Five questions: Arizona Daily Star’s Daniel Berk talks Wildcats

Sitting near the top of the Pac-12 South, Arizona has quickly become the conference’s biggest surprise. On the other side of the Rose Bowl this Saturday is UCLA, arguably the conference’s biggest disappointment. Both have six wins, but the former has earned its record in far more convincing fashion than the latter. Daniel Berk from the Arizona Daily Star answered five questions about the No. 14 Wildcats.

Nearly three years in now, how has Rich Rodriguez measured up to what most Arizona fans initially expected? How much did the upset of Oregon earlier this month feel like a turning point for the program?

I think two-plus years in, he’s ahead of where most people thought he’d be. The cupboard was pretty bare when he got here other than Ka’Deem Carey, and he managed to win 16 games in two seasons and win back-to-back bowl games. I think fans were willing to be patient and let him build something, but the expectations changed and were raised going into this season after having some success the first two seasons. I think the win over Oregon was significant, but I’m not sure if it was viewed as a turning point, because Arizona has gotten some big wins like that before, but hasn’t backed them up the following weeks. So I think some fans have been waiting for a letdown game. I think a win Saturday would be more of a turning point with some of the recent struggles UA has had with UCLA. A win Saturday would also set Arizona up pretty nicely with the remainder of its schedule.

How has Rodriguez kept the Wildcats’ offense firing despite cycling through a different quarterback each year?

He’s a quarterback guru and knows how to get more out of guys at that position than most coaches in the country. Few, if any, thought B.J. Denker was a Pac-12 quarterback and he turned him into one in less than two seasons. Anu Solomon certainly had some talent coming out of Bishop Gorman High School and had other options, but the fact that he’s playing as well as he is so early in his career is both a surprise and a credit to Rodriguez and quarterbacks coach Rod Smith. Continue reading

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First look: No. 14 Arizona Wildcats

No. 25 UCLA Bruins (6-2, 3-2) vs. No. 14 Arizona Wildcats (6-1, 4-1)
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 1, 7:30 p.m., Rose Bowl
TV: ESPN (Mark Jones, Rod Gilmore, Jessica Mendoza)
Radio: AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Matt Stevens, Wayne Cook)

Coach: After lasting just three seasons at Michigan with a 15-22 record, Rich Rodriguez has found Arizona to be a friendler home for his spread offense.

Despite starting a different quarterback each season, the 51-year-old has guided the Wildcats to back-to-back 8-5 seasons and made them one of the country’s top-10 offenses twice in three years. Now, he has them on the cusp of their best campaign in over a decade. After upsetting then-No. 2 Oregon earlier this month, they went from unranked to No. 10 in the country — the largest jump by any team since the Associated Press poll expanded to a top 25.

Arizona hasn’t appeared in a final AP poll since 1998, when its 12-1 run made it the No. 4 team in the country.

Key players:

QB Anu Solomon, RFr., 6-2, 205 — 200/316, 2,430 yards, 20 TD, 4 INT
– Didn’t win the quarterback competition until late August, but he’s been entrusted to throw 45.1 passes per game. Third in the Pac-12 in yards per game (347.1), but eighth in completion percentage (63.3).

RB Nick Wilson, Fr., 5-10, 199 — 100 carries, 592 yards, 7 TD, 10 catches, 1 rec TD
– He’s splitting the workload with redshirt senior Terris Jones-Grigsby (70 carries, 406 yards), but Wilson is the one responsible for seven of the team’s 13 rushing touchdowns. Continue reading

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Pac-12 notes: Mike Leach thinks Connor Halliday is better than your quarterback

Connor Halliday is the best quarterback in the country, according to Connor Halliday’s coach.

After talking up the Pac-12′s depth behind center on Wednesday, Washington State’s Mike Leach said he would take his redshirt senior over just about anybody else.

“You might be rooting for your guy, and I don’t care what you think,” Leach said. “He’s better than your guy is.”

Some other Pac-12 Media Day highlights from the conference’s most quotable coach (as well as other coaches and players) …

» Asked how he would pick a bear-hunting partner between Washington coach Chris Petersen and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham: “We get a large bag and we stick in Coach Petersen, Coach Whittingham, and we shake that bag up really high and really hard.”

» On his fishing trip this summer: “My staff and I went fishing up in McCall, Idaho on the Snake River and got a huge 9.5-foot, 350-pound sturgeon, probably 95 years old. Of course, turned him loose so he could pull somebody else’s boat around for a while next time.” Continue reading

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At a glance: No. 16 UCLA at Arizona

No. 16 UCLA (6-2, 3-2 Pac-12) vs. Arizona (6-2, 3-2)
Location:
Arizona Stadium, Nov. 9, 7 p.m. PT
TV: ESPN (Joe Tessitore, Matt Millen, Maria Taylor)
Radio: 570 AM (Chris Roberts, Matt Stevens, Wayne Cook)

Last meeting: UCLA crushed Arizona 66-10, the most lopsided win in the all-time series. Running back Johnathan Franklin set the school’s career rushing mark with a 37-yard touchdown in the first quarter, and he Bruins’ led 42-3 at the half.

Key storylines: The Bruins haven’t won in Tucson since 2003, when they rallied back from an 11-point halftime deficit to win 24-21. Also, this happened the last time they went to the Zona Zoo. Continue reading

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