We know fireworks will accompany the Arizona Wildcats’ entrance onto the field on Saturday night. After that, who knows?
“With the first game there are always so many things you’re unsure of,” first-year Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said Monday.
He will make his UA debut this weekend against Toledo at Arizona Stadium, hoping for a better result than he had when the curtain went up at West Virginia in 2001 and at Michigan seven years later.
In Rodriguez’s first game as a Division I-A college head coach, his Mountaineers team gained just 316 yards, scored a mere 10 points and lost by more than three touchdowns at Boston College.
In Rodriguez’s first game as the head coach at Michigan in 2008, the Wolverines managed a scant 203 yards and lost, in the Big House, 25-23 to Utah. Headline the next day in the Detroit News: Will Rodriguez be a Michigan Man?
Rodriguez has reason to be unsure of almost everything.
How will the new read-option scheme work on offense?
How will the new 3-3-5 scheme work on defense?
Will his team be as conditioned as he would like?
The answer to all: It usually takes some time.
In addition to his debuts at West Virginia and Michigan, Rodriguez lost his first game as the head coach at Salem College in 1988 … and at Glenville State, too, in 1990.
A loss to Toledo would be an upset — the Wildcats are favored by about 10 points — but even in that case, Rodriguez will be afforded more patience here than at either of his other two major coaching stops.
“I’ll have some nerves because it’s the first game and I’m not sure exactly how we’re going to play,” he said.
“I really like our guys’ attitude. These guys are great. They’ve tried for the most part to do what we’ve asked them to do. I think some days they forget, so we have some old school meetings and try to get that straight, but they really try to do the things that the staff has asked them to do.
“I’m anxious to watch them have some fun because practices for football are not always the most fun.”
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Rodriguez reiterated that the depth chart is a very fluid document at this point, adding that it could change between now and Saturday.
Of note, he said that true freshman Cayman Bundage could start at left guard. He’s at least in the rotation behind Chris Putton, who can also play tackle. Rodriguez said “it’s a pretty good bet we’ll play at least eight offensive linemen” during a game in Arizona’s up-tempo, no-huddle offense.
Others who are in the playing rotation include backup left tackle Shane Zink, backup right tackle Lene Maiava and possibly backup center Addison Bachman, Rodriguez said.
Somewhat curiously, senior safety Mark Watley is not listed on the two-deep after apparently vying for a starting job at free safety early in camp. Jourdon Grandon emerged there, with his backup, for now, being true freshman Jamar Allah.
“As of today, we feel the other guys have probably practiced a little bit better, but Mark’s still got a chance to get into the mix,” Rodriguez said.
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Junior Marquis Flowers said he was on board with last week’s move from safety to outside linebacker.
“The coaches called me in and told me that it would be better for team. And I had no problem with doing it for the team,” Flowers said. “It’s good. I’m going to play fast, play hard, and hopefully help out my team.”
His old Spur safety position shared some of the same responsibilities he has now at outside linebacker. It’s just that the mix of pass coverage and run support will now tilt toward run support.
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USA Today ranked the Pac-12 football stadiums, taking into account crowd and atmosphere. Arizona Stadium was fourth on the list (which did not include under-renovation Husky Stadium).
Wrote USA Today: “The heat and raucous crowd give the Wildcats a big-time home-field advantage, producing a number of wins over ranked teams in recent years.”
Click on USAToday.com for a slideshow of the Pac-12 stadium rankings.