It’s not often that a team loses its top quarterback in the first game of the season and you walk away from it feeling like its chances for success have actually increased, but that is exactly what’s happened with the Arizona Wildcats.
After a quarterback battle in the spring and fall, Rich Rodriguez named Anu Solomon his starter. This came as no surprise considering Solomon had thrown for more than 2,600 yards last season with 20 touchdowns against only five interceptions for a team that won seven games, including their bowl game.
But when Solomon went down with a knee injury after throwing two interceptions in a season-opening loss to BYU, the Wildcats turned to Brandon Dawkins and he hasn’t disappointed. In his first start against Grambling, even though he only threw for 70 yards and one touchdown, he ran for 97 yards and two more scores, leading Arizona to a 31-21 win. The praise of the sophomore signal caller soon started and hasn’t stopped.
Brandon Dawkins finds Samajie Grant for the touchdown. Arizona takes a 7-0 lead. pic.twitter.com/1oBlDrbmp7
— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapireUA) October 2, 2016
While some coaches are reminded of Michael Vick when they see Dawkins play, others look at his speed, size and arm strength and immediately think Randall Cunningham and Cam Newton. Dawkins, who met Cunningham during a youth camp he attended years ago, and is friends with Cunningham’s son, Randall II, says he models his game after the former Eagles and Vikings quarterback.
Dawkins’ dual threat ability carried the Wildcats to another win in his second start, 47-28 over Hawaii. Dawkins threw for 235, ran for 118 and accounted for four touchdowns. With each start and each play, his confidence continues to grow and he continues to show that he deserves to stay in the lineup even after Solomon recovers from his injury.
When the season began, it was easy to see why Rodriguez went with Solomon over Dawkins under center. Solomon was more experienced and had led the team to a bowl victory last season. But five games in, even though the Wildcats are 2-3, it is easy to see why Dawkins gives them the best chance to win now. He leads the team in passing and rushing. He averages 108 yards per game on the ground and this would probably be higher had he not left the loss to UCLA with sore ribs.
TE Matt Morin is Arizona's emergency QB if Anu Solomon/Brandon Dawkins unavailable for Utah. Morin played QB in high school.
— Michael Lev (@MichaelJLev) October 4, 2016
Dawkins missing the second half of the 45-24 loss to UCLA actually shows another reason why they need him in the lineup. Before he went out he had thrown for 73 yards and a score, while rushing for 44 more and the Wildcats were only down 14-7. The game went downhill for Arizona after Dawkins went out, leaving fans to wonder if his dual threat capability could’ve kept the pressure on the UCLA defense and changed the outcome of the game.
Zach Werlinger was inserted but was not productive. By then, it was too late and another dual-threat quarterback — freshman Khalil Tate — emerged.
At 2-3, the Wildcats are still four wins shy of becoming bowl eligible and they went 2-4 last year against the remaining teams on their schedule. Solomon didn’t get it done against common opponents last season and he showed nothing in his lone start this year to make anyone think he can suddenly flip a switch and get it done now. Plenty of others agree the Rodriguez-Solomon honeymoon needs to end and now it’s time for Rich Rod to allow Dawkins to keep the position he has earned with his play.
That’s if, of course, Dawkins is healthy.