Rich Rodriguez

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Khalil Tate saving Rich Rodriguez and putting Arizona in Pac-12 contention

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Those who have sacrificed their sleep on the weekends to watch a talented running back duo of Stanford’s Bryce Love and San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny this season are already conditioned for this, but Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate has become one more reason to stay up late on Saturdays. Tate is close to carrying Arizona by himself as the main attraction in a much-needed turnaround season for Rich Rodriguez and the Wildcats.

After diminishing win totals each of the past two seasons, it was fair to suggest this was a critical season for Rodriguez in Tucson. And after a 2-2 start to the season that included some offensive struggles against Houston and Utah at home, Tate’s sudden rise could not have come at a better time. Since taking over at quarterback in early October against Colorado, Tate has been off and running, literally. Tate is essentially Rodriguez’s 2017 edition of Pat White.

Tate is Arizona’s leading rusher with 926 yards and eight touchdowns following his 146 rushing yards and a touchdown Saturday night against No. 15 Washington State in a 58-37 victory. Tate also had 275 passing yards and two scores through the air to lead Arizona to a blowout win with a strong second half.

Tate is playing his way into the Heisman Trophy mix against incredible odds, and it is easy to see why. He legitimately has a chance to break a big play every time he touches the football. And as the quarterback, he has his hands on the football every play Arizona runs. Tate is second in the Pac-12 in plays of 30+ yards with 12, trailing only Stanford’s Love. He is one of five players in the conference with a play of 80+ yards and he is the only Pac-12 player with 4 plays of 70 yards or longer (Washington’s Dante Pettis is second in the Pac-12 with two).

As we have noted before, Tate was not the starting quarterback for Arizona at the start of the season, making Tate’s sudden rise in the Pac-12 even more entertaining to those tuning in. This week Tate will be one of the reasons to stay up late once again as Arizona prepares for a road game at USC. With the Trojans also winning last night on the road against Arizona State, first-place is on the line for the Wildcats and Trojans, the last two teams in the Pac-12 South with just one loss in conference play.

If Tate can make similar plays happen against USC and Arizona can leave Los Angeles with a win and a head-to-head tiebreaker, Arizona will have an incredibly manageable path to the Pac-12 Championship Game. Taking down the Trojans will be no easy task, but neither will USC’s mission of stopping Tate.

USC hosts Arizona at 10:45 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4. Put a pot of coffee on. It will be worth it.

Rich Rodriguez not overly thrilled with NCAA rule changes

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A bunch of new rule changes are set to take effect this football season, and Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez appears to be not-so-enthusiastic about some of the key changes. Rodriguez took aim at the new recruiting guidelines that include an early signing period in December and new rules regarding official visits. He was not complimentary, according to quotes provided by the Arizona Daily Star.

“December’s better than February, but it doesn’t solve the problems,” Rodriguez said when reacting to the addition of an early signing period in December. “I still think it makes more sense to have no signing day. I was one that voted against the December one, because I think there should be none.”

Rodriguez has been in favor of having no official signing day and instead allowing student-athletes to sign with a team whenever they are ready to do so. It remains to be seen just how much of an impact an early signing period will truly have on the game, but the expansion of the dates recruits can make official visits (beginning April 1 of recruit’s junior year, ending in late June) could be a negative change for a school’s budget, warns Rodriguez.

“Right now, you’re allowed 56 official visits. We only use 36. So we save the school money,” Rodriguez said of Arizona’s approach to official visits. “You kind of zero in on the guys you know (will come) by the time the official visits come. Now everybody’s going to use 56, because it’s so early in the process. So it’s going to cost schools more money.”

In addition to having concerns about how much schools will spend on additional official visits, Rodriguez also suggests the time is taken away from assistant coaches will take a toll.

“The life of an assistant and the work that they do now is already pretty hectic. Which is OK; they get paid well,” Rodriguez said. “But to have official visits in those months is way too much to ask for kids, coaches and schools. I think it’s a bad idea.”

When the acting president of the American Football Coaches Association comes out with this kind of reaction to the new rules, you cannot help but wonder how many other coaches feel the same way.

Arizona freshman RB JJ Taylor breaks left ankle

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One of the bright spots for Arizona in the first month of the season had been freshman running back JJ Taylor. Unfortunately for he and Arizona, he will be missing some serious playing time after suffering a broken ankle Saturday night against Washington.

Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez announced after an overtime loss against Washington that Taylor broke his left ankle. Before having to leave the game with an injury, Taylor had rushed for 97 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries against Washington. It is expected Taylor could miss the next six to eight weeks of action, which could effectively end his season.

