Rich Rodriguez knows how to make an entrance.
There was drama aplenty for the new Wildcats head football coach in his first game at Arizona. Overtime, long touchdowns, long touchdowns that didn’t count, trick plays, turnovers and – don’t forget – a win.
Lots for the fans to talk about and plenty for the coaches to (loudly) correct. What more could you want from a coaching debut? How about a sneak-peek of the future?
It only takes a little imagination and patience.
You can’t tell how far away it is but if you squint you can see it. Look past the multiple bursts of self-destruction and the highlights of Saturday’s 24-17 victory over Toledo provide a framework for dreams of things to come.
You had an offense than churned out over 600 yards, led by an athletic quarterback equipped with a plan to attack the opposition from all angles. There was a defense that stiffened as the game wore on. The head coach showed a desire to go for the kill after a big play, with the slick on-side kick after Ka’Deem Carey’s long run and the reverse on the first play after the Rockets’ lone turnover.
No, neither coaching uppercut hit its mark in the 2012 season opener. The drive after recovering the on-side lasted only four plays before the Cats punted. Richard Morrison’s touchdown run was nullified by a penalty. The 624 yards of offense produced just 24 points, the defense was a third-down turnstile in the first half and the Arizona kicking game was…the Arizona kicking game.
It was anything but a perfect first impression. The UA made more than enough mistakes to join Cal as an embarrassed home loser on opening weekend. The Wildcats are certainly a work in progress so these visions are for inspirational purposes only.
But what we saw won’t hinder thoughts of a consistently winning football program.
It will take time. Like the team, the crowd’s performance left room for improvement. The 48,670 in a reduced-capacity stadium is a nice number but a big chunk of people were missing by the time overtime rolled around.
I’m included in this. I was there till the end but my standing legs and yelling voice aren’t in fan game shape. The night started hot and when the game ended almost four full hours later it felt hotter. The tempo slowed down in the second half, both on the field and in the stands, and I was a part of the universal lull.
Just like the McKale Center crowd is often loudest when the team is trailing and needing to go on a run, the Arizona Stadium faithful shouldn’t wait for something good to happen but instead help make it happen.
The noise level during the final defensive stand in overtime was excellent (and that was with a largely empty stadium). The goal is to back the D that way on every third down, without needing input from Ozzy Osbourne.
Rodriguez’s aggressive style is going to continue to add to the number of people who believe in him. His bigger challenge is getting people to believe in Arizona Football. When the Wildcats lined up for that potential game-winning field goal there wasn’t a single fan in that stadium who didn’t think there was a decent chance the kick would be missed, blocked, or driven into a lineman’s backside. We can’t help it. It was like our collective dread helped pull the ball wide.
The coaching staff believes in the “Hard Edge” mantra so much they put it on the front of the players’ helmets. We The People need to believe it too.
It’s a process. Rebuilding, culture changes and all that. Embrace it. 2012 could very well end up being a long season but it won’t be a boring one.
The team is 1-0 and Rich Rodriguez’s status as an undefeated coach continues for another week. Now, about this Saturday’s game against Oklahoma “84-0” State…
Eh, let’s worry about that one tomorrow. Today is a day to look at the positives from RichRod’s first win at Arizona, envision the holes being filled and dream about where this thing is headed.
(Through the uprights even.)
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