Pac-12 Preview Week: Five Burning Questions on Arizona and RichRod

Rich Rodriguez
Most of the time, I’m down here, but ol’ Groban, man, he raises me up.

Rich Rodriguez led West Virginia on arguably its most successful run in program history. He followed up that feat by leading Michigan to one of its lowest points. What’s in store for Arizona? We checked in with our buddy Kyle Kensing of Saturday Blitz for his take.

1. Whatever the reasons, it’s clear that the marriage between Rich Rodriguez and Michigan was only slightly less ill-fated from the start than Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. Why should we expect matrimonial bliss for him at Arizona?

Well, I’m not certain which in the relationship was Tom Cruise and which was Katie Holmes, but jumping up and down on couches isn’t much of a “Michigan Man” move. If I’m running with this analogy, post-Scientology Cruise made some clunkers, which Rodriguez’s three seasons in Ann Arbor would represent. Of course, his resume has Color of Money, Top Gun, Risky Business, All The Right Moves, Mission: Impossible – that represents the West Virginia years.

He’s proven he can get the job done. Heck, Michigan won 11 games last season with Rodriguez recruits. A key difference between Michigan and Arizona (and there are several hundred differences) is that Michigan’s illustrious history and resulting expectations put some undue pressure on RichRod. UA doesn’t have any such history or expectations. The fan base and administration realizes it might take some time to get the program to a level of competing regularly in the Pac-12, and since that’s never been consistent, how it happens is vastly secondary.

2. The biggest issue with the early phase of Rich Rodriguez’s transition at Michigan was the lack of any quarterback even remotely suited to running his system. Can Matt Scott be that guy at Arizona?

Matt Scott is absolutely well suited to the zone-read. He ran a system that was very similar at Corona Centennial High School and was a standout in the talent-rich CIF Southern Section. Scott performed well in 2010 while Nick Foles was recovering from a knee injury, so he’s hardly an unproven commodity.

There’s a lot of talent in the backfield, so Scott won’t need to rush too often. All five starters on the offensive line are returners. So, Scott has the personnel surrounding him. Offense won’t be an issue. Defense, on the other hand…

3. On the other side of the ball, Jeff Casteel runs a somewhat unique 3-3-5 scheme. How big of an issue is this from a personnel standpoint?

Basically, any system would cause personnel issues for UA this season – there just isn’t a lot of depth on that side of the ball.

There are elements of the new scheme that suit the talent available, most notably Tra’Mayne Bondurant. He’ll play the Spur position, which he’s more suited to than either a pure defensive back or linebacker role.

The defense is going to struggle mightily. There’s no way around that. That’s almost a benefit for Casteel. May as well start from scratch when implementing a new scheme.

4. What are the expectations for the Wildcats in year one of the new regime?

Arizona’s playing seven home games, a few against opponents that are likely toss-ups: Arizona State, Colorado and Oregon St. (And maybe Washington. Maybe.) The offense is going to be strong enough to get UA wins, but last year proved that a good offense cannot necessarily compensate for porous defense. Six wins and a bowl bid would be a tremendous success. Competing and coming out in the early portion of games hungry and prepared are two of the key attitude adjustments to look for.

Last season, UA had a horrible habit of looking completely lost and/or disinterested in first halves. Against USC, Oregon, Oregon St. and Oklahoma St., they played like an entirely different team in the second half, but in all were down too much to make a significant dent.

5. As an Arizona fan, how can this not worry you?

Ha! It’s not exactly the musical recruiting boost USC gets from the Li’l Wayne line “smoke weed, talk shit like Lane Kiffin.”

Coaches’ musical tastes are always fascinating to me. It’s a job that’s so all-consuming, keeping tabs on the latest trends is probably difficult. I just assume coaches listen to something that reflects their style; to wit, I assume Bo Pelini blasts Pantera before games. I’m surprised RichRod would share tastes with Sweet Dee of It’s Always Sunny.

The best consolation I can offer Wildcat fans is this: It’s not Nickelback.