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Arizona Wildcats Have a Quarterback Mystery

(Photo by Chris Coduto/Icon Sportswire)

Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez broke into a sly smile when asked if backup quarterback Jerrard Randall had done enough to earn some regularly scheduled playing time.

“Who knows, he might start,” Rodriguez said. “Maybe.”

Safe to say, Rodriguez is keeping his options open as his Wildcats (5-2 overall, 2-2 Pac-12) play host to Washington State (4-2, 2-1) in what should be one of the most entertaining games of the weekend. Neither defense seems equipped to stop the other’s offense.

Whether that Arizona offense will be led by Anu Solomon or Randall — or both — is the question.

Solomon had directed eight consecutive scoreless possessions, none traveling farther than 37 yards, when Rodriguez yanked him from last week’s game at Colorado. Randall immediately sparked the team to three consecutive touchdown drives and a 38-31 win.

“It wasn’t all Anu,” Rodriguez said.

“We were struggling a little bit offensively. It’s easy to put it on one guy. I didn’t think our route-running was crisp. We missed a couple of things up front. It was a combination of things.”

Sure. That’s probably true. But Solomon said most of the yelling in film review was directed at him.

“Although we got the victory,” Solomon said, “it wasn’t one of those good ones.”

Rodriguez creating an air of mystery about his quarterback position could be a way to motivate Solomon, a sophomore who has started 20 games. Or maybe RichRod just wanted to give coach Mike Leach something to think about and prepare for this week. Or, let’s take him at his word — he really might start Randall, a senior.

There remains some thought that Solomon wasn’t quite right last Saturday after taking a hit near the head while on the ground trying to recover a premature shotgun snap. Solomon missed the Oct. 3 game at Stanford because of a concussion.

Rodriguez said Solomon wasn’t seeing the field well against Colorado. Solomon agreed, saying, “I just couldn’t see everything” and adding “it was one of those off nights.”

Solomon appeared to practice fine this week, and he was allowed to speak to the media Tuesday, which was a good sign. Arizona doesn’t let injured players speak after practice.

With Solomon healthy, here is what is likely to happen against Washington State:

Solomon starts. Randall plays.

If Solomon is hot, perhaps all bets are off. But for Solomon to run the offense at max efficiency, he has to at least be a threat running the ball, which he hasn’t been. If the quarterback isn’t running the ball in the zone-read spread offense … well, then it’s just any ol’ run-of-the-mill, easy-to-defend offense.

Either Solomon has been choosing not to keep the ball, or coaches are being cautious with him after the concussion.

“It’s a little bit of both. You have to be careful,” Rodriguez said.

“But as I told him, Anu is a better runner than even he believes. He’s athletic. You can see him running around. Anu is an athletic guy. He can make runs. …

“I mean, he’s not going to run as fast as Jerrard, but Anu can run well. We just have to convince him to have the confidence to do it.”

Part of the reason coaches pulled Solomon last week in favor of the faster and more dynamic Randall is that Colorado had stopped accounting for the quarterback run game. Solomon said he’d have to call his lack of running “laziness.”

“If they’re dropping eight, I need to run,” he said. “I need to be the dual threat I used to be. I just got comfortable sitting in the pocket. … I’m not really a runner, but if I have to, I will. If the defense if giving it to me, I just have to attack the defense and be smart on the field.”

Solomon has completed 114 of 182 passes for 1,404 yards, with 13 touchdowns and no interceptions. His passing efficiency rating of 151.0 is 27th in the nation. But he has just 29 carries for 81 yards.

Randall has 534 yards on 48 carries, including touchdown sprints of 72 and 73 yards. But the strong-armed Randall is just 24 of 50 for 278 yards through the air, with two touchdowns and one interception.

Their contrasting style is one argument to play both in the same game — give the defense a different look.

Maybe that will be Rodriguez’s plan on Saturday.

But he’s not really saying.

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