Before the season began the thought was the Arizona Wildcats had enough talent that if the new quarterback could do four things the team would have a strong season.
Anu Solomon‘s debut went check, check, check and check.
Often times when a football team is searching for a new quarterback there’s a feeling of dread among the fanbase but that wasn’t the case with Arizona. Due to the experienced offensive line, stable of receivers and Rich Rodriguez’s offensive acumen, the new QB wasn’t going to be asked to carry the team on his shoulders. All he had to do was four things and the Cats could be successful:
- 1) Take care of the ball.
- 2) Make the right reads.
- 3) Be a threat to run.
- 4) Find the open receiver.
It was only one game and it was against a UNLV team the UA blew out last year but Solomon was four-for-four Friday night.
Taking care of the ball is one of those things that are easier said than done. Every coach wants to “win the turnover battle” but it’s a bit of a challenge to try and advance the football 100 yards when there are 11 guys out there trying to stop you (often as painfully as possible).
A big reason B.J. Denker was able to maximize his talent last year was he threw just seven interceptions in 381 pass attempts. Not only was Solomon pick-free against the Rebels but he avoided those tight-window or jump-ball passes that cause coaches and fans to hold their breath. Anu didn’t just avoid fumbles, he also jumped on a teammate’s fumble. With a +1 person turnover margin Solomon clearly won that battle.
Football is the ultimate team game but the zone-read offense makes you rely on the player next to you even more. A running back is going to look like a failure if the quarterback only gives him the ball when the defense is crashing down on him. The flip side is a back looks like a stud when all his carries come with the blocking numbers in his favor.
Option B was the exact scenario Friday night as no Wildcat running back was tackled for a loss in 34 rush attempts. The O-line gets a ton of credit, as do backs like Terris Jones-Grigsby and Nick Wilson for hitting the hole and breaking tackles, but give Solomon an assist for knowing when to keep the ball and when to let his guys do their thing.
The defense will only respect the QB keeper if he is a threat to run. Solomon doesn’t have blazing speed – Denker may have turned that 31-yard run into a touchdown – but Anu proved he’s dangerous. He’s not going to score double-digit TDs on the ground but if he can continue to pick up first downs and extend drives with his feet it’ll free things up for Jones-Grigsby and make it easier for the receivers to get open.
And getting the ball to those open receivers is the UA quarterback’s most important job this year. The Arizona pass-catchers did not disappoint in shaking coverage, securing the ball and making game-breaking plays.
Solomon’s first-quarter pass to Samajie Grant went 25 yards through the air but Grant broke free and scampered another 38 yards to paydirt. The Austin Hill play to start the second half was a simple 12-yard slant but the All-Pac-12 player dusted off his stiff-arm, stomped on the accelerator and turned it into a 92-yard masterpiece.
On those two snaps Solomon threw the ball a combined distance of 37 yards but he’s credited with 155 passing yards and two touchdowns. That’s the 2014 UA game plan in a nutshell.
Four goals set, four goals reached in Anu Solomon’s first start. It’s a long season and the level of competition will increase in a hurry (as early as this Thursday) but it was an impressive debut for the freshman. It wasn’t just the 475 total yards and four touchdowns, it was how he got there – running the system and letting his talented teammates shine.
You can’t answer all your questions about a team after one game but one important question was answered: Does it look like Arizona has a quarterback good enough make 2014 a season to remember?
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