When fall camp began, Arizona Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez said the UA would know “any day” whether Notre Dame transfer DaVonte’ Neal would be cleared by the NCAA to play this season.
Any day turned into “we hope to know soon” into “I wouldn’t gather a guess what the NCAA is looking at.”
The UA’s first game of the season came and went on Friday night, and Rodriguez and the Wildcats are still waiting to hear if they will have the receiver’s services this season.
Neal, a former star at Scottsdale Chaparral High School, is appealing to play right away because he transferred to the UA to be closer to his girlfriend and newborn daughter.
While it seems unlikely Rodriguez will know the answer when he holds his weekly news conference today, there is a chance Arizona could know Neal’s status by Saturday’s road game at UNLV.
Rodriguez has said several times that if Neal is cleared, he will see playing time right away at slot receiver and punt returner.
“We may know something next week,” the second-year coach said after the UA’s 35-0 win over NAU.
And now the Cats are waiting to hear on another player.
True freshman defensive lineman Luca Bruno would have played in Friday’s opener as a reserve, but Rodriguez said the NCAA hasn’t cleared him either.
“Luca Bruno would have played as a true freshman, but he has a clearinghouse issue that didn’t get cleare d up in time,” Rodriguez said. “So, we’ll wait on him for next week.”
Though Bruno wasn’t an option, the UA did play seven true freshmen in Friday’s win.
None were major surprises.
On offense, receivers Nate Phillips and Samajie Grant played, though neither registered a catch.
Defensively, linebacker Scooby Wright was the lone true freshman to start on either side of the ball. But, cornerback Devin Holiday and linebackers DeAndre Miller, Derrick Turituri and Jake Matthews all saw action.
Matthews, an Ironwood Ridge High School product, was the only walk-on true freshman to play.
Interestingly, the UA’s three highest-rated recruits of the 2013 class by the Scout.com recruiting service didn’t play. Cornerback Derek Babiash, running back Pierre Cormier and quarterback Anu Solomon — all four-star recruits — appear candidates to redshirt this season.
Solomon and Cormier didn’t dress out for the game.
At first glance, it looks like the UA did a solid job stopping NAU on third downs Friday night.
The Wildcats used a special defensive package the majority of the game for third down stops that included lineman Kirifi Taula, safety Will Parks and linebackers Sir Thomas Jackson, Turituri and Holiday.
The Lumberjacks were just 4 of 19 on third down conversions.
But, Rodriguez said after the game that’s an area he’d like to see improve as the season progresses. The Wildcats spent a lot of time during fall camp working on third-down defense.
“I thought there were a couple of times where we let them catch the ball in front of us for a first down,” Rodriguez said.
“I’ll have to watch the film or talk to the defensive coaches to see why that happened.
“I thought our third-down defense, we did it more in camp then we’ve done before, and our guys have gotten accustomed to it. There are some things we have to get fixed, but we got a shutout and made a couple of big plays.”
A faster Allen
Redshirt freshman quarterback Javelle Allen surprised Rodriguez with the speed he showed on a 61-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter Friday.
Rodriguez and his staff were on Allen last season for being too heavy and wanted the Prosper, Texas, native to shed some weight and get in better shape. He’s listed on the roster at 6 feet 2 inches and 218 pounds and seems to have slimmed down the way the coaches asked.
“He ran faster than I thought,” Rodriguez said. “I think a lot of guys run faster when they’re being chased. He might be one of those guys that has an extra gear when he’s being chased.”
Allen didn’t attempt a pass and ran the ball twice. Rodriguez was obviously pleased with Allen’s read on the 61-yard dash.
“From my vantage point, it looked like he made the right read,” the coach said smiling.
• Arizona quarterback recruit Brandon Dawkins of Oaks Christian High School in California started his senior year off on the right foot Friday night.
Dawkins threw for 434 yards and six touchdowns and led his team to a 51-50 win.
The QB, rated as a three-star recruit by Scout, committed to Arizona in July, turning down offers from North Carolina State, Notre Dame and Utah.
• The UA’s 87 passing yards Friday were its fewest since throwing for 46 yards against Nebraska in the 2009 Holiday Bowl.
• The 47 offensive plays the Wildcats ran are the fewest the team has run under Rodriguez.
The previous low for the UA was 52 plays against Colorado last season.
• Rodriguez and his staff named the coaches’ players of the game for the 35-0 win on Sunday. They were: Daniel Jenkins (offense), Tra’Mayne Bondurant (defense); Shane Wilson (special teams) and Wright (hard edge player of the week).
The scout team awards were Neal (offense), Jackson (defense) and Wilson (special teams).