University of Arizona football coach Rich Rodriguez told reporters “Why not us?” when he was asked about the team’s chances to contend in major college football during his official introduction as head coach.
On Thursday night, he verified his belief with one of the biggest wins of his coaching career.
The upstart Wildcats upset the No. 2 ranked Oregon Ducks, 31-24 in front of a stunned crowd at Autzen Stadium, improving their record to 5-0 and 2-0 in Pac-12 play. The Ducks have an uphill climb if they want to make the inagural college football playoff, but this game is all about Rodriguez.
Rich Rod was chased out of Ann Arbor faster than cockroaches being forced out of a restaurant after three uninspiring campaigns at Michigan. He caught on in Tucson less than a year later and has brought his winning tradition to the desert. Rodriguez improved his record to 21-10 since being hired by the school in Novemeber 2011.
His spread offense has led to bowl victories in each of his first two seasons. Now, he has his greatest win yet.
Arizona came into the game as big underdogs in the battle of unbeatens. Oregon was poised to dash through a daunting conference schedule with Heisman hopeful, Marcus Mariota at the helm. It was Mariota who gave the game away. With less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter, Oregon needed a touchdown and extra point to respond from Arizona’s go-ahead touchdown.
Mariota scrambled to his right and had the ball literally taken away by Scooby Wright. Arizona was able to run out the clock, thanks to an impressive 3rd down run by Terris Jones-Grigsby.
Arizona’s game-winning touchdown was aided by a celebration penalty after a third down stop by Oregon’s defense. Tony Washington was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, which kept the drive alive for Arizona. Jones-Grigsby plunged into the end zone from a yard out with 2:54 remaining, which wound up being the final scoring play.
As much as Oregon struggled in a game they probably would win 95% of the time, Rodriguez and his staff deserves all the credit in the world. The Wildcats defense, despite allowing 446 yards of offense, was able to contain Oregon’s high-powered offense, limiting big plays and stymiing their rushing attack.
Arizona showed hustle on the field, evidenced by Wright’s takeaway on Oregon’s final drive and an overlooked play late in the third quarter.
Dwayne Stanford caught a pass from Mariota and had a clear path to the end zone, but thanks to Arizona’s defense not giving up on the play, Stanford was stopped at the 2-yard line and Oregon eventually kicked a field goal. The habits of the players translate onto the field from their coaching staff. Rodriguez and company have been able to get through to their student-athletes and the quality of play shows.
Rodriguez’s success also doesn’t bode well for his former school, Michigan, who is getting kicked while their down. Besides the mediocre play on the field and head coach Brady Hoke on the hot seat, Rodriguez has had consistently more success when the respective coaches took over their respective teams. Rodriguez won a road game against a ranked opponent, while Hoke still hasn’t Rodriguez has seen his teams improve from year to year, just like at Michigan.
Hoke’s squads have gotten worse and Hoke’s best year, an 11-2 year capped off with a Sugar Bowl victory, was with Rodriguez’s recruits.
Sports have plenty of redemption stories and one would be hard-pressed to find one as nice as Rich Rod’s is. Coach Rodriguez and his family were heckled when he left West Virginia for Michigan. His kids received disheartening messages on their school lockers and the family was requested to move out of the state.
The University of Michigan’s fanbase couldn’t wait for Rodriguez to leave and their wish was granted. Since then, Michigan and Arizona are heading in opposite directions.
It’s only fitting that Michigan is heading south and Arizona is heading north. It’s all because of Rich Rodriguez.