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Wrong route, right place: Wharton makes most of expanded time with first TD

Garic Wharton

Garic Wharton is on his way to a 33-yard score in the second quarter. Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

What is it that coaches always say? If you’re going to make a mistake, make it going full speed?

That’s what Arizona Wildcats sophomore receiver Garic Wharton did Saturday night against Washington.

In the second quarter, Wharton, lined up in the right slot, fully committed to running his route. It just happened to be the wrong route.

Whatever. He still broke free in the middle of the field, and quarterback Matt Scott, as if nothing was wrong, calmly lofted a pass to Wharton, who sprinted for a 33-yard touchdown, the first of his career.

The play gave the Wildcats a 24-3 lead with 4:43 to go before halftime.

“Basically, it was the wrong route,” Wharton admitted. “What happened, I still got in the same spot I would have gotten had I run the right route, so it kind of all worked out. Coach couldn’t be that mad.”

True. It worked out so well that coach Rich Rodriguez couldn’t do much complaining, at least during and after the game, about Wharton busting his route. Hmmm. Maybe there will just be some gentle teaching in the film room instead.

“I didn’t yell too much because he scored,” Rodriguez said. “But Matt saw it, and Garic is a fast guy, so it worked out pretty well.”

Wharton hasn’t played much this season, not even on kick returns, where he presumably could put his great speed to use. He returned 14 kickoffs last season, when he didn’t have a catch.

He had played in just four of six games this season before Saturday night’s 52-17 win. He had one reception for 6 yards.

Wharton had three catches for 59 yards against the Huskies.

“I’m just happy, man. Blessed,” he said.

“A lot of hard work. A lot of games when I didn’t see action, I was just wondering if I should even be here, if I deserve to be here. It feels good to prove myself.”

Rodriguez’s first instinct this spring was to use Wharton’s sprinter’s speed as a deep threat, so the coach moved him from the slot to outside receiver, looking for one-on-one opportunities down the sideline.

But Wharton (5-11, 164) was recently moved back inside — Rodriguez would like his receivers to eventually learn all the positions, anyway — helping to fill the second slot position opposite Austin Hill.

Given Richard Morrison’s struggles in the slot, and the ankle injury that kept Johnny Jackson out of the Washington game, Wharton played with the first-string Saturday night.

He said his “consistent hard work” in practice helped earn him that shot.

“After all the games when I didn’t see a lot of action, didn’t get to play, I still practiced hard. I still brought my game in there. When the opportunity opened up, people got hurt, that’s when I stepped up. Hopefully, I will be used more.”

Wharton, who ran 100 meters in 10.39 seconds in high school, will still be living by the same mantra: Play fast.

“Don’t be hesitant. I feel that’s what really works,” he said.

“Don’t second-guess yourself. Keep thinking that is what you have to do. The route, just run it as hard as you can and anything can happen.”

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