For two weeks after their Fiesta Bowl loss to Boise State, Arizona Wildcats quarterback Anu Solomon and head coach Rich Rodriguez didn’t speak.
Late in the 38-30 loss, with Arizona driving to tie the game, Solomon took an inexplicable sack that ate up the remaining clock and cost Arizona a final opportunity to score. Solomon sprinted out and could have easily thrown the ball out of bounds–could have underhanded it he was so close to the line of scrimmage–and Arizona would have gotten another opportunity.
Somehow it never registered and Solomon ate the sack. Arizona lost the game.
With a freshmen quarterback, you expect mistakes. To a certain extent you even embrace them–mistakes often serve as the foundation for growth–but Solomon’s inconsistencies were a constant barrier as Arizona looked to break through nationally in 2014.
In fairness, he was also the reason they were in the position to break through in the first place.
A four-star dual-threat quarterback coming out of high school, Solomon redshirted a year before becoming the focal point of Rich Rodriguez’s offense last fall. As the Wildcats raced out to a 5-0 start, Solomon threw for 520 yards and five touchdowns against Cal, including a game-winning Hail Mary as time expired.
He led Arizona to an upset of No. 2 Oregon in Eugene on a Thursday night, and that was the win that helped change the perception of Arizona football. And given the fact that he was just a freshman, his play generated a considerable amount of buzz.
However, during stretches in losses to USC and UCLA, Solomon was downright bad. In a tight loss to the Trojans he threw the ball 72 times for just over five yards per attempt and then against the Bruins he went just 18-for-48. In the Pac-12 Championship rematch with Oregon, he managed just 11 yards of total offense while completing just six passes, and down the stretch against Boise State he made the fatal mistake that cost Arizona the game.
In Arizona’s four losses, Solomon completed just 52% of his passes and threw for just three touchdowns against three interceptions. He was slow going through his progressions, and in instances like the final drive against Boise State, he seemed to lack any semblance of intuition.
And there lies the dilemma.
If Arizona is going to be more than a one-off–the single-season byproduct of Rich Rodriguez’s offensive ingenuity and a freakish year from a linebacker named Scooby (Scooby Wright, who won the Bednarik, Naguski and Lombardi awards as the nation’s best defensive player)–then Anu Solomon has to continue to develop a more complete understanding of the game.
Solomon had a year to get acclimated with Rodriguez’s system while he redshirted, and there’s certainly a learning curve as they adjust to the actual speed of the game action at the Division I level. But by the time you reach the 14th game of the season, you don’t get to fall back on the freshman excuse anymore.
With the Fiesta Bowl on the line, you have to know to throw the football away. Youth is no longer your crutch.
And that’s why, for two weeks, Rich Rodriguez was silent–letting his star pupil marinate in his own self-loathing.
Solomon watched the film. He knew he looked sloppy. What’s important now is that he rectifies it.
In a Pac-12 South that once again figures to be one of the most competitive divisions in college football, Solomon and the Wildcats don’t have the luxury of time. If Solomon isn’t better in 2015–more polished and more definitive in his action–then Arizona will struggle.
With all the talent in the world, Anu Solomon has to make the step from playmaker to quarterback, and he has to do so quickly. Otherwise he might have to start getting used to the silence.