SHREVEPORT, La. - This wasn’t a reward for a good season, a holiday getaway, or a thrilled-to-be-here bowl game like the ones they play in Pasadena, Calif., or near a Florida beach.
It’s Shreveport. It’s cold. It’s Tuesday afternoon. Get it done and go home.
When the cameras were rolling after Arizona’s 42-19 victory over Boston College, Rich Rodriguez put on a cap that prominently said CHAMPIONS.
But when he exited the stadium, Arizona’s coach discarded the cap given to winners of the 2013 AdvoCare V100 Bowl and decidedly moved toward 2014. Winning in Shreveport doesn’t herald a glorious new dawn for UA football, but it is a step up.
“When you beat a top 5 team at home, on Senior Day, that’s probably a signature win,” he said, a reference to November’s whopping 42-16 victory over Oregon. “But is this a big win? Sure it is.”
RichRod has surely turned the Wildcats into winners; the CHAMPIONS part is a bit premature.
Beating BC doesn’t take away the hurt of getting clubbed by Arizona State at Sun Devil Stadium, but it stops the bleeding and generates enough momentum that selling tickets to the 2014 home season shouldn’t be as difficult as it was in 2013.
If you can win 16 games with the personnel RichRod inherited, if you can score 90 points while sweeping two off-the-grid bowl games, if you beat USC one year and Oregon the next, you can say, as RichRod did Tuesday, “We’re getting closer.”
Arizona’s coaching staff forced its will on the Eagles, stuffing Doak Walker-winning running back Andre Williams with 10-man defensive fronts — at times, the Wildcats didn’t deploy a cornerback — and by playing at blur-speed when BC preferred to kill the clock.
“It flipped on us,” said BC coach Steve Addazio. “We got into an arena we’re not built for.”
This is why UA athletic director Greg Byrne hired Rodriguez two years ago. Coaching resourcefulness. The Wildcats don’t yet have the personnel to be a steady contender; 14 of Tuesday’s 17 pass completions were caught by true freshmen.
Not only that, Arizona survived 13 games without a true depth chart at quarterback. There was B.J. Denker and no one else. There was no safety net. Who gets away with that?
Of the 16 UA seniors who suited up Tuesday, none seem likely to play in the NFL or even get drafted. None were drafted last year, either.
Yet the Wildcats have gone 16-10 by getting the most (and then some) out of Denker the way they did a year ago with Matt Scott. They were cunning enough to win with Plan B when an opponent, such as Boston College, did everything it could to neutralize Plan A, old reliable, Ka’Deem Carey.
Carey didn’t win the Doak Walker Award, or get an invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony as did BC’s Williams, but he plainly won Tuesday’s mano-a-mano showdown, even though their opportunities (Carey had 27 rushes; Williams 26) were similar.
Is it too late for a voting do-over?
Boston College had one chance to win Tuesday and that was to hang tight, wear down Arizona physically and make it a fourth-quarter battle of wills.
“We would hit them for two, three, four yards and then, boom,” Addazio said, nodding to his star tailback, as if to suggest Williams’ “booms” would pay off in the fourth quarter.
But by the fourth quarter, Arizona led 35-6. The Eagles were gassed.
“We’ve gotta get three-and-outs on the other side,” Addazio said. “That’s the way we’re wired.”
Instead, Arizona punted twice and gained 529 yards. If it wasn’t Denker snapping plays in 14 or 15 seconds, before the Eagles could get properly aligned, it was Carey averaging 6.3 yards per carry.
Arizona didn’t play as well as it did against then-No. 5 Oregon — that’s almost impossible — but it was probably its second best performance of 2013. Put it in this context: BC was the second-best team Arizona beat this season.
Had Arizona played that well against UCLA and Washington State, the Wildcats would’ve been 9-3, nationally ranked and RichRod might’ve been the Pac-12 Coach of the Year.
Woulda, coulda, shoulda. That’s both the charm and torment of college football.
“The pendulum can swing,” said Addazio. “But if you had told me in August we’d win seven games and play in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl, I’d have taken it and ran.”
That’s essentially what RichRod said a year ago, after Arizona beat Nevada in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl. A year later, seven wins and the AdvoCare V100 Bowl are no longer good enough at Arizona.
If nothing else, RichRod has established that those are minimum standards in Tucson. He has whetted the school’s appetite for winning football, and restored UA football to its best place since 1998.
For Arizona, the Road to Recovery runs through Shreveport. Someone get a map. The big stuff lies ahead.