Aaron Taylor, who worked with Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez on TV during the 2011 season, will be the analyst for the Wildcats’ game at UNLV on Saturday night.
Taylor will be working with play-by-play man Andrew Catalon and sideline report Lauren Gardner on the CBS Sports Network.
He and Rodriguez were part of the studio panel on the cable network’s Inside College Football show in 2011, when Rodriguez was out of coaching following his firing from Michigan.
I talked with Taylor, a former Notre Dame and NFL offensive lineman, about his experiences with Rodriguez, this week’s matchup and more …
Q: What was Rich like to work with?
A: “He was a blast. It was pretty clear he was beat up over what had happened at Michigan. Nobody likes to be relieved of employment, and certainly getting the short end of the stick and not being the right Michigan kind of guy weighed on him. It took him a couple, three weeks, but he realized quickly that we were guys he could trust and could have fun with. I think it provided him a surrogate locker room until he could back into a head coaching position.
“By the end of the year, man, we were all telling stories and yukking it up like we had been in TV for years together. The side of RichRod that we got to see both on camera and off was very different from what was portrayed while he was at Michigan.”
Q: It’s sometimes rare to see that much fun in a studio show.
A: “I think that is what Rich brought to us — just his personality. He didn’t have to fake it. We didn’t have to fake like we liked each other. It was interesting chemistry. Rich Rodriguez is a good dude who likes to have fun. He’s a hell of football coach. I think Arizona got a steal with him, and time will bear out that he will be successful on the field.
“I was a little bit shocked, actually. I didn’t know what to expect from him. The bulk of what I knew was buttoned-up, straight-faced, very dry and kind of defensive and standoffish. That couldn’t be further from what that man is about.”
Q: You have visited in Tucson with Rich and his coaches. What kind of chemistry do you see between Rich and his staff?
A: “I think there is trust there, first and foremost. Those have been his guys going way back. And before I got on campus I had heard stories about a lot of those guys. A lot of those stories are hilarious and some of those stories are heartwarming; you could tell there was a lot of history there. The way he described those guys was a lot like himself — Rich is a no B.S. guy.
“He wants to hold himself and other accountable, but he also realizes — and his time away from the game further emphasized –that football should be fun. You’re obviously going to have a lot more fun when you’re winning, but it doesn’t have to be drudgery every day. I think that’s rare when you can find someone who takes the game extremely seriously, but doesn’t take themselves very seriously.”
Q: What strikes you about Arizona in your game prep?
A: “Obviously, the special teams, putting the ball on the ground in the return game. The ability to pass the ball vertically is something they need to develop, and the offense line needs to get a little bit more push up front and sustain blocks a little bit more. I’ve been digging into the film, and I can see there was some hesitancy there.
“The defense was really their Achilles’ heel last year; they were about as awful as you can get. I think they were 118th in the country in defense last year. Being even in the 50s this year would be fantastic, although it’s not going to be easy with some of the offenses that they’ll be seeing. But I like what I’ve seen so far. I was really impressed with the way they’re flying around the football.”
Q: Anybody in particular?
A: “That Scooby kid (freshman linebacker Scooby Wright). He’s raw. You can tell he’s raw, but he’s got a motor. He’s a football player. As he gets older and gets more instinctual and can enhance that motor and his raw skill, he’s somebody who has a chance to be a really good player.
“And Tra’Mayne Bondurant, he obviously had a big game. I think a team that is in a position like they are defensively needs a spark, needs somebody who can kind of rally the troops. A lot of times when teams get the ball shoved down their throats and they don’t have success, there’s a lethargy that takes place and they lose their swag, they lose their confidence.
“From what I saw from Bondurant so far on film, he’s somebody who kind of is that spark, has a nose for the football, that the team can rally around and set the standard.”
Q: What’s your analysis of the running style of Ka’Deem Carey?
A: “I really enjoyed watching him play football last year. He was so explosive and just had a knack for big runs and getting you to sit up on the edge of your seat. I love runners like him. It kind of came from nowhere; nobody really expected that out of him, probably RichRod included. I wonder if that gave him a little bit of a big head to a certain extent.
“But to put up the numbers he had last year was absolutely amazing. The style of offense suits him. It’s designed to get defensive players to pause, to think, or to get slightly out of position. When you do that when there are only six guys in the box, and their safeties are tied up and spread out over the field, you’re going to get a lot of home run hits. That suited Ka’Deem Carey’s style beautifully.”
Q: Lots of teams are running read-option and spread. Is there something unique about how Rodriguez does it?
A: “He’s on the Mount Rushmore of these kind of offenses. … There something to be said about having not only the personnel, but from a play-calling standpoint to make the teams defend every inch of the field. A lot of the things he does, he’ll set up early in the game, smoke out what he thinks they are going to do to respond to it, and then make adjustments off that.
“It’s not just an offensive system. A lot of it is what he does in-game from a play-calling standpoint. … He works with his system, but he’ll adapt his system to the personnel’s strength.”
Q: What does UNLV have to do to pull off an upset?
A: “I think they need to run the football first and foremost, and maybe play a little bit of keep-away. When you’re playing a team that runs a high-octane offense, one of the things that is really a detriment to your squad is when your defense is on the field, getting worn out.
“UNLV turned the ball over too much (in a loss at Minnesota) to be able to win this football game. They were well in that game last week and then after halftime, it was an absolute debacle on special teams (allowing a kick return and a blocked field goal for touchdowns) and there was no turning back.”
Q: Let’s assume Alabama is playing in the national title game. From a matchup point of view, would you rather see Stanford or Oregon from the Pac-12 be the opponent?
A: “I would rather see Stanford, only because that’s the system I played. I played smash-mouth football, three yards and a cloud of dust. I was an offensive lineman; I loved it. I really enjoy watching Oregon. They have one of those styles that I sit down and watch. They are one of those teams that if weren’t in this business, I would buy tickets to because they are fun to watch.
“But as an old O-lineman, a busted-up ex-football player, there’s nothing more beautiful than to watch Stanford run power downhill at a team over and over and over and over and over … and teams being unable to stop it. I love that style of football. That’s a style that many in the SEC play. And in the last seven years, nobody has been able to dethrone the SEC because nobody has been able to beat them at their own game.”
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Rich Rodriguez, followed by Aaron Taylor, talks about his best college football moments as a player and coach.