Utah football: Arizona's turnaround has Utes envious
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham sounded envious as he gushed over Arizona's offense this week.
Can't blame the guy for being a little jealous. While Utah's offense is suffering through one of its worst seasons in the coach's eight years, Arizona has become revitalized and electrified under first-year coach Rich Rodriguez.
The Wildcats' offense is averaging more yards and more points and creating more headaches for opponents than it did a year ago when the Wildcats (6-4, 3-4) limped to a 4-8 season.
"I love what he is doing schematically," Whittingham said of Rodriguez. "I don't know if there is a team in the country that does better."
The most notable jump has been in the run game, where Arizona is averaging 215.3 yards, up from 94.5 yards a game in 2011.
Last week sophomore Ka'Deem Carey rushed for a Pac-12 record 366 yards in Arizona's 56-41 win over Colorado, and his 14.6 yard average per carry was a school record.
Rodriguez said Carey not only has been a driving force for the offense, but the whole team.
"He really loves football," he said. "The way he runs, the way he prepares is infectious. Every game is like a holiday to him."
While Carey might bring a little spice and razzle dazzle to the offense, schematically the Wildcats are very basic, Whittingham said.
"It's almost all zone runs, big splits that you see with a lot of the spread teams that run zone and create natural creases that way," Whittingham said. "[Rodriguez] does a great job with low-degree-of-difficulty plays that are high yielders, throwing to stationary targets, a lot of hitches, curl routes, bootlegs and things. They do a great job with the quarterback run game and making sure the quarterback is part of the run game. It's just so effective."
While Rodriguez's schemes have drawn the admiration of Whittingham, Rodriguez said his biggest impact has been creating a winning mentality among the Wildcats.
Rodriguez coached at Michigan from 2008-10 and went 15-22 before he was ousted. He was hired a year ago to replace Mike Stoops, who was fired after the Wildcats started the 2011 season 1-5.
Landing at Arizona gave Rodriguez a fresh start. He gave the Wildcats a new look, too, pushing the players hard from the beginning, he said. He has been surprised at how well the team responded.
"Coming out of spring and August camps, I had huge concerns, more than at any other place I'd coached over a lack of depth and where we were at defensively," he said. "We knew we were going to have guys playing before their time and knew it could get worse with injuries but we have been proud of the guys."
The Wildcats became bowl eligible with their win over Colorado. Reaching that milestone is a big deal for the program, considering the Wildcats failed to reach a bowl last year and haven' won a bowl game since beating BYU in the 2008 Las Vegas Bowl.
Right now the Wildcats stand in seventh place overall in the league and could be headed to the New Mexico Bowl against an MWC team, or the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against Navy.
Rodriguez wants his team to not only become a regular participant in bowls, but also be a contender in the high-profile games.
"There is no reason why they've never been to a Rose Bowl before," he said. "We have to change to get there on a lot of levels. But from what I've seen in my short time, it's going to happen. It may not happen as fast as everyone wants, but it's going to happen."
As much admiration as there is for Rodriguez, the Utes don't want to be another notch in that process.
"We know we have our hands full," Whittingham said.
Arizona's offensive output the last two seasons:
Rushing 94.5 215.3
Passing 370.75 310.7
Total off. 465.25 526.0
Scoring off. 30.75 37.9
Int. passes 11 10
Sacks allowed 1.92 1.7
Arizona at Utah
P Saturday, 8 p.m.
TV • ESPNU
O Ex-Utah safety and current NFL player Robert Johnson gave the Utes a pep talk Tuesday. âº sltrib.com/utes