When Rich Rodriguez leads his Wildcats out onto the field Saturday night in Tucson he’ll be the 30th coach in school history to do so. Rodriguez’s career coaching record of 12-84-2 (includes NAIA) is made more impressive by his 60-26 mark as the head man at FBS schools. The Wildcats enter the 2012 campaign with a variety of questions mostly attributed to the fact that the program is breaking in new schemes on both sides of the football. In year one anything can happen and likely will.
Arizona Wildcats vs. Toledo Rockets (MAC)
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. MST
Location: Arizona Stadium (51,811), Tucson, Ariz.
TV: ESPNU (national broadcast)
TV Broadcasters: Joe Davis, Mike Belotti
I find it ironic that Mike Belotti is calling tonight’s game for ESPNU, but that’s a story better left in the past. As for tonight’s game, four key questions stand out:
Is Matt Scott ready to lead this offense?
The fifth-year senior definitely has the experience. Scott has played in 22 games, posting a 4-1 record in five starts. He’s rushed for 632 yards, passed for 1,301 while completing 64.4% of his throws. The real question becomes is Matt Scott read to lead this new offense being installed by Rodriguez. Decision making on Scott’s part is going to have to be quick and decisive, even against a Toledo defense that sacrificed 31.7 points per game last year. Scott should be up to the task. After all, it’s not like Arizona hasn’t changed its offensive philosophy on more than one occasion in his four years in Mike Stoops’ system. Still, with the home crowd, the thrill of being the clear starter for the first time in his career, as well as the pressure knowing Scott only has one more season in college career, it’ll be interesting to see if Scott can handle the weight of the pressure as a new chapter begins in Arizona football history.
Will depth in the back two levels of Arizona’s defense pose a threat to victory?
Earlier this week Rodriguez told reporters Arizona hopes to get 25-28 players into the defensive rotation tonight. Either Rodriguez has had one too many late-night conversations with UA basketball coach Sean Miller, or the Wildcat coaches are still searching for answers within the roster. Toledo expects to rotate quarterbacks tonight (Austin Danton and Terrence Owens), and are breaking in a new offense under their own new front man, Matt Campbell. Still, this Toledo club is no stranger to scoring points as the Rockets averaged 42.2 ppg last season while edging Air Force in the Military Bowl, 42-41, to conclude the season. The bowl victory came under Campbell’s watch as he took over last December, meaning that Toledo has a slight edge in familiarity and what’s expected of them under their new staff. For Arizona, it’ll be a matter of which linebackers and secondary personnel can handle the moment, make the right reads and ultimately make the plays required of their position. For Wildcat fans there will likely be some nervous moments, but it’ll also be interesting to see the two-deep roster slowly begin to take shape against a real opponent.
How will all the position changes effect tonight’s outcome?
Without getting into every personnel switch since the start of fall camp, let’s just say there are plenty. Key position moves are players going from offense to defense, and three really stand out. True freshman Keoni Bush-Loo moves from TE/FB to linebacker, as does fifth-year senior (former) running back Greg Nwoko. Unfortunately, Nwoko is listed as “out” for tonight’s contest, but his size and speed should be a boon to the Arizona linebacker corps this year. Similarly, red-shirt freshman Patrick Onwuasor has moved from wide receiver to cornerback. It’s expected that both Bush-Loo and Onwuasor will see the field against Toledo. Stud fullback Taimi Tutogi (6-foot-1, 260 pounds) retains his starting H-back position on offense, but has taken plenty of reps for the defense in camp as a defensive end. Expect to see Tutogi play on both sides of the ball against the Rockets, especially in short-yardage situations inside the red zone. Arguably the biggest position switch, though, is that of Marquis Flowers who moves from safety into a linebacker role. As an LB, Flowers suddenly becomes a sideline-to-sideline type, and will benefit from his coverage techniques learned at the college level playing along Arizona’s last line of defense the past two seasons.
Can Arizona’s offensive line create gaps?
Last season the Wildcats began 2011 with one player – center Kyle Quinn – having started one single game. This year a more experienced and more physically developed OL will take the field for the Wildcats. A key component to a true read spread option offense is the ability to both run and pass. Last year, the Wildcats all but abandoned its running game, but won’t have that luxury under Rodriguez who is trying to not only win as many games as possible this season, but begin to build Arizona into a football power of the next several seasons. In 2012, Arizona returns five starters with a combined 59 career starts.
Arizona will play 8 home games for the first time since 1988.
Arizona has outscored Toledo 105-28 in three all-time meetings.
Arizona has won 13 straight season openers at home since 1988 (last loss was Iowa in 1987).
Rich Rodriguez is 31-7 at FBS schools in the month of September.
The Wildcats are 21-11 in Arizona Stadium the last five seasons.
Arizona enters the season with 31 players who have started in at least one game.
Visit the website following tonight’s game for “Instant Analysis” and other post-game articles from the WSR staff. Follow me on Twitter @garyrandazzo, and follow the website @WSRArizona.