Christian Petersen - Getty Images
Rich Rodriguez and Jeff Casteel are back together again at Arizona, and they're producing exhilarating football in Tucson after the Wildcats upset the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
The Arizona Wildcats were generally a healthy band of average in the Pac-10. Through 30-plus years in the new conference, their general place of standing was 5th or 6th place. So it's no surprise that the brand of football they've produce the past few decades has been .... well, average. Arizona would occasionally topple a top ten football program in exciting fashion, only to flatten out and lose to the worst teams in the West. Arizona would follow up a second place finish in the conference with about three to four straight 5th-7th place finishes, then rise again before dropping back and repeating the pattern. There was a definite sense that Arizona football could be many things, but there was a plateau they'd have to deal with that would prevent them from being excellent.
Rich Rodriguez is anything but average for a football program though. Either he's going to make your team look really freaking good to watch, or he's going to struggle. Either way, it's something worth noting. Oklahoma State sure noticed after seeing a 14 point lead evaporate to the tune of 30 straight piled up on them Saturday night.
What makes Rodriguez's offense so fun this year is how well he's adapted it to his personnel. No, Arizona doesn't have the capacity to be a run-first team, but they have the scheme in place to run the football effectively because their quarterback is dangerous enough to make good throws in a pass-heavy environment. Matt Scott does scamper for a few runs here and there, but the arm is what makes this offense so dangerous. Everyone's a threat to catch the football or run with it.
Rodriguez offenses have been successful before though. It's the return of Jeff Casteel that really makes this enterprise fly.
Oklahoma State piled up over 600 yards of offense and had no trouble moving the football, but the 3-3-5 found just enough opportunities to make plays on the football. Wes Lunt got picked off three times, once for a pick-six, and four Oklahoma State turnovers turned into 17 Arizona points. It was Casteel's defensive schemes that were missing at Michigan with Rich-Rod; reuniting the two feels like an order of gourmet football manna.
Opportunistic. That's the best way to describe these new-look Wildcats. They won't win every game they play, but you'd better be prepared to execute up on them, because otherwise they're just going to keep on producing big plays on either side of the football. Not a bad underdog strategy at all.
Arizona's used to being underdogs. Having the ultimate underdog college football coaches back on the same staff sounds like the perfect marriage for Wildcat football to be more than ordinary.
SB Nation Snippets
The obvious byproduct of Rodriguez's brand of medicine was UA's 30-0 run, spanning the latter half of the first, all of the second and the early third quarters. The zone-read option offense and Matt Scott's unique twist on it chomped up yardage and capitalized on opportunities against the Cowboy defense. On the opposite end, defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel made adjustments to his varied 3-3-5 stack that limited OSU's chances.
And make no mistake, despite giving up 38 points and 636 yards, the Wildcat defense did its job. Todd Monken's high powered offense is always going to get yards, but not allowing those to become points is what gives an opposing defense a chance to win. Few coordinators know that like Casteel, who worked under Dana Holgorsen a season ago. Holgorsen employed the air raid spread at OSU before heading to Morgantown, including in 2010 when it torched UA. Casteel came in Saturday with firsthand knowledge that shutting off opportunities is key against the explosive system.
You don't have to go any farther than 4 turnovers (1 pick 6) and 15 penalties for 167 yards (school record). Add to that what seemed like a baker's dozen of drops by the receivers (inlcuding Stewart's juggle mentioned above) along with NO turnovers by Arizona, and Oklahoma State was lucky to be still playing for something in the middle of the 4th quarter. But give RichRod credit...he has instilled a positive mindset and has the Wildcats playing a MUCH better brand of football.