The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

66° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Analysis column: Wildcats scratch and claw way to Pac-12 Championship Game

%0A
Tyler Baker/ The Daily Wildcat

Not content to simply win the Pac-12 Conference South championship and
the Territorial Cup, Arizona football head coach Rich Rodriguez also
offered advice on how to eat