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In a week around college football where seemingly every team with any hint of a quarterback competition turned to multiple passers at every shift in the breeze, the Arizona Wildcats went the other way, and it may have played against them.
Arizona lost its first game of 2016 to the BYU Cougars, 18-16. The final score is indicative of the offensive struggle it was for both sides, but Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon had a particularly poor game. He threw for 213 yards on 30 attempts, while throwing zero touchdowns and two interceptions. Solomon finished with a 35.7 QBR. The Wildcats’ offense managed just three total points heading into the fourth quarter before a mini flurry briefly gave them the lead.
Afterwards, Solomon told reporters “this game is on me. I’ve got to step it up.” That is pretty generic quarterback speak that every team leader would say after a loss, but it also seemed true in Solomon’s case. Even the fourth quarter scores stemmed from long Nick Wilson runs rather than plays through the air.
Throughout the game, Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez remained with Solomon behind center. This, despite the fact that the team had a prolonged quarterback battle before the season between Solomon and sophomore Brandon Dawkins.
Most teams that go through QB battles give the “loser” a chance early in the season, especially if the starter struggles. Both Texas and Notre Dame gave two quarterbacks apiece chances throughout their epic game, and Solomon isn’t on the level of any of those guys. Yet Rodriguez never wavered from Solomon and never turned to Dawkins.
On the one hand, this is rather admirable. He believed Solomon was the better passer for this team heading into the season, and such a decision shouldn’t be disregarded after a few bad quarters. On the other hand, this stinks of some combination of stubbornness and inflexibility.
If Rodriguez gave Dawkins an opportunity to get something going, it doesn’t mean he screwed up in giving the job to Solomon in the first place; it doesn’t mean Solomon was the cause of all the shortcomings during the game; it wouldn’t even mean he had to stick with Dawkins for any length of time. It was just about trying to spark something in the Wildcat attack.
Solomon is a three-year starter at this point who has been good but not great under center. He offers nothing in the running game and was arguably better as a freshman than he was as a sophomore. Dawkins has nothing more than mop-up experience in his one year at Arizona, but he also put up a great fight in the spring in an attempt at becoming starting quarterback.
Rodriguez could have gotten in trouble by instituting a QB rotation like Texas did. That was a tricky substitution pattern that Charlie Strong employed by switching quarterbacks depending on field location, down and distance and perhaps other factors that weren’t evident to viewers. Instead, it would have been more beneficial to look at Notre Dame or Alabama or even Georgia. Quarterbacks DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire both got a chance for Notre Dame before it became evident that the former was the man to lead the offense. The Crimson Tide got a lift after subbing in freshman Jalen Hurts. The Bulldogs saw the same thing with Jacob Eason.
Arizona never even culled its second option, and it could have been the difference between a win and a loss whether the Wildcats want to stick with Solomon moving forward or not.
Mike Robinson has been watching sports since the dawn of time, or at least since he was born. He’s one of those weirdos who doesn’t have any true home team that he roots for, he just loves the game. You can find his fire takes (or lack thereof) on Twitter at @mrobinson2648.