TEMPE — When Brandon Dawkins took the field against Stanford last month, in relief of Jerrard Randall, he was nervous, maybe a little jumpy.
That’s understandable for a redshirt freshman in the first real action of his college career. And in a road game, no less.
Then Dawkins was sacked on his first play, stuffed on his second, and never got anything going in a brief appearance.
Saturday afternoon, Randall was struggling, Anu Solomon was out with a concussion, and Rich Rodriguez went to the bullpen.
All he said: “Get ready.”
“He’s a very short and sweet kind of guy,” Dawkins said. “He just said ‘get ready,’ and that’s all I need.”
It was the second quarter, and as he patiently waited for the kickoff unit to finish their play, he stood behind a cluster of teammates, focused on the field, contemplating. Marcus Griffin, a close friend and defensive lineman, tapped him on the butt, told him good luck.
Dawkins didn’t feel it. He was in the zone.
But was he ready?
This week, Dawkins didn’t take a single practice rep with the first unit. Randall took all of them.
In the locker room at halftime, Dawkins threw up. He threw up some more on the sideline as Arizona’s defense recovered a fumble, and again just before snapping the ball, bobbling the snap, recovering his own fumble and rushing for a couple of yards.
This was Dawkins’ chance to join Territorial Cup folklore. The Moment.
“I didn’t think he was gonna go in the second half,” Rodriguez said. “He drank some water, went out there put his helmet on, and gave us a chance.”
On his first drive before halftime, Dawkins was tackled for a loss, then followed that up with rushes of 9 and 26 yards and a 28-yard pass to Johnny Jackson, leading eventually to a Casey Skowron field goal.
There were two more drives in the third quarter capped by a Skowron field goal, and then with less than a minute left, throwing from his own end zone, Dawkins found Trey Griffey for a remarkable 95-yard touchdown pass.
On one play, he already out-passed Randall, who completed just 4 of 13 passes for 35 yards, and Dawkins wound up rushing for more than the explosive Randall, too.
“He came in great, honestly,” Griffey said. “Coach is always talking about how we have starters, backups, but you know you always have to be prepared to get in at any point in the game and I believe as soon as he came in, he made an impact.”
The ending of his performance is probably best left forgotten — Dawkins threw two straight pick-sixes as Arizona was mounting a comeback — at one point within a touchdown with less than four minutes on the clock.
But it was a valiant effort from a QB in the biggest game of his career, much of it spent lying on the turf, the victim of a relentless pass rush.
ASU finished with eight sacks.
“I’ve been hit pretty good, but that was a little extensive to stay the least,” Dawkins said. “They got me a couple of times. I wish a couple different plays went a couple different ways. “
His final stat line, minus the interceptions, was impressive: 305 passing yards, two touchdowns, with 78 rushing yards and a late touchdown run when the game was out of reach.
Relegated to third-string mop-up duty all season, Dawkins came out and riled up the Arizona fan base. Where had he been all along?
This is the Dawkins Arizona was hoping for when it secured him as a key piece in the 2014 recruiting class, when he was rated a four-star recruit by ESPN.com out of Thousand Oaks, California.
“I challenged him a little bit,” Rodriguez said. “Sometimes when you’re the third QB you just kind of linger around and don’t have a sense of importance, and hopefully now he’s showed me it is important to him and that he’s gonna be OK.”
Solomon hasn’t played quite like the 2014 version of himself, and the two concussions certainly don’t help. Randall is a senior, gone at the end of Arizona’s bowl game, wherever and whenever that may be.
That will leave Solomon and Dawkins, with incoming touted freshmen Khalil Tate and Devon Modster looming for a potential battle for the 2016 starting quarterback job.
“I got to go out there and ‘show out’ a little bit,” Dawkins said, “but it’s still not the result we wanted.”
Added Rodriguez: “There was a couple of plays he’d like to have back, but for the most part he gave us a chance and he’s going to have a good future.”