Sumlin on Rhett Rodriguez's first start: 'There are positives'

Wildcats fell just short, 31-30 at UCLA

The stats don't look great, but Arizona sophomore quarterback Rhett Rodriguez, making his first career start, nearly led the Wildcats to win at UCLA on Saturday night.

"There are positives," UA coach Kevin Sumlin said of Rodriguez on Wildcats1290 after a 31-30 loss at the Rose Bowl.

"You can say that his play really gave us the opportunity at the end of the game to have a chance. That's what you want when you have a backup quarterback playing a conference game on the road at night. It's a tough situation for a guy who has not played a lot."

Rodriguez completed 15 of 34 passes for 231 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. His first interception came on an up-for-grabs throw in the end zone in the first quarter.

"Sure, he made some mistakes -- he'd be the first one to tell you that -- but he also gave us an opportunity to win," Sumlin said.

Rodriguez was filling in for an injured Khalil Tate, who watched the game in street clothes from the sideline after resting his left ankle during the week. There's no immediate word whether Tate will be able to play Saturday night when Oregon visits Arizona Stadium.

The good feeling about Rodriguez comes from how he directed Arizona to points on five of six second-half possessions, totaling 23 points -- two touchdowns, three field goals. The Wildcats gained 320 yards against halftime.

He doesn't have prototypical arm strength for most college quarterbacks -- especially evident on long outs -- but he showed touch on deep balls for completions of 30-plus yards to Shawn Poindexter, Tony Ellison and Devaughn Cooper.

"It's definitely an experience that I'll never forget," Rodriguez told reporters after the game. "At the end of the day though, I could have been a lot better. We lost the game. ...

"I was nervous, but you should be nervous. If you're not nervous, then you don't love the game. But I felt pretty calm out there. It wasn't a bad nervous, I guess."

Although it left points on the field with the interception in the end zone and running back JJ Taylor's fumble through the end zone at the end of a 55-yard run, Arizona finished with 520 yards. Taylor (154) and Gary Brightwell (121 yards) each rushed for triple-digit yardage in what seemed to be a more-energetic, balanced attack.

As Jeff Scurran, Rodriguez's former head coach at Catalina Football High School, told AllSportsTucson.com this week, perhaps that's not an accident.

"And sometimes with a guy who is an athlete like Khalil -- and it's not Khalil's fault by any means -- but the rest of the team goes, 'Khalil, make a play,' where Rhett challenges the other kids on the team to make a play," Scurran said.

"That inclusiveness creates a different practice environment, and therein lies the success that you teach about football -- you play the way you practice."

Although it's hard to tell, perhaps some of Arizona's running success was due to Rodriguez making the right pre-snap reads and getting the Cats into the best play possible.

All in all, even if this is a one-and-done starting assignment (it's probably not, I'd say right now), it's a heck of a story. Rodriguez stuck with the Wildcats after the school fired his dad, head coach Rich Rodriguez, in early January.

Rhett was asked what pregame advice his dad offered.

"He watched some film this week, and he kind of told me what he thought, but at the end of the day, he was just telling me to just be myself," Rodriguez said. "Just have fun out there, be myself, and it's all going to be fine."

Poindexter finished with six catches for 106 yards and was on the receiving end of both of RhettRod's TD throws.

"I think he settled in right away. I don't think he had any jitters," Poindexter said. "He continues to push the guys to be better every single day, and to play the kind of game he played today, that's the highlight for me."

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