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A Matt finish: QB Scott comes to the rescue in Rich Rodriguez’s Arizona debut

Matt Scott

Arizona’s Matt Scott gets ready to fire the winning touchdown pass as Toledo’s Danny Farr unsuccessfully tries to drag him down. Photo by Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE

Matt Scott couldn’t find anyone open. It was third-and-goal from the 10 in overtime, the Arizona Wildcats trying to overcome a mountain of mistakes against Toledo.

Scott rolled to his right, signaling to his receivers downfield. Danny Farr, a 295-pound defensive lineman, broke free and chased Scott to the sideline, grabbing the back of his jersey.

The play looked dead. Arizona was going to have to settle for a field goal attempt, which was scary enough since John Bonano had missed from 25 yards minutes earlier on the final play of regulation.

But then …

“At the last second, I saw Terrence out of the corner of my eye,” Scott said. “I just kind of slung the ball to him, and he made a great catch.”

Scott had just enough time left to fire to receiver Terrence Miller at the goal line for a touchdown. The UA defense made the lead hold up by stopping Toledo on downs on the ensuing possession, and the Wildcats made Rich Rodriguez a 24-17 winner in his first game as the Wildcats coach.

One of the themes of Arizona’s preseason: Matt Scott gives the Cats a chance.

That’s what everyone saw Saturday night at Arizona Stadium.

The redshirt senior, in his first start Oct. 30, 2010, completed 30 of 46 passes for 387 yards and he ran 14 times for 74 yards. He threw for two touchdowns — the first being a 30-yarder in which Austin Hill made a spectacular diving catch in the end zone — and was intercepted once.

And this was just his first game in Rodriguez’s read-option offense.

“He was making great decisions,” Rodriguez said.

“He missed a couple of throws, which he would want to have back. In our offense, the quarterback has to make decisions on just about every play — run or pass. Matt was really sharp with that tonight. Really sharp.

“He’ll fix some of those throws that he needs to have back. He’s a competitive guy. Matt’s competitiveness, everybody else feeds off that.”

His 461 yards of total offense was the third-highest total in school history, trailing Willie Tuitama (517 vs. Washington in 2007) and Keith Smith (502 vs. Cal in four overtimes in 1996).

Arizona gained a staggering 624 yards and squandered so many opportunities that Rodriguez said, “It almost makes you think it could have been 800 easily.” The offense was like a soccer team most of the night — they moved the ball around a lot but there was little scoring.

The inventory of awfulness: Two touchdowns called back by penalty; three turnovers in Toledo territory, including one in the red zone; a dropped slant pass near the goal line; a 24-yard field goal attempt that went off the right upright; the 25-yard missed field goal that Bonano pulled wide left at the end of regulation.

Cue the nightmares of Arizona’s recent kicking woes …

“We all got together on the sideline and basically kind of made a pack, saying, ‘Who cares,’” linebacker Jake Fischer said of the missed field goal at the end of regulation.

“I mean, one play doesn’t define the whole game. There’s so much pressure put on that one play, but on both sides of the ball, we could have done so much better.”

Scott could have done better, too. He missed wide-open receivers down field on a few occasions, but some of that is going to happen when you throw 46 times.

Matt Scott

For his next trick, Matt Scott might try throwing lefty in a game, not just in warmups. Photo by Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE

Yes, 46 times in a Rich Rodriguez offense. It can happen. Rodriguez said his offense (which usually skews two-thirds to the running game) is adaptable. And Scott has been saying he usually doesn’t get the proper credit for his passing.

Future games won’t necessarily break down with more passing than running — Arizona had 41 attempts on the ground vs. Toledo — but if it’s working …

“I wouldn’t see myself as a runner only,” Scott said. “I would rather just sit back there and throw the ball, and run the ball when I need to.”

Arizona needed all his passing and his running to overcome its sloppiness.

“We know we’re going to be half-sick watching film because of the opportunities we squandered offensively,” Rodriguez said. “But our guys hung in there.”

And Matt Scott gave the Cats a chance.

If there had been a sliver of doubt before Saturday, there is none now: This is Scott’s team.

“I came to Arizona to be that guy,” said Scott, who had to watch for most of the past three seasons behind Nick Foles, including redshirting last season.

“It was hard for me to sit out last year, but coming back this year was important to me. I couldn’t have it any other way.”

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