For what must have seemed like an eternity, Rhett Rodriguez was in a very dark place after the 2017 college football season ended.
The former standout quarterback at Tucson’s Catalina Foothills High School went from the euphoria of being recruited to a power 5 football program to the depths of despair when his father was dismissed from that same program after Rhett’s freshman year amid allegations of workplace misconduct and sexual harrassment.
While dealing with the fallout from a difficult situation for the family, Rhett had to decide whether to return to the University of Arizona program.
But the youngster found his way through the darkness and stayed the course, deciding not to de-commit from the school that fired his father, Rich Rodriguez, Arizona’s head coach the past six years.
Rhett had seen a little playing time under his father, but his freshman year was spent primarily on the sidelines. He got into just two games last season and had just one completed pass to put on his stat sheet.
Any better chance for playing time this year looked like a long shot as well. Tate was coming off a season in which he set a new FBS rushing record for a quarterback with 327 yards against Colorado and was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week four straight times, the first player to win four consecutive POW honors. He finished the season with 3,002 yards of total offense, despite not playing a full schedule, and led the conference in passing efficiency.
Rodriguez knew he was playing behind one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country and wasn’t even sure where he sat on the depth chart when this season began, vying for the back-up role with five other signal callers. And he was playing for a new head coach who was installing a new offensive system.
So the sophomore began the wait again, hoping to get a chance to show the new guy what he could do if given the opportunity.
The wait lasted six weeks. Tate was taken out of the Utah game last week after spraining his left ankle on just the second offensive series of the game. Sumlin inserted freshman Jamarye Joiner to replace his fallen starter, but decided before halftime that it was going to take something else to spark the offense. So Rodriguez took over for the final series of the first half and then played the rest of the way as Utah handed the Cats a 42-10 loss to drop their record to 3-4 overall, 2-2 in conference.
It may have been time for a change anyhow. Tate, who has been slowed by nagging injuries to the same ankle most of the season, has rushed for just 113 yards in the first seven games. A good dual-threat QB like Tate can’t operate on just one good wheel and still be as effective as last season when he was a nightmare for would-be tacklers.
Rodriguez took advantage of his opportunity against Utah, throwing for 226 yards, completing 20 of his 38 pass attempts, and putting Arizona’s lone touchdown on the board.
It didn’t take Sumlin long to decide on a quarterback change. He announced Tuesday that Rodriguez will be starting Saturday against UCLA. He will have a tough act to follow. Last year, Tate led the Wildcats to a win over UCLA in his first start of the season after taking over for the injured Brandon Dawkins in the fifth game on the schedule, finishing with 230 rushing yards and a couple of touchdowns against the Bruins.
But Sumlin said after last week’s game that he liked what he saw in Rodriguez’s two quarters against the Utes, noting that the youngster looked poised and confident, despite getting his first real opportunity in a hostile environment on the road, with his team trailing badly.
Now he’ll have a fresh slate against UCLA — and a chance to show how badly he wants to keep the job.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)