What a difference a month makes. Just four weeks ago, Rich Rodriguez was faced with just four quarterback hopefuls when he took over the University of Arizona football program – but only one with any college experience at the position.
One was a wide receiver with some previous experience under center, and two were coming into the program fresh out of high school.
Now the new Wildcat boss, just five months on the job, is knee-deep in signal-callers, as he tried to give each of the four he has in the fold right now a look at the annual spring game Saturday.
And three more are on the way, including a couple of high school recruits from Texas, Javelle Allen and Josh Kern, as well as a JUCO transfer, B.J. Denker.
Denker, who has been playing at Cerritos College in California, was just offered a scholarship and is expected to be a strong competitor for the back-up role. He threw for 2,319 yards and 31 touchdowns last season, while adding 586 yards and seven TDs on the ground. That dual-threat ability fits nicely into Rodriguez’s offense.
Two hours and 98 plays Saturday didn’t give a lot of time to spread around among the quarterback hopefuls – particularly when one of them got the lion’s share of opportunities.
But that only seems fair, since Matt Scott paid his dues last season as he waited on the sidelines for Nick Foles‘ career to wrap up.
Scott, who is the projected starter right now for the 2012 season, finished the day 22-for-35 passing for 315 yards and four touchdowns. Running plays were minimized for the quarterback’s protection, so the senior who redshirted last year picked up just 11 yards on the ground.
The 6’3″ athlete was held out last season, knowing that he wouldn’t get much playing opportunity behind Foles, who set numerous school records before graduating this year.
Scott did get some playing time in 2010, when he won two games while Foles was recovering from an injury, and was impressive in both games, racking up a total of 688 total yards to beat Washington and UCLA.
When Scott wasn’t on the field Saturday, the QB time was shared by Richard Morrison, who played wide receiver last year, and a couple of transfers: Alex Cappellini from Orange Coast Community College and Tyler D’Amore, who graduate from Ironwood Ridge High School in Tucson, but progressed to the D-I level through College of the Canyons.
But it was Morrison who figured out a way to get more than his share of time in front of the 4,000+ fans who showed up on a cold, windy day at Kino Memorial Stadium to get an early peek at the future of Wildcat football.
He also took some snaps at wide receiver. So, in addition to his passing touchdown, the senior pulled in five catches for 75 yards and two more scores.
The former high school quarterback, who passed for 2,472 yards at Royce City High School in California, was recruited as a QB by Rodriguez’s predecessor, Mike Stoops.
Morrison also took some turns at returning punts during special-teams drills. About the only thing he didn’t do Saturday was play defense – but maybe he should have tried that, too. He made a touchdown-saving tackle when Marquis Flowers intercepted one of his passes.
The quarterbacks had plenty of options for their passing attack, with 14 different receivers pulling in at least one pass. A 5’10” walk-on from San Diego, Johnny Jackson, led all receivers with five catches for 90 yards.
The trio of Morrison, D’Amore, and Cappellini combined for 445 yards passing, completing 35 of 55 attempts.
Overall, it was a good offensive showing. The Cats were reasonably efficient with a new spread-option offense they were still learning, converting 10 of 20 third-down situations and racking up 597 total yards and 10 touchdowns.
The running game produced 152 yards, with Taimi Tutogi, the senior H-back, leading the way with 41 yards.
However, Rodriguez will also no doubt remind them of their five fumbles when they get together this afternoon for the final spring workout.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)