The Arizona Wildcats have an interesting situation on their hands.
Neither Anu Solomon nor Brandon Dawkins looked particularly impressive in the team’s first two games, but then Hawai’i came to Tucson, and Dawkins thrived.
Yes, it was a lesser opponent, but the perceived "QB competition" wouldn’t be there if not for Rich Rodriguez openly promoting it that way all off-season.
So, when Solomon is healthy again, who should be starting? The proven veteran or the more dynamic newcomer? Here are our thoughts:
Gabe Encinas: Man. Honestly, if both are healthy, then I would like to see them rotating to the extent of not losing any momentum. We don’t know how effective a dual-quarterback system can be with these two, but I would just hate to leave one off the field for the entire game assuming both are 100% healthy.
I like having Anu Solomon when he finds his rhythm and starts clicking with the offense, but that seems to be extremely inconsistent. That’s why I like having Brandon Dawkins, who can open up the playbook with his feet and add one more responsibility to the defense.
Personally, I think it will be Dawkins’ chance to win the starting job. I’m not sure Anu is 100% ready to play, with Rich Rodriguez risking his first-string, injury-prone quarterback so early in the season once again. This will be the test for Dawkins. If he can compete and show he’s capable of moving the ball against a tough Husky defense, and even win, then I think it’s his job. If he just gets eaten up alive, then I think it’s Solomon’s team once again.
Mike C. Paulus: It feels emotionally easy to move on from Anu. I think this is more a narrative on us as emotional beings than logical ones. The fact is, the kid that wins the preseason QB battle is the starting QB. If both are healthy, Rich Rod is starting Anu...and he should. A coach is nothing in the eyes of his players if he doesn't have confidence in his decisions. Anu has a small sample size against a pretty good BYU team. When he's healthy, he’ll get the starting nod and a chance to win over the detractors again. If he doesn't perform well consistently, then the Anu era is over.
Drake Horner: I think Rich will start Anu and I agree with it. Dawkins looked really good and his legs would add another dimension to the offense, but I think you start Anu with a short leash. He played awful against BYU, but when Anu is on, he can be a very good quarterback. There is a reason Rich trusts Anu more. Dawkins has been improving, but he has played in three games against three bad defenses. Anu has played in big games and won big games. I don’t think you should hand the keys to the car to Dawkins just yet. Let Anu start and if he struggles, put Dawkins in. Maybe even switch off every few drives, but I think it’s a bit premature to give up on Anu.
Ronnie Stoffle: If you have been following my opinions thus far in the season, you have probably noticed my position on the topic. I am a big proponent of Solomon and I believe when he is healthy there should be no question about him starting. This is a player who is in his fourth year with the program, has over 6,600 passing yards, and is great at scrambling to extend plays.
I understand he has experienced hapless luck regarding injuries, but that's part of the game. When he is healthy, he is one of the better quarterbacks in the conference.
Dawkins is an excellent athlete and he definitely showed improvement from Grambling State to Hawai’i. I am much more comfortable with the quarterback situation this season compared to last season. I believe Dawkins is an overall better talent at the position than Jerrard Randall because of a better passing game. However, I don't believe his passing game is better than Anu’s.
The question that needs to be answered is "Who gives the Wildcats the best chance to win?" Anu gets my vote because of his familiarity with the system and ability as a passer. His game is, in a sense, two dimensional as he has a legitimate passing game and is good enough on the ground. Whereas, Dawkins is much more one dimensional.
Steve Apter: In my opinion, the comparison of Dawkins and Solomon is splitting hairs. While they have different styles of play, neither of Arizona’s QB options are going to make much of a difference for Wildcats against top-50, FBS competition.
The Wildcats lack punch, attitude, and nastiness, most notably on the offensive and defensive lines. Their biggest issues have nothing to do with quarterback play. Until Arizona gets more physical at the point of attack, they are going to continue to play soft. This team needs to put their quarterbacks in better situations for either to discover any sustained success. Arizona is 123rd of 128 teams in the nation on 3rd down defensive efficiency (Hawaii’s poor defense is 112th). They have allowed 23 successful 3rd down conversions on 45 attempts. Think about that, Arizona has allowed their opponents to convert on 53% of their third down attempts.
David Potts: Brandon Dawkins, I think. It’s a close call, to be sure, but I think Dawkins opens up the offense (and particularly the running game) a little more with his legs. Anu is the better passer, but I don’t trust him to run the ball himself without risking injury, and he can’t run the read-option as smoothly as Dawkins can. The threat of Dawkins running the ball makes it more difficult for defenses to protect against the run.
It’s also worth noting that Anu has kind of plateaued. His sophomore season wasn’t particularly impressive, and nothing he did in the BYU game convinced me that he has improved since last season. Dawkins, meanwhile, can still get better. If it’s remotely close between Dawkins and Solomon, don’t you go with the guy with the higher ceiling?
I don’t think it matters that much, really - neither one is significantly better than the other - but I’d roll with Dawkins.
Ryan Kelapire: I actually answered this question after the Hawaii game, and here’s my opinion once again:
Dawkins earned the right to start after his performance against Hawaii.
Will he always be completing 76 percent of his passes as he did against the Warriors? Definitely not, but the way I see it is this — Solomon is a known commodity. He'll be decent — sometimes good — and less sporadic than Dawkins. Solomon will often be better than Dawkins, too. But when Dawkins is on, he adds an element to Arizona's offense that Solomon — even at his best — can't provide.
And given how seemingly average this Arizona team appears to be, I think you have to go with the guy that has the higher upside, even if the floor is lower. Dawkins, if his improvement continues, could be a guy to lead this team to seven wins. He could also be a guy that struggles making basic throws and Arizona winds up winning just four games. However, with Solomon, it seems like Arizona would be destined to be a five or six-win team.
Do you settle for the guy that will win you five or six games, or do you go with the riskier quarterback that could possibly take the team to a higher level? I say you do the latter, therefore Dawkins would be my guy to start Pac-12 play.
I don't think Rodriguez will see it the same way, though. I think Solomon will be starting when he’s healthy and I think it’d be a mistake.
David Stevenson: Dawkins made his debut against Arizona State last year and it should be noted Washington is the best opponent Arizona will face since he has been in the mix.
Solomon gets the start but he is on a very short leash. This should be his last chance to prove he can lead the Wildcat offense this season. He was terrible against BYU and his lack of judgement was intolerable for a redshirt junior who is in his third straight year as the starting quarterback.
Dawkins is still a raw talent and got off to a rough start versus Grambling State. He can ill afford to put UA in a large first half deficit against Washington that could quickly turn into a repeat of the 2015 blowout loss in Seattle.
Jason Bartel: I agree with the points that DPotts and Ryan made. I’d like to add in something else. All Arizona fans can probably see that the offensive line has been the weakest link of the offense at least, possibly the entire team this year. I think Dawkins is better suited to deal with an inconsistent offensive line. Why? He has the height to compensate for bad snaps, and he has the speed to compensate for poor blocking. Solomon does not.
The higher ceiling is the thing that I harp on to people though. It’s interesting to watch those be upset with Arizona settling for two and three-star recruits, yet at quarterback, they want the "safe" option rather than the one that clearly forces opposing defenses to prepare for more options.
I don’t think Solomon will be healthy enough to play against Washington (he still hasn’t practiced since the injury), but when it comes to the road game at UCLA, Dawkins should start, and if the team gets off to a slow start, then Solomon comes in.