Ironically, Taylor was showing off his ability to break ankles earlier in the game…

Arizona kicks off bowl season with wild New Mexico Bowl victory

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The first game of this year’s college football bowl season was not one short for fun. Arizona (7-6) came away with an exhilarating, back-and-forth New Mexico Bowl victory over New Mexico (7-6) of the Mountain West Conference, winning 45-37 on Saturday afternoon in Albuquerque.

Arizona took a 28-17 into halftime and wasted little time extending its lead in the third quarter. Jared Baker broke loose for a 32-yard touchdown run right up the middle fo the New Mexico defense on Arizona’s second-half opening drive. New Mexico could not be buried though, as the Lobos and Wildcats exchanged touchdowns in the third quarter, with each scoring twice. Arizona capitalized on a New Mexico turnover a Lamar Johnson interception that put the Wildcats on the four-yard line. One play later, Baker crossed the goal line for a short touchdown and a 42-24 lead.

New Mexico rallied to make things interesting, getting a three-yard Lamar Jordan scoring jaunt to pull within 42-31 late in the third quarter and a four-yard Austin Apodaca dash to climb with 42-37 with 13:52 to play.

Arizona welcomed back linebacker Scooby Wright III, who finally got on the field after a season riddled with injury issues, and he turned in an admirable performance, hitting double digits in total tackles in the first half alone, then making two clinching plays to thwart New Mexico’s rally. Facing a 4th-and-13 with 6:42 remaining, Wright sacked Apodaca to end the threat. After a Casey Skowron field goal with 1:32 to play, it was Wright who pressured Apodaca into his game-ending interception.

Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon looked like the player that led the ‘Cats to the Pac-12 South title a year ago, throwing for 329 yards and two touchdowns while adding another on the ground. Arizona wide receiver Cayleb Jones turned in a big game as well, with 182 receiving yards and a score.

With the win, Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez picked up his third bowl victory since being named the head coach at Arizona. Arizona has won three of the last four bowl games they have played in, which included the New Mexico Bowl in 2012 as well. Arizona lost last year’s Fiesta Bowl against Boise State. New Mexico head coach Bob Davie is still on the prowl for his first career bowl victory. Davie was 0-3 in postseason bowl games at Notre Dame.

In 2016, Arizona will kick off the new season in Glendale, Arizona against BYU on September 3. New Mexico will also open the new season that same day, but they will do so at home against FCS power Sam Houston State.

Reports: South Carolina to hire Will Muschamp as head coach

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South Carolina’s coaching vacancy may soon be filled by former Florida head coach and current Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. The Muschamp-to-South Carolina story has been building momentum over the past week or so, and Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans of Sports Illustrated are now reporting, and The Slate has confirmed the report, the two have agreed in principle to name Muschamp the new head coach of the Gamecocks.

The South Carolina saga has been a wild one in the past 24 hours. Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez reportedly flew to South Carolina to interview for the job, but he ultimately came to the decision to stay put in Tucson. The news was broken by Arizona athletics director Greg Byrne via Twitter Saturday night.

Muschamp had been considered a top candidate for the South Carolina job for a few weeks now, although why is a bit unknown. Muschamp had one good year as Florida’s head coach. After a 7-6 debut season after accepting the head coaching job in Gainesville following Urban Meyer’s retirement and after serving as Mack Brown‘s coach-in-waiting at Texas, Muschamp took Florida to an 11-win season that ended in a blowout loss in the Sugar Bowl against Charlie Strong, Teddy Bridgewater and Louisville. Muschamp went 10-13 in his final two seasons at Florida before ultimately being removed as head coach. Florida hired Jim McElwain from Colorado State, and McElwain took Florida to the SEC Championship Game in his first season on the job with practically no offense to speak of.

South Carolina needs offense in a big way, so if Muschamp really is going to be the head coach then he needs an absolute homerun of an offensive coordinator by his side. Muschamp reportedly has been trying to line up a potential staff to take to South Carolina, which could possibly include former Gamecocks running back Marcus Lattimore as an assistant coach. Maybe Muschamp will be a better head coach on his second opportunity at a program with lower realistic expectations, or at least the will to allow more time to turn things around than he experienced at Florida. Maybe Muschamp will end up being a solid hire for South Carolina, but the track record certainly does not support the logic behind hiring Muschamp. Muschamp’s impact on Auburn’s defense was not quite as powerful as expected, although Auburn did get better on defense as the season progressed.