The consuming sporting passion in Tucson these days — other than speculation over who will be the next all-planet basketball recruit to commit to Arizona — is debating who might win the Wildcats’ quarterback job.
“There’s bound to be one to step up,” says Austin Hill, one of Arizona’s corps of primo receivers, who, to date, are lacking clarity on exactly who is going to be getting them the ball.
It’s a bit of an anomaly, the Wildcats’ bulging cache of quality wideouts without a determination on a starting quarterback, just as it seems odd that head coach Rich Rodriguez would have a “vacancy“ sign out at the position after he mentored Pat White at West Virginia and Denard Robinson at Michigan.
But here the Wildcats are, one of two Pac-12 teams (Washington is the other) with uncertainty at quarterback, and the obvious hope in the Sonoran is that having four doesn’t mean they have none.
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“It’s a legitimate battle,” veteran offensive line coach Jim Michalczik told me the other day. “It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.”
“The biggest thing for us is who can run the system and make plays when plays aren’t there,” Rodriguez says, “but also take care of the ball.”
In White and Robinson, Rodriguez had two guys who successively set an NCAA career record for rushing yards by a quarterback. So we can guess his ultimate choice is going to be able to move his feet.
Many observers think that best describes 6-foot-1, 185-pound Jerrard Randall, a Floridian transfer from LSU. But Randall doesn’t appear quite ready, and the leader seems to be 6-2, 205-pound redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, who had a 57-3 record with four state titles quarterbacking Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas, with USC transfer Jesse Scroggins (6-3, 201) behind him.
Solomon has been more consistent than any of the others, including Texas transfer Connor Brewer, but there’s scant separation.
“You always wonder how the quarterback is going to do under pressure,” says Michalzcik. “Well, our guy is under pressure every day.”
At Pac-12 media days last month, Rodriguez was blithely evasive about the respective skills of the quarterbacks, but conceded that Randall has “some of the same skills“ as White and Robinson, “But he’s not as fast. They were freaky-fast.”
Rodriguez is a lot less concerned about the receivers, led by Hill, who had 1,364 yards in 2012 before a knee injury took him out last year. Hill worked hard on upper-body strength and could exceed the player who riddled USC for 259 yards in an upset in 2012.
“We’re going to be so much deeper than any place I’ve ever been,” Rodriguez says, talking receivers. “We should be able to play seven or eight easily and not worry about the quality of play.”
One in that nucleus is Trey Griffey, son of Ken Griffey Jr., who caught two touchdown passes in the bowl win over Boston College.
“By the end of the year, he was a guy who could play consistently on the outside,” says Rodriguez. “With Trey, growing up the way he did, some people say, well, maybe he was entitled. There’s no sense of entitlement with Trey Griffey. His parents raised him right.”
The ’Cats must work around the departure of Ka’deem Carey and the 1,885 rushing yards he represented, and Rodriguez says they’ll do it with multiple players. Says Michalzcik, “I think we’ll be a little better up front, so that’ll help out.”
The defense has six starters back, with the heaviest experience on the back end. It played passably last year, allowing 24 points a game (No. 6 in the league) — at least until it caved in a 58-21 defeat to Arizona State.
That was emblematic of some late-season inconsistency, as the Wildcats speckled some big success — a booming upset of Oregon and the postseason blowout of BC — with an ambush at home by Washington State and the collapse against ASU.
“That’s been a huge thing we’ve been working on,” says safety Jared Tevis. “You need that energy and focus week in and week out.” As for the WSU defeat, Tevis says, “I just think the focus wasn’t quite there.”
RichRod puts it differently, saying: “I want to get to the point where we can play badly and win. We’re not there now.”
Not until he settles on a quarterback, at least.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org