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Graduate studies: Arizona quarterback Matt Scott still learning from failure

Matt Scott

Matt Scott’s 3,238 passing yards is fourth on Arizona’s single-season list. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Arizona Wildcats senior quarterback Matt Scott has one more academic task to complete before he graduates.

He has a paper due for an independent study class. The topic: The Importance of Failure.

That was a deliberately selected theme to mirror his experience as a quarterback — the guy who went from touted recruit to sophomore starter to backup to redshirt to senior success story.

“Not giving up,” Scott said when asked what he’s most proud of during his five seasons at Arizona.

“I could have gone somewhere else and transferred or something like that. But I stayed here and competed and finally got my chance. Thankfully, that all worked out.”

Now, that’s near an end, too. Scott has one more athletic task to complete before he graduates from the football team: Beat Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl on Saturday.

“It’s crazy, man,” Scott said. “I don’t feel like I’ve been here five years.”

The failure early in his career, losing the starting job to Nick Foles after three games of the 2009 season, was an important step on his path to success. Scott has talked at various times of taking things for granted early in his career. He sat out last season while Foles completed his record-setting Arizona career.

But, as a fifth-year senior, in the parlance of coach Rich Rodriguez, Scott has “played hungry.”

And played well.

This 7-5 season in which the Wildcats are averaging 521.8 yards per game — 50 yards above the UA season record set in 1999 and more than Rodriguez ever averaged at West Virginia — can be traced to having a talented senior quarterback in charge of Rodriguez’s read-option offense.

Imagine if Rodriguez had inherited a quarterback like Scott at Michigan in 2008. Well, maybe Arizona fans don’t want to think about that. Rodriguez would have gotten out of the gates much better than he did (3-9 with inexperienced and ill-suited quarterbacks) and could very well still be entrenched in Ann Arbor.

“You have to give a lot of credit to the coaches,” Scott said.

“This offensive scheme works wonders. You can’t really stop it if you make the right read every time. The scheme is good, and the coaches, with the way they teach the offense, it’s really easy to understand.”

Scott has completed 273 of 452 passes (60.4 percent) for 3,238 yards, with 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He has rushed 107 times for 485 yards. Scott could have done more in the run game if not for a hip injury suffered in the fourth game of the season at Oregon, and for the coaches’ desire to try to limit his exposure to big hits.

But he did take a couple of big hits late in the season, knocked out of the USC game and suffering a concussion against UCLA. That forced him to miss the Colorado game a week later, robbed him of practice time and, quite possibly, affected his performance down the stretch.

He was 31 of 66 for 390 yards in the final two games, against Utah and Arizona State.

The four turnovers in the loss to the Sun Devils still stings, especially that fourth-quarter fumble at the ASU 18 as Arizona seemed poised to take a two-touchdown lead.

The importance of that failure?

Perhaps it will somehow make Scott more motivated, even hungrier, to go out a winner Saturday. That’s how it is. Failure and success entwined. Each part of the process.

Scott will try to bounce back one more time.

“It’s going to hit me pretty soon,” he said of the end of the UA career. “I’ll be ready.”

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