It’s no secret what Rich Rodriguez and the Arizona Wildcats like to do offensively.
The second-year coach wants his team to play fast, efficient and aggressive football.
Last year, the Wildcats ran more than 83 plays per game and the coach’s ideal number is in the 90s. No opponent will ever wonder what Rodriguez’s M.O. is when it comes to offense.
Yet on Friday, in the UA’s 35-0 win over NAU, the Cats ran just 47 plays, possessed the ball for less than half the time the Lumberjacks did and attempted just 13 passes.
Clearly, those aren’t Rodriguez-esque numbers.
And there are a number of reasons — maybe not quite 47 — for the low number of plays:
• The Lumberjacks had a plan to melt the clock and possess the ball as much as possible.
• The Wildcats broke a couple of big plays, including a 91-yard touchdown run by Daniel Jenkins and a 61-yard TD run by Javelle Allen, that obviously limited their time of possession.
• Rodriguez was more conservative than normal with his playcalling and didn’t take as many chances as he’s used to on third downs to extend drives.
So, while the coach would like to see his team run more than 47 plays Saturday against UNLV, he won’t complain about the number if another 35-point win is the result in Las Vegas.
“We go into every game and do what we need to do to win,” Rodriguez said. “If we have to run 100 times to win, we’ll run 100 times. If we have to pass 100 times to win, we’ll pass 100 times.”
That certainly makes sense and sounds witty, but still expect to see a bit of a different game plan Saturday in Sin City.
“We have to be able to throw the ball better than we did Friday night,” Rodriguez said. “I was really conservative in the playcalling. We could get by on Friday because we could run the ball, we had a nice lead and they weren’t scoring. But, going forward, we’re going to have to throw the ball better.
“I didn’t feel like we were unaggressive in our playcalling, but we probably could have let loose a little more.”
Quarterback B.J. Denker was 9 of 13 for 87 yards, by far the fewest passing yards in Rodriguez’s 14 games as the UA coach.
Rodriguez, who just opened his 20th season as a head coach, has been around long enough to know if he doesn’t open up the passing game starting this week, teams will start feasting on the Wildcats’ run game.
“Teams are going to put everyone in (the box) if you don’t have the threat of a passing game,” Rodriguez said. “So, I think we’ll work really hard on that. In practice, we work more on the throwing game than the running game. So, I think it’s there. We’ve seen it happen.”
Rodriguez said Denker is clearly the team’s No. 1 quarterback after Friday’s win. Allen is No. 2 and junior Jesse Scroggins is No. 3. The coach cautioned that could change at any time.
Offensive line struggles
The UA played without All-American running back Ka’Deem Carey on Friday, saw Denker make just his second career start at QB and fielded a wide receiver group that was young and inexperienced.
But of all the position groups on offense, Rodriguez was least pleased with the most experienced — the offensive line.
Despite Arizona opening enough holes for Daniel Jenkins to rush for 139 yards and not allowing a sack of Denker, the coach wasn’t impressed with what he saw on tape.
“I didn’t think we played well offensive-line wise,” he said. “We were just kind of leaning on people, and the concerning part is that we can’t lean on people in the next game because the people we’re playing are a whole lot bigger and stronger than (NAU). If we lean on them, they’ll be pushing us back. We have to play a whole lot better up front if we want to beat (UNLV).”
There was no argument from senior right guard Chris Putton, who chalked up the shaky performance against NAU to nerves.
“Most of us were pretty nervous,” Putton said. “It was the first game of the year and I think the nerves got to us a little bit.
“We were hesitant at times and that’s what caused us to lean on people. I think we’ll get it fixed this week. We were thinking too much when we played. That’s where we lost it a little bit.”
Punt teams need work
The UA’s special teams weren’t — pardon the pun — all that special on Friday.
Punter Drew Riggleman, a Sahuaro High School product, had punts of 15 and 18 yards, and freshman returner Nate Phillips muffed two punts, which the UA managed to recover.
“The punt team was below average and the punt return was awful,” Rodriguez said. “I’m disappointed because we put a lot of time into it. We’ll continue to fix it and I think we can fire some guys and hire some guys and do some switching out, but some of that comes back to us as coaches. We have to make sure that we’re getting that taught right and emphasized right.”
Wildcats kicker Jake Smith also missed a 28-yard field goal after a high snap from Brian Chacon.
But, it wasn’t all bad.
Riggleman also had a 55-yard punt and landed two inside the 20-yard line. Smith was perfect on extra points and had four touchbacks on his six kickoffs.
“A couple of the units were pretty good and a couple of the units were really bad,” Rodriguez said.