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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Arizona football rides Rich Rod improv to victory

Nigel Amstock
Senior QB Jerrard Randall rushes downfield early in the fourth quarter of play at Folsom Field. (Nigel Amstock/CU Independent)

Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez was staring at defeat, down 24-17 late in the third quarter to a Colorado program that is winless in Pac-12 Conference play over the last 23 months.

The defense had regressed throughout the game while the offense came up empty on nine consecutive drives.

Nick Wilson watched helplessly from the sideline as the Wildcats managed to average fewer than four yards per play throughout the third quarter. Arizona’s starting running back sat out the whole game with a foot injury.

On the field, the Wildcats’ starting quarterback looked just as debilitated.

Anu Solomon stalled following a 17-point opening quarter. Making his second start after suffering a concussion against UCLA, Solomon repeatedly resorted to rolling out to one side instead of staying still in the pocket.

As a result, Solomon was forced into tucking the ball or tossing passes that landed nowhere near intended receivers.

Colorado had made the proper adjustments to slow down Arizona’s offensive production. Now Rich Rodriguez needed to counter.

With 54 seconds remaining in the third quarter, out came Solomon and in entered Jerrard Randall.

Rich Rod improv at its finest.

Randall formed an all-backup backfield standing next to running back Jared Baker as the Wildcats attempted to steal the ballgame from the Buffaloes.

How would they accomplish such a feat? Well, by pounding the rock.

On the third play of the fourth quarter, Randall gave Baker a simple handoff and the redshirt senior took it to the house for 45 yards. Tie game.

A drive later, Baker found the end zone again, this time courtesy of a beautifully placed wheel route pass from Solomon. 31-24 Arizona.

“[Solomon] came back in and didn’t hang his head,” Rodriguez said in his postgame radio interview.

On Arizona’s final scoring drive of the night, Randall and Baker combined for seven ground carries and 35 yards. Randall finished the methodical march with a short jog in the end zone. Arizona led 38-24 with 4:40 remaining.

Colorado made its best effort to make the game interesting in the final minutes, as Buffs quarterback Sefo Liufau led a scoring drive to make it a seven-point game with two minutes.

It was Randall and the Wildcats, however, who held onto the 38-31 victory.

“No. 8 [Randall] came in and gave us a little lift,” Rodriguez said in the radio interview. “The way they were playing us, we thought Jerrard would have some opportunities to get some runs and open our run game up.”

In other words: Rodriguez’s plan worked just as he scripted it.

As much as today’s era of college football values offensive ingenuity, a distilled rushing attack is almost a prerequisite for success.

It’s no coincidence three of the top teams in the country—Ohio State, LSU and Utah—feature three of the nation’s top running backs.

OSU’s Ezekiel Elliott and LSU’s Leonard Fournette are on everybody’s Heisman shortlist. Devontae Booker of Utah should be as well, especially after his last few performances.

Even in the Pac-12, where the West Coast offense roams free, it’s Utah and Stanford that are respectively atop of each division.

Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey is averaging over 9.7 yards per carry over his last two games—blowout wins over Arizona and UCLA.

Rodriguez is undoubtedly aware of the power-running dynamic shaping the Pac-12 race, and you can bet he’s happy to see Arizona joining in on the fun.

The Wildcats lead the Pac-12 in rushing touchdowns and are tied with Oregon for first with 297.4 rushing yards per game. That number puts both schools at No. 6 nationally.

While Anu Solomon and Nick Wilson will remain Arizona’s go-to options, the Wildcats may turn more to Saturday night’s heroes to keep up with this running trend.

Follow Ezra Amacher on Twitter.

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