Rhett Rodriguez admitted he felt plenty of nerves when he took the field for his first start with the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday, but they were the good kind of nerves.
“If you’re not nervous, then you don’t love the game,” he said.
Those first-start jitters showed early on, as Rodriguez completed just two of his first 12 passes. However, the sophomore quarterback eventually settled in and finished 15 of 34 for 231 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in a 31-30 road loss to the UCLA Bruins.
UA receiver Shawn Poindexter, who caught six passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns, thought Rodriguez was “phenomenal.” Rodriguez’s thoughts on his performance weren’t as rosy.
“It’s definitely an experience that I’ll never forget. At the end of the day though, I could have been a lot better,” he said. “We lost the game.”
The Wildcats trailed 10-0, before Rodriguez connected for two scores with Poindexter that helped them tie the game at 17-all a few minutes into the third quarter.
Arizona held two leads after that, including one early in the fourth quarter, but could not hang on for the win.
“Effort on this team is never the question. This team always plays hard. So I wasn’t surprised,” Rodriguez said of his team’s resiliency. “We felt good going into the game, at least I felt good into the game. I was confident that we were going to come out with a victory, but we were just one point short.”
Coach Kevin Sumlin said Rodriguez made some mistakes — like when he was picked off in the end zone on the team’s second drive, a play that came back to haunt them — but he liked how the young QB managed the game.
“With the mistakes he made we still had a chance to win the game on the road and be successful, so from that standpoint you would have to say that it is a positive thing for him,” Sumlin said.
“I thought he handled the situation well. He communicates well on the sideline. I thought he operated well, except for the turnovers. One was a poor throw and the other bounced off of somebody. I thought in general he handled his surroundings and the tempo.”
Rodriguez’s father — ex-UA head coach Rich Rodriguez, who was fired by the school last winter — was in attendance and offered Rhett some advice leading up to the game, though nothing major.
“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,” Rhett said. “Just have fun out there, be myself, and it’s all going to be fine.”
Poindexter said Rodriguez’s performance was the highlight of the night.
“Everything that he has been through this past year, and for him to come out here and have high energy — 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,” Poindexter said.
While Arizona fell short, Rodriguez, who is filling in indefinitely for the injured Khalil Tate, said having a chance to play at the Rose Bowl was “awesome.”
“As I ran out on the field, I thought about all the amazing games, all the amazing players that have been on that field,” he said. “I felt very lucky just to be out there.”