Ryan Finley, the Arizona Wildcats beat writer for the Arizona Daily Star, was kind enough to answer some questions I had for him. He also posed some questions to me on Toledo. I'll post answers later today or tomorrow.
1. How is the adjustment period going between quarterback Matt Scott and Rich Rodriguez? In other words, is Scott suited to run Rodriguez's spread offense, and if not, will Rodriguez meet him somewhere in the middle?
I’m not sure Rich Rodriguez has ever had a more qualified quarterback in his first season than Scott, a fifth-year senior who’s the embodiment of a dual-threat guy. (Certainly, he seems a better fit than the Nick Sheridan/Stephen Threet platoon from Rodriguez’s first Michigan team.) Scott ran an identical offense at Corona (Calif.) Centennial High School, where he was a finalist for the 2007 Joe Montana Award, given to the nation’s top prep quarterback. He rushed for almost 1,100 yards as a high school senior, and has been used in run-first packages at Arizona off and on throughout his college career. The Wildcats have depth problems at quarterback, and less-than-qualified players stashed on both sides of the ball. But Scott’s not the problem. If anything, he’s their best — — and maybe only — hope to make a bowl game.
2. Looks like quite a few defensive players have changed positions in camp. How much of a concern is depth?
Major concern. Rodriguez tried to explain how thin they were a few years ago, and just ended up talking until he ran out of adjectives. Suffice it to say, the Wildcats have zero depth on defense. Their three starting linebackers have combined for just nine career starts at the position: One of them, Marquis Flowers, switched from safety last week. The team’s first-string defense (according to their depth chart) includes a former walk-on (“Bandit” safety Jared Tevis), a converted safety at linebacker (Flowers) and a senior defensive tackle, Chris Merrill, with just 10 career tackles. The backups are even less experienced: None of Arizona’s three second-team linebackers has ever played in a college game before.
3. What in your opinion led to such a poor 2011 season?
Two things: A toughs schedule to start the season and a rash of injuries unlike any I’ve ever seen. The Wildcats lost a half-dozen starters, including linebacker Jake Fischer, defensive tackle Willie Mobley, cornerback Jonathan McKnight and safety Adam Hall, before the season even started. Then the team had to face (in order) Northern Arizona, Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon and USC to start the season. Mike Stoops was fired after the Wildcats lost to Oregon State in Week 6, in part so athletic director Greg Byrne could get a jump on some of the high-profile national candidates. He interviewed Mike Leach, Urban Meyer and Rodriguez, to name a few. The tough start beat down a lot of the team’s seniors, all of whom had played in three consecutive bowl games to start their careers, and frustrated the younger players and coaches. Not even a quarterback/receiver tandem of Nick Foles and Juron Criner — both of whom are currently playing in the NFL — could save a season that started horribly.
4. Do you sense the reuniting of the defensive coaches will have a positive effect on their ability to field a defense comparable in success to the one they had at West Virginia?
I think it’s way too early to tell, in part because the defensive coaches don’t have much to work with, personnel-wise, in their first year. In theory, I like the idea of a system like the 3-3-5 “odd stack” defense; schools like Arizona never get game-changing defensive tackles anyway, and the 3-3-5 seems better suited to smaller, faster players. On paper, however, it might be a different story.
5. Rich Rodriguez obviously made a clumsy entrance at Michigan. Has he endeared himself to fans and alumni?
I think so, though “endeared” might be a little strong. Tucson, Ariz., is a pretty laid-back place and the Pac-12 is notoriously relaxed, so I think Rodriguez enjoys the pace of life out here. He doesn’t face the daily barrage of media/fans/attention that tested his patience at Michigan and West Virginia, and he’ll be given time to build from scratch. I think Arizona and Rich Rodriguez need each other: The Wildcats are desperate to be back in the spotlight for something other than basketball, and their new coach needs to rehabilitate his image and win/loss record. At first glance, it appears to be a good fit.