Rodriguez era begins with Arizona meeting Toledo

University of Arizona football coach Rich Rodriguez calling out to his players as they run drills during team practice in Sierra Vista, Ariz.
University of Arizona football coach Rich Rodriguez calling out to his players as they run drills during team practice in Sierra Vista, Ariz.

TUCSON, Ariz. — The Rich Rodriguez era begins at Arizona on Saturday night when his Wildcats are home against Toledo.

He hopes for a different outcome than in his first four debuts as a head coach, when he lost every time.

"The first game there are always so many things that you're unsure of," Rodriguez said.

He has a formidable challenge in the desert, taking over an Arizona squad that has potential on offense but is terribly thin on defense after Mike Stoops was fired last year midway through his eighth season as head coach.

Rodriguez built West Virginia into a national power in his seven seasons there. The Mountaineers were either first or tied for first in the Big East four of his last five seasons there. Lured to the big money and high profile of Michigan, Rodriguez was just 15-22 in his three seasons and was fired after the Wolverines went 7-6 in 2010. He was out of coaching last year.

Toledo is no pushover. The Rockets lost 13 starters from last year's 9-4 team but return an experienced defense and the two quarterbacks who split time last season.

"They're a very dangerous team and they're coming in here with a lot of confidence," Rodriguez said, "and we've got to play well. We're not good enough to play poorly and win any games."

The competition at quarterback was so close that Matt Campbell, in his first season as Toledo head coach, flipped a coin to pick Austin Dantin over Terrance Owens as the starter. But Owens will enter the game on the second series.

After that, Campbell said, "We'll play it by ear."

When Dantin was hurt, Owens quarterbacked the team to three straight victories to end the season. In those wins, Owens completed 79.5 percent of his passes (70 of 88) for 752 yards with no interceptions.

Rodriguez turns his up-tempo offense over to senior Matt Scott, who played two seasons in the shadow of Nick Foles — now the backup with the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles.

"It's been a journey for me," Scott said, "just getting better every year, just growing as a person and a player."

Scott, who sat out last season as a redshirt while Foles completed his college career, thought about transferring but decided to stay in Tucson. Now his combination of mobility and passing ability fits well into Rodriguez's scheme.

"I came here for a reason when I committed as a junior in high school," Scott said. "I'm glad I stayed here and it worked out."

Rodriguez expects to rotate eight linemen to make the offense go.

On defense, he knows it will be a challenge.

"We've got a lot of new guys playing and guys playing at a new position and they're all learning a new scheme," he said, adding, "This is a really good offensive team that's coming in here."

Campbell, at 32 the youngest football coach in the NCAA's FBS division, is making his regular-season debut. He coached Toledo to a 42-41 victory over Air Force in the Military Bowl after Tim Beckman left for Illinois.

Toledo is 0-5 against the Pac-12. The Rockets haven't won a season opener since a 24-6 victory at Penn State in 2000.