The Arizona Wildcats and USC Trojans play their spring football games this Saturday, and as both teams limp into summer with 20 or more scholarship players out injured, head coaches Rich Rodriguez and Lane Kiffin are taking different approaches to managing the situations.
USC’s Kiffin needs his team to tackle, tackle, and tackle some more after failing to do so for much of the last two years, the result of practices designed to save his players’ bodies from injury. The Trojans did take a day off from tackling this week to rest up for the weekend’s game, a game that will feature offense vs. defense because there aren’t enough bodies for two full teams with so many players sidelined.
Arizona’s injury concerns aren’t quite as severe, because the team isn’t facing the roster limitations under which the Trojans are operating. Even though the extra practice probably wouldn’t hurt — the ‘Cats finished near the bottom of most defensive categories in 2012 — RichRod can afford to lay off the whip a bit as spring workouts come to a close.
The coach, who characterized himself as “too nice” during the first half of this spring, told reporters they will run only 60-70 plays during Saturday’s game, about 20-30 fewer than the first scrimmage, to minimize the risk of injuries to the remaining healthy players.
“I’m not looking for how many yards in rushing or passing or how many sacks we got. I want our guys to have fun, show some of their skills and hope nobody gets hurt out of it,” he said.
The team’s injuries may not have been as crippling as some of those USC faced, but they still affected the way Rodriguez had to run his workouts.
“I would have liked for everyone to be healthy and for us to have more bodies,” he said.
While Rodriguez understands the limitations the team has faced so far, he still expects his players to start to pick up the intensity level, work harder, and prepare to compete for their spot throughout the season — not just during spring and fall camps — and he hopes the live-game feel of this weekend’s scrimmage helps bring out the best in the healthy members of the team.
As Rodriguez told reporters earlier this spring: “I would be disappointed if they don’t come out with a little enthusiasm and have some fun.”
They’re not words we often hear from D-I college football coaches, but heading into a few months off with the injury count high enough already, it sounds like a smart plan for the Arizona Wildcats.