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Arizona football: Brandon Dawkins gained more than experience in Territorial Cup

Did the redshirt freshman vault himself to bigger and better things in the last regular season game of 2015?

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On the morning of the Territorial Cup, it was learned that Anu Solomon would not be playing for the Arizona Wildcats due to a concussion suffered the weekend before.

This led Rich Rodriguez to start Jerrard Randall at quarterback, and things did not go well. Randall was 4-of-13 through the air for 35 yards, and only managed 22 rushing yards on four attempts.

In came Brandon Dawkins, and things changed drastically for the Arizona offense.

"(Randall) was ahead of (Dawkins) in a lot of respects, and he'd played too," Rodriguez explained of the decision to start Jerrard over Brandon against ASU. "He just wasn't on in that game, so I made a move."

"I thought after the initial nervousness he settled down a little bit and made some pretty good decisions," coach said of Dawkins getting meaningful snaps for the first time. "I think initially, everything was probably happening real fast. But I think the game slowed down for him, and you can see that on film."

"Everybody got behind my back, and I think that's what got me through the game," Dawkins said this week. "Even through the mistakes at the end, everybody still had my back and just tried to get better for them and hopefully play in this bowl game and be in that competition for next year."

"He came in great," Trey Griffey said of Dawkins after the game. "Coach is always talking about how you have to be prepared to come in at any point in the game. And he really helped us out a lot."

While he had seen time in a few other games throughout the year, these were Dawkins' first snaps in a college environment where the game hadn't already been truly decided. And seeing it back on film will help him develop even more throughout the spring and summer before fall camp starts again.

"It was a lot of fun to be out there for the first time for some actual real playing time," he told me of that experience. "It was unbelievable playing there in the hostile territory and everything, but it was just a lot of fun."

Even though Dawkins did show flashes of brilliance in the ASU game, Rich Rodriguez isn't going to run him out there in the New Mexico Bowl just because.

"I don't ever work on 'Oh we gotta get this guy time'," Rodriguez said Monday. "Whatever we gotta do to win the game."

But these last two weeks of practice will be crucial as the young quarterback looks to possibly earn the starting job in 2016, even though he's focused on getting those game reps.

"Every game helps, every practice helps, every little thing we do," he explained. "Every weight lifting session, every meeting with the coaches, everything helps. So one more game will help a lot, and just getting more game experience. I think that's what it all comes down to. Just getting more experience and getting better along the way."

"Getting one series in a game isn't doing a lot for you," Dawkins continued. "Actually being able to play three quarters pretty much helped a lot in my development, and I feel like I just got better every drive, even through the mistakes."

"I feel like I finally got the chance to show my true ability. To get out there and be able to play with a decent amount of time. Just be able to show people what I can do and have fun."

But more than just experience? Confidence in his ability to lead a collegiate offense.

"A lot more confidence."

For the sake of the future of the program, it would probably be most beneficial for Dawkins to get a fair share of snaps in Albuquerque against New Mexico, considering the now-prevalent health issues with Anu Solomon, and the uncertainty of bringing in two true freshmen next year. Will it happen? Maybe not, but I think most Arizona fans would rather see Dawkins get a few more reps and grow that confidence even more heading into 2016.