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Originally published Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 8:02 PM

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Arizona's offense in high gear with coach Rich Rodriguez at helm

Huskies face an Arizona team that is explosive offensively but has problems on defense.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Saturday

UW @ Arizona, 7 p.m., Pac-12 Networks

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Pursuing redemption might be a needless and foolish folly for someone as accomplished as Rich Rodriguez.

But then again, the Arizona coach has always been motivated by proving people wrong.

"I always tell the players that no matter what happens, I always want you to come out with a chip on your shoulder and feel like you have something to prove every day and every game," he said. "I'm no different.

"I feel that in every game we have and every practice we have, I feel that I have something to prove."

So here he is at an early crossroads in his first year with the Wildcats and wondering if the advice he received from legendary Florida State coach Bobby Bowden is true.

In the book "Three and Out," which depicts Rodriguez's short and turbulent tenure at Michigan, Bowden is quoted by Rodriguez: "When you're trying to build a program, you go through four stages. You lose big, you lose close, you win close and finally you start winning big."

The Wildcats started this season with three straight wins and jumped into the top 25 rankings at No. 24 following an upset over Oklahoma State that they followed with a 56-0 demolishing of South Carolina State.

But things turned quickly once Arizona began its Pac-12 schedule.

After three straight losses to ranked teams — including heartbreaking defeats in the past two games — the Wildcats are 3-3 and winless in the conference before Saturday's 7 p.m. game against Washington (3-3, 1-2).

During the fast start, Rodriguez never had false illusions about the team he inherited from former coach Mike Stoops, which went 4-8 last season.

"We still knew who we were and that even though we won a couple of games it wasn't going to mask some of the problems we knew we had coming in," Rodriguez said. "We were frustrated because we certainly had a chance to win the last two all the way up to the last series of the game.

"Other than the 3-0 start, we missed some opportunities in the last two games. We had a bye to re-evaluate and hopefully get a couple of guys healthy to pick up some nice opportunities in the second half of the year."

Most of Arizona's problems pertain to a defense that surrenders 32.7 points and 480.5 yards per game, which ranks 11th in the conference. The Wildcats have allowed at least 38 points to four teams from BCS conferences.

However, Arizona didn't hire Rodriguez for his defensive know-how. He's an offensive guru whose plan to fix a leaky defense is scoring more touchdowns.

"We know we have to score because of our issues defensively and our lack of depth," he said. "We knew that coming in, that we would have a lot of games where we would have to put a lot of points up. Unfortunately, a couple of games it worked, but the last two we hadn't scored enough."

Led by the surprising performance of fifth-year quarterback Matt Scott, Arizona is fifth in the nation at 368.3 passing yards per game and tied for 26th averaging 37 points.

Arizona just might be the new Oregon, a fast-paced offense that puts points on a scoreboard at a dizzying pace.

Only one of the Wildcats' scoring drives has lasted longer than five minutes. They average 6.1 yards per play, which is also tops in the country.

"One of the keys — just like you're playing anybody — is that you've got to win on first down," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. "They may not be as explosive as Oregon is, whereas Oregon creates the big, long plays and scores fast, they do it methodically up-tempo."

Rodriguez says Arizona's offense is a variation of the no-huddle, run-oriented spread attack he created in the 1990s at Div. II Glenville State in West Virginia.

After guiding West Virginia to five straight BCS bowls, Rodriguez moved to Michigan, where critics once again questioned his offensive tactics.

His 15-22 stint with the Wolverines ended in 2010 after just three seasons.

"It was one of the most difficult periods of my life," Rodriguez admitted.

This time, Rodriguez hopes to avoid the pitfalls he had at Michigan and turn things around like he did at West Virginia, where he compiled a 60-26 record.

And maybe he'll disprove Bowden's theory.

"I'm trying to skip the first stage," Rodriguez said.

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @percyallen.


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