Arizona’s Smith hopes to build trust on long-range kicks

TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez has gone on the record saying he has no problem going “for it” on fourth down with the Wildcats in opponents territory.

He’s done it more than a few times over the last couple of seasons. Actually, more often than not.

On Saturday at California, he didn’t, believing his senior place-kicker Jake Smith might have enough leg to hit it a field goal from 50-plus yards.

Smith was 50-50 from 50-plus — hitting a 53-yarder and missing from 55.

“Hopefully they will let me try more,” Smith said.  “It’s about coach having confidence in me.”

On his personal-best 53-yarder, Smith’s kick cleared the crossbar with about three yards to spare. On his 55-yard miss, he came up about two yards short.

“I knew as soon as I hit it I got under it,” Smith said of the miss. “As soon as you hit it … you know how it feels.

“Missing from 55 (yards) is not OK with me, but it’s OK with me (more) than missing a shorter one.”

Rodriguez said he liked what he saw from Smith, who has been good on his kickoffs all season. But he’s only 9 for 13 on field goals, missing some seemingly easy ones.

His role could be magnified Saturday when the Wildcats host No. 16 UCLA in a pivotal Pac-12 South game. Both teams are 3-2 in the conference and 6-2 overall.

“I don’t want to say he’s been uneven, but he’s gotten better,” Rodriguez said.

With John Bonano handling kicking chores last year, Smith sat out the season while recuperating from a knee injury.

“I still don’t think I’m there,” he said of being fully healed. “There’s another level I can get to, where I’m trying to get to.”

But he does feel he can hit from beyond 50 more often. Of course, it will be up to Rodriguez, who likes to gamble on fourth down rather than take a chance at the three points.

“I don’t think I have that pull just yet,” he said when asked about lobbying for longer kicks. “I just go out there when I’m kind of told to go out there. Would I like to go out there and try a longer one? I wish I would; I have confidence I can make them and help the team out.”

Smith said in practice and warm-ups he’s hit from 60 yards at Arizona Stadium. He said he has enough leg for a 55-yarder.

“I just want to win. I don’t care how we do it,” Smith said.

Arizona also got a strong effort Saturday from sophomore punter Drew Riggleman. He punted eight times for a 41.4 yards per kick average, had four kicks downed inside the 20 and had a career-long 56 yarder.

“He’s been pretty solid (all year),” Rodriguez said.

Quarterbacking clinic

Rodriguez said he didn’t have a chance to see former UA quarterback Nick Foles throw for seven touchdowns against Oakland, but he did see the highlights. Rodriguez came a year after Foles finished his senior year.

“Nick put on a clinic,” he said. “I got to see some of his highlights when he was here. I said he’d be great in anyone’s offense. Just like Matt Scott (who replaced Foles at Arizona).”

Scott is on the practice squad of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Extra points

Special teams player Trevor Ermisch suffered a season-ending knee injury on Saturday in a non-contact situation, Rodriguez said. It occurred on the opening kickoff and apparently happened when he was trying to make a cut. He’s expected to have surgery to repair his ACL. Rodriguez called Ermisch, a junior, the team’s most productive special teams player.

Senior linebacker Jake Fischer did not practice on Sunday after missing the Cal game with a knee injury, but he is expected back against UCLA.

The UCLA game will kick off at 8 p.m. and be televised by ESPN. Arizona announced that its Nov. 16 game vs. Washington State will kick off at noon and be televised by the Pac-12 Networks. Rodriguez said his preference is to play early games, in part so he can have the rest of the day to watch other teams play later in the day.