GLENDALE — Arizona Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez looked to the sideline with exasperation, taking off his headset and letting it drop to the turf. He then raised his eyes to the heavens.
That scene of frustration, and ones just like it, was part of the first spring scrimmage of the Rodriguez era, held in front of about 1,000 fans at Glendale Community College on Saturday.
Arizona is working through the expected growing pains, adjusting to a new coach and new schemes, and Rodriguez wasn’t ready to put a thoroughly happy spin on a day in which the offense had the better of the defense.
“We’re not running full speed and I’m going to attribute that to us not being in shape as we need to be,” he said. “They’re trying. We’re slowing making steps. We just have a long way to go and I think everyone realizes that.”
Arizona ran nearly 100 plays in the situational scrimmage, never taking a break, never bothering to huddle.
While the players are going at faster tempo than they ever have, it’s not nearly up to the Rodriguez’s standards. He was vexed when players didn’t sprint off the sideline quickly enough or they didn’t immediately hand the ball to an official after the end of a play.
“I’m feeling the tempo a little bit, but it was fun,” senior center Kyle Quinn said afterward.
“We definitely had the defense on their heels at times today, so that’s going to be good for us as we get in better shape as the spring goes on.”
Starting quarterback Matt Scott, who was off limits to tackling, unofficially completed 18 of 26 passes for 179 yards. He threw a 21-yard touchdown pass over the middle to receiver Austin Hill after a run fake to the left. Scott also had a deep 51-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Slavin called back because of holding.
Sophomore walk-on quarterbacks Tyler D’Amore and Alex Cappellini got extensive work in the read-option offense because junior Richard Morrison managed only a few snaps.
Morrison is one of the key storylines of the spring as he tries to convert from receiver to quarterback (his high school position), but he suffered an arm injury while warming up, Rodriguez said.
“I really wanted to see him work,” Rodriguez said. “Hopefully, he’ll get a lot of work before the end of spring.”
Junior running back Daniel Jenkins had one of the big plays, bouncing a run around the right side after being bottled up in the middle and racing 51 yards for a score.
Arizona scored touchdowns on five of 11 possessions before switching to overtime mode, with the ball at the 25. The Cats got into the end zone on four of six overtime possessions.
Scott referred to Jenkins, sophomore Ka’Deem Carey and junior Kylan Butler as the “three-headed monster.”
“The running game is the best since I’ve been here,” Scott said. “We got the running game going, and we got a couple passing touchdowns, too, so that’s good. We have a lot more balance this year. I think that’s going to help us a lot.”
Overall, Rodriguez said Friday’s practice might have been “crisper” than Saturday’s effort.
“The biggest thing our guys have to understand is that the effort that we have to play with should never be compromised,” he said.
“Whether it’s a scrimmage or a practice, or certainly a game, we have to play as hard as we can on every snap. Our guys are still learning that.”