It was a long night for the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday when they lost 49-35 at USC.
The game itself — which officially lasted three hours and 43 minutes — didn’t end until approximately 11:35 p.m. UA coach Rich Rodriguez and three players shuffled in for postgame interviews around midnight, and after everyone showered, changed, and grabbed a pre-prepared box of Chick-fil-A food for the road, it was already past 12:15 a.m.
Arizona took a chartered flight back to Tucson and didn’t land in the Old Pueblo until 2:45 a.m., and the Wildcats finally arrived on campus at 3:30 a.m., meaning players and coaches didn’t return to their houses, apartments or dorms until almost 4 a.m.
The Wildcats still held a light practice on Sunday, as they always do.
Not-so-surprisingly, UA coach Rich Rodriguez isn’t exactly a fan of this arrangement, and it’s not the first time his team has dealt with this late-night issue.
Beyond the road games, Arizona hasn’t had a kickoff before 5 p.m. this year and only has three such kickoffs in its last 26 games.
Saturday’s game against Oregon State will be the latest of the season, set for an 8:15 p.m. kick on ESPN2. Only three games will be later in college football on Saturday, and none — Wyoming-Air Force, Boise State-Colorado State and Fresno State-Hawaii — are Power Five conference matchups.
In that non-bowl 26-game stretch dating back to 2015 counting this week’s Oregon State game, Arizona has had 19 kickoffs after 7 p.m. locally, three between 5 and 7 p.m., and only three before 5, the last coming on Nov. 5 at Washington State last year.
Since Rodriguez was hired in 2012, 65 percent of Arizona’s non-bowl games have kicked off after 7, and 17 of Rodriguez’s 28 true road games kicked off that late, too.
Rodriguez vented about the subject at his Monday afternoon press conference.
“Everybody complains about the late-night game, but especially this year when you’re getting back at 3 or 4 in the morning and who knows what it’s going to be,” Rodriguez said, then went onto to imply how Arizona’s schedule should be considered.
“It’s, OK, Arizona has not played one single day game this year,” Rodriguez said.
“Can we do what we can to put them in the afternoon slot? TV will still dictate it, but I think you gotta ask the question.”
Counting the Oregon State game, Arizona’s last two games will have been on ESPN networks. Rodriguez said he appreciates the exposure, but he’s not the only one impacted by all of the late kickoffs.
“The exposure is nice,” Rodriguez said. “But I’m also mindful of the fans. … From a fan’s standpoint, I think a little earlier than that is more enjoyable.
“To me, exposure is nice in recruiting, but I would rather for our sake, coaches and maybe players, certainly for the fans, I would rather for the fans’ wishes would be something. … If it was up to me, I’d like to consider them. But it’s not up to me.”
Rodriguez added that the late kicks might be contributing to attendance issues across the country.
“It’s harder when they’re late-night games and you want to do what you can for it to be attractive for your fanbase,” he said.
“I don’t know if that’s a reason throughout the country why there’s not as many sellouts. … But it probably has played some factor in it.”
Tate ‘will learn from it’
after losing to Trojans
The streak is over.
Monday, Washington State quarterback Luke Falk was named the Pac-12’s offensive player of the week for his performance against Stanford. It ended UA quarterback Khalil Tate’s record-breaking streak at four straight weeks of winning the award, though this time he wasn’t even nominated.
Even though Tate started off slow against USC, he still finished with solid numbers — 161 rushing yards, 146 passing and four total touchdowns.
But most of that production came in the second half — in the first, Tate only had 19 rushing yards on 12 carries and had completed 5 of 12 passes for 37 yards, which contributed to Arizona falling behind 28-6 in the third quarter.
Rodriguez indicated that Tate — who grew up nearby in Inglewood, California, and was playing against many of his former high school teammates — might have been pressing to start the game.
“Khalil is a competitor, and sometimes you’ve got to let the game come to you and when you’re a dynamic athlete like he is, sometimes you just want to try and take charge and dictate to the game,” Rodriguez said. “A lot of times you’ve got to let the game come to you and take what they give you and be patient a little bit.”
Tate bounced back in the second half and helped the UA charge back to tie the game at 35 in the fourth quarter.
“The third quarter and early part of the fourth quarter he was just letting the game come to him and making good decisions,” Rodriguez said. “He’s a young guy, he’s only had a few starts and he’ll learn from it.”
When USC scored and the Wildcats went down 42-35, though, Tate tried to air out a deep throw to receiver Tony Ellison on first down and the Trojans picked it off.
“It was just a … it wasn’t the right decision,” Rodriguez said. “Tony ran the right route. It was just a guy trying to make a play. Sometimes you gotta be patient and let the game come to you.”
• The Pac-12’s TV partners have elected to use a six-day selection window to determine most of the conference’s start times for a week from Saturday. Arizona-Oregon is one of four games subject to the six-day window. The others are Utah-Washington, UCLA-USC and Cal-Stanford. The selection order is as follows (all times Pacific): ESPN/ABC at 12:30 or 5, Fox/FS1 at 5 or 1, ESPN at 7:30 or 7:45 and Pac-12 Networks at 4.
• Tate now has 1,087 rushing yards on the season, the first Pac-12 quarterback to ever rush for 1,000. His total is the 12th-highest in the nation.
• Rodriguez said safety Scottie Young was a bit rusty coming off a knee injury that held him out of Arizona’s previous two games. The freshman had five tackles against USC.
• Running back Nick Wilson (ankle) “should be ready to go” this week. Wilson missed the Washington State game and Arizona eased him in against USC, giving him two carries on the night against USC, both in the second half.
• Rodriguez said he wants to rotate more players into Arizona’s slot receiver rotation to spell starters Tony Ellison and Shun Brown, and mentioned redshirt freshman DeVaughn Cooper and senior Tyrell Johnson as those who’ve earned playing time.