As a runner, Arizona backup quarterback Jerrard Randall doesn’t have a need for speed.
“Sometimes, you’ll just be blocking … and you’re like, ‘That’s five yards there,'” said starting right guard Jacob Alsadek. “And then all of a sudden you hear the crowd screaming and you see Jerrard all the way down the field about 70 yards in about three seconds since the ball was snapped.”
As a passer, Randall doesn’t have a need for speed either. The ball comes out of his hands hot.
“He might have the strongest arm of any quarterback that I’ve ever coached,” said Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez. “He’s ripped through a lot of receivers’ gloves.”
Given that, what Randall has is the need for off-speed.
And he needs it now.
Starting quarterback Anu Solomon suffered a concussion in the second quarter of last week’s loss to UCLA and he was listed as “questionable” on the team’s injury report, issued Thursday in advance of Saturday night’s game at Stanford.
That projection seems optimistic.
Arizona, which usually offers the media about a 20-minute peek at the beginning of one week-day practice, shut down all of practice this week and didn’t make any quarterback available for interviews. Noteworthy, though, was that Solomon wasn’t even spotted on the field after practice as Randall and third-stringer Brandon Dawkins got in extra work with the receivers.
“They’re both athletic, they both can make every throw,” quarterbacks coach Rod Smith said of his backups.
No doubt, Randall can fling it. The accuracy … that’s a different matter. He’s just 6 of 19 on the season, with one touchdown and one interception. He has to be able to convert the quick slants, outs and screens that the Wildcats rely on in the spread passing game, and that requires something of a deft timing and touch, not just a fastball.
Early in fall camp, Smith said Randall was making progress in learning when to take something off his passes, but that hasn’t translated to game action (a nifty touchdown pass vs. UCLA notwithstanding).
The 'Cats will not go quietly into the Tucson night! Jerrard Randall finds David Richards for 6! Watch on ABC. http://t.co/RW0mhWqpY0
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) September 27, 2015
“It’s been a work in progress for the last year,” Smith said.
“At times he has done it in practice. I think in the games, he gets so juiced up. I think the momentum and the adrenaline were pumping. We have to get him to control his emotions a little bit. He understands that. We’ve talked about that.
“He’s a hyper kid, man. He has a laser for an arm. I tell him all the time, ‘You’ve got to learn when to release that thing and when to calm it down a little bit.'”
Arizona receiver Cayleb Jones was asked this week if he’s seen a stronger arm than Randall’s.
“My uncle’s,” he answered.
His uncle is former NFL quarterback Jeff Blake.
Perhaps if you mixed all three of Arizona’s scholarship quarterbacks together, you’d have one elite player.
Solomon, a sophomore, already has 18 games of starting experience, has the best grasp of the offense and is a calm, cool customer amid the chaos of a play. But while the coaches are trying to subtract from Randall’s passing velocity, they have been trying to add to Solomon’s arm strength.
Randall, a senior, is crazy athletic, which is why we call him the nation’s second-most intriguing backup quarterback. He has touchdown runs of 57, 72, 73 and 39 yards this season.
Dawkins, a redshirt freshman, is the tallest at 6-foot-3 and probably has the best mix of arm and athleticism, but he lacks the experience of the other two. He can’t be ruled out from seeing key action Saturday night.
“All three of them have different skill sets,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a little bit of a challenge during the week to try to put a plan together for each. But there is a lot of crossover. It’s like a different thing for all three of them.”
If Solomon is out, it’s not like Arizona has to rewrite its playbook. Rodriguez knows what to do with a running quarterback. Stanford might load the box to stop the run, play man-to-man, and dare Randall to throw, but Arizona’s zone-read scheme helps balance the numbers. And, sometimes, it seems Randall can’t be stopped on the ground, no matter what.
“He’s certainly athletic,” Rodriguez said of Randall, listed at 6-1, 185 pounds. “And he’s a strong, athletic kid. He’s one of the strongest kids, pound for pound, that we have on the team.”
Randall was on Rodriguez’s radar when he was coaching at Michigan. But Randall committed to Oregon, signed with LSU and then transferred to a junior college after two seasons in Baton Rouge. Arizona then reconnected with Randall on the recruiting trail and brought him to Tucson last season.
This year, he is averaging 112.3 rushing yards per game, despite only 22 carries. Thanks to the long TD runs, his average of 15.3 yards per carry is tops in the nation.
But, now, for the first time, he could be facing the pressure of being a starter. It’s a tough spot, going against a hot Stanford team, ranked 18th in the country. Arizona (3-1) is trying to avoid an 0-2 start in the Pac-12.
Coaches talk about Randall being one of the most popular guys on the team because his teammates see how hard he has worked.
“That’s huge,” Smith said.
“Let’s face it, man, when a player goes down and you always talk about next man up, if you’re that guy you want the team to have that respect. And I think the guys do. They respect the hell out of him and they’ll have his back.”