Just two years ago, coach Rich Rodriguez took the Arizona football team to new heights, leading them to a 10-win season and the Pac-12 South division title.
Now, the Wildcats are hoping to get out of the South cellar.
It’s been a rough season for Arizona (2-7, 0-6 Pac-12), which hasn’t won since mid-September. On Saturday, the Wildcats will host Colorado, looking to get their first conference win of the season.
BuffZone.com caught up with Zack Rosenblatt, who covers the Wildcats for the Arizona Daily Star to get his thoughts on the team as it heads into Saturday’s game
BuffZone: Going into last week, this season was already a disappointment for the Wildcats, but losing by 62 points against Washington State was stunning. What is the overall morale within the program?
Rosenblatt: Coming off of last week, I would say there is some disbelief that it’s gotten to this point. From what I can see, the morale certainly isn’t high. The players know that, for all intents and purposes, it’s a lost season. But talking to some players on the team, there is a sense of focus on closing out the season strong, not going winless in the Pac-12 and a motivation to “ruin” other team’s seasons from here on out, which the Wildcats can certainly do this weekend against Colorado and the last game against Arizona State.
BuffZone: Given the slip to 7-6 last year, followed by this year’s struggles, is there any talk that Rodriguez might be on the hot seat?
Rosenblatt: I don’t think there’s even been an idea that his seat is hot — although, the fans might prefer that it was — for a few reasons. One: this is the first bad season he’s had at Arizona. People here forget that this isn’t a program that consistently won eight games every season, as they have with Rodriguez. Two: athletic director Greg Byrne gave Rodriguez his blessing to fire his entire defensive coaching staff, knowing that it would be a multi-year rebuild as a result. And three: it would be too expensive to fire him this early on in his contract. If Arizona goes winless in the Pac-12 next year or struggles at a similar level? Then I can see it getting toasty.
BuffZone: How big of a factor have injuries been in this year’s decline, and how healthy are the Wildcats coming into this week?
Rosenblatt: Injuries have been a major factor. Injuries, of course, happen everywhere, but the uniqueness of Arizona’s situation is that it’s happened almost exclusively at three positions — quarterback, running back and middle linebacker. At one point this season, the Wildcats resorted to playing their third-string tight end at quarterback, and now a starting receiver has moved to running back full-time. The bigger question here, though, is this: how good would Arizona have been even had they stayed fully healthy? That’s a hard question to answer. The Wildcats are in this predicament because of too many failures in recruiting, and a team that recruits well can also handle injuries better.
BuffZone: What’s the latest on the quarterback situation?
Rosenblatt: The latest is that we still, really, have no idea what to expect on any given week. Without exaggeration, due to injuries and performance, we haven’t known with certainty in any given week this season who would be starting at quarterback that Saturday. I’d surmise that Anu Solomon — healthy from a season-long knee injury — gets the start on Saturday because Brandon Dawkins has struggled running the offense of late, but your guess is good as mine. It’s a safe bet, though, that Rodriguez uses both of them at points in Saturday’s game.
BuffZone: Four years in a row, Arizona has knocked off a top 20 team in Tucson. This is the last chance the Wildcats have to make it five in a row. What do they need to do this week to pull the upset of the Buffs?
Rosenblatt: Rodriguez has been harping on — coach speak alert — execution as a key each week, because simply the execution hasn’t been there, particularly on offense. Arizona’s offense and special teams units have been wildly disappointing, and too many quick, unsuccessful drives and failures on special teams have put Arizona’s banged up (and young) defense in precarious field position on a consistent basis. If the Wildcats can simply execute better, and avoid falling into an early, deep, hole, they can be competitive against the Buffs.
Brian Howell: email@example.com, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.