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Arizona football: No end in sight to Wildcats' struggles on kickoff returns

Anu Solomon wants all the yards anyway

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

With some of the new weapons that the Arizona Wildcats have this season, a lot more production out of the return game was expected.

But those weapons need some help, and they are not getting it right now.

"The kick return has just been awful," head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "I mean, it's been as bad of kick return in college football history."

Arizona's not quite the worst-ever. They're not even the worst this year. The Wildcats currently sit tied for 110th in average kickoff return out of 124 teams. USC is one of those teams tied with Arizona at 16 yards per return.

True freshman Tyrell Johnson has gotten the most opportunities out of everyone this season, returning four kicks for a total of 62 yards. Samajie Grant has the best average, getting 17.3 yards/return on three tries. Jared Baker also has one attempt.

"We've got guys that can return," coach explained. "I do think we have a couple guys that will hit it and could be really good return guys. It's probably a combination of what we're doing and who we're doing it with."

"I mean, it's just been kick the ball in the endzone and let's take the ball on the 25 and we'll high-five each other," Rodriguez added.

But there's a worrying thought amongst the Arizona coaches that touchbacks may not be an option moving forward.

"I'm wondering if teams will even kick it in the endzone," coach continued. "They might kick it to like the ten and pin us inside the 15, so we gotta get better at that."

"If we can get it past the 20, you may see me do a cartwheel on the sidelines," Rodriguez joked. "My goal is to not be the worst kick return unit in the country. Maybe be in the bottom fourth instead of the last one."

Those are not lofty goals. But kick return could come into play, especially in high-scoring games like what we expect to see this weekend vs. Cal. If the Bears really do kick it just short of the goalline each time, that could be a huge problem for the Arizona offense.

"We've fired guys, hired guys, looked at our schemes. It's just a matter of execution," coach added. "We've got guys that can do it, and we've got returners who can do it. We've just got to do a better job of blocking."

"We just gotta be more aggressive," sophomore Tellas Jones explained. "We gotta be more physical and get our assignments done and we'll be alright. We just gotta understand the situation and how important kick return is. Kick return is a free six points, and I definitely think you gotta try and get a lot of points that way or get a lot of yards and put your offense in a good position to score."

If we can get it past the 20, you may see me do a cartwheel on the sidelines -Rich Rodriguez

When looking at the Pac-12 schedule, a lot of high-scoring games are to be expected, especially with what both the Arizona defense and offense have shown in the non-conference portion of the season. Arizona will be fielding a lot of kickoffs because this defense is going to give up a lot of points.

The blockers on kick return need to get it going or the Wildcats may find a way to lose a game on special teams, and it won't be on a field goal or extra point. It's because the offense had to go 85 yards over and over again. Tyrell Johnson, Jared Baker, and even DaVonte' Neal when he gets fully healthy can really run in the open field. But someone has to open the field up for them.