The Arizona quarterback competition was a big non-controversy through fall camp.
It will become a more real, more heated discussion -- at least among the fans -- after the Wildcats' 18-16 season-opening loss to BYU on Saturday night at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Junior quarterback Anu Solomon, entering his third season as the starting quarterback, was ... how to put this somewhat judiciously -- uneven. He completed 20 of 30 passes for 213 yards, but he was sacked four times and threw two interceptions, one with 5:52 to go and Arizona trailing by five points.
"This game is on me," Solomon said in the postgame press conference. "I have to step it up. Be better and play better."
Solomon split first-team reps in fall camp with sophomore Brandon Dawkins, and Rodriguez had kept the identity of his starting quarterback a secret until shortly before game. He even suggested at multiple times that he might use both quarterbacks. But there was really no controversy. It was always going to be Solomon starting, and, as it turned out, it was Solomon all the way against BYU.
You know the old saying -- the most popular guy on campus is often the backup quarterback -- and many will want to see what Dawkins can do as the Wildcats return to Arizona Stadium in the next two weeks to take on lesser competition in Grambling and Hawaii.
You will hear lots of opinions about what Rodriguez should do at quarterback. But he has the only one that ultimately matters, and on Saturday night he did not sound like a coach who was on the verge of a change.
"I have 100 percent confidence in Anu Solomon," he said.
"It's hard when you come out in your first game and you haven't played in a while. Everybody wants to point to the quarterback -- it's his fault. Well, maybe you don't know all the factors. Maybe there was a breakdown in the route or in protection or maybe it was a bad play-call or something. There are always a lot of factors.
"One thing about Anu: He battles. He competes. He was going to keep competing ... and he did all the way until the last whistle. That's why he is an outstanding player. Whatever he has to fix, he'll get fixed."
Solomon's sins included taking a 16-yard sack right before halftime, leaving Arizona's new kicker, Josh Pollack, with a 52-yard attempt, not a 36-yard try. He missed, and Arizona trailed 9-0 at halftime. Those potentially lost points ended up being significant.
To be fair to Solomon, the line did not appear to play particularly well, save for a yawning hole for Nick Wilson on a 49-yard touchdown run with 1:26 to give the Wildcats their first lead at 16-15. The defense of new coordinator Marcel Yates failed to hold that advantage, allowing BYU to move into position for a 33-yard field goal for freshman Jake Oldroyd.
His first career attempt was good with four seconds to go, and Arizona lost.
Here are five other thoughts from the Arizona-BYU game.
1. Where is the QB run game? Rodriguez pretty much invented and popularized the zone-read offense, but you can't even call the Arizona attack a zone-read offense anymore. There wasn't even a whisper of a designed running threat from Solomon against BYU. Without it, the Wildcats aren't moving defenders out of position or creating a lot of open space.
2 Nick Wilson is back. Wilson, battling injuries last season, managed only 18 carries for 42 yards in the final seven games of last season. He carried 17 times for 138 yards vs. BYU. "I feel good, I feel healthy. I feel great," he said. "But I would trade all of that for the 'W.'"
3. Don't believe RichRod when he says he has a 1A and 1B at running back. That's how he described Wilson and sophomore Orlando Bradford. It is how he used to describe Ka'Deem Carey and Daniel Jenkins. But when Rodriguez has a lead back, he leans hard on him. Bradford had one rush vs. BYU, as did third-stringer J.J. Taylor.
4. The defense did some good things. Arizona mixed up its fronts, brought more pressure and played tighter coverage at cornerback. When BYU was trying to get into field-goal position on the final drive, Yates dialed up a six-man pressure that forced Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill to throw incomplete. Arizona allowed 415 yards and 18 points -- numbers you would have bet would translate to a victory.
5. The defense still did some bad things. Two problems from last season were problems Saturday night. Arizona allowed too many third-down conversions (7 of 15) and did not create a turnover. The Cats forced just one three-and-out. Of BYU's 10 possessions, seven went for at least eight plays, allowing the Cougars to consistently win the field-position battle, even if they weren't scoring.
"We didn't win," said linebacker Paul Magloire, "so we could play better."
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