to maintain the streak of making bowl games in the Rodriguez era. The head coach took a step back to evaluate his personnel in the aftermath of USC, when the Wildcats lost 48-14. 

     Related: State of the program following USC loss

Inside the locker room and coach’s office, nobody is pushing the abort button. 

“College football now is pretty competitive and you want to get to a point where you don’t have any dips in the road. But the season is just half-over,” Rodriguez said. “Let’s not all panic—I’m not panicking. The program is just fine.”

The Wildcats have only forced one turnover since Pac-12 Conference play started, and what was once viewed as a strength for Arizona has now turned into an Achilles heel as it is tied for 97th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in forced turnovers. 

“We’ve emphasized so much of it in practice from a standpoint of getting your hands on the ball from the beginning of camp. It has been disappointing in the last couple of weeks that we haven’t gotten any,” Rodriguez said. “We’re not good enough to win games without getting any turnovers, so that’s been a point of contention for us.”

Also keep in mind that injuries at the linebacker position with players like DeAndre’ Miller missing three games and Cody Ippolito out for the season with an ACL injury have kept Arizona from hitting a stride when playing together on defense. 

     Related: Football midseason report

Injuries are a trend once again for this Arizona team, and Rodriguez can’t do anything other than recruit players to maintain the “next man up” mentality to succeed. It’s even trickled down to the quarterback position, because who would’ve thought a third-string tight end in Matt Morin would end up taking snaps behind center.

With the week off, players like Brandon Dawkins—who was out against USC with a concussion—and Anu Solomon—who has been out with a knee injury since Grambling State—are now back to competing for the starting job once. A competition that went back to the start of spring practice is still in full affect for week nine of the college football season. 

Not the ideal situation for Rodriguez, but with both quarterbacks healthy enough to play, he will make a decision for the starter based off of planning for the scheme Stanford will bring to Arizona Stadium this weekend. 

“We’ll change quarterbacks based on particular types of plays we want to run,” Rodriguez said. “And we rotate them in practice that way, so it’s something they’re accustomed to.” 

For now, the Wildcats’ top priority is coming up with a diabolical plan to shut down Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey, who is returning from injury and will look to light up Arizona Stadium for another edition of Pac-12 After Dark. 

“Even though [Stanford is] talented with [its] backups, he’s one of the best players in the country,” Rodriguez said. “He’s explosive and you gotta know where he is because a large part of the offense and certainly their special teams—when he’s in the game—goes through him.”


Follow Justin Spears on Twitter.


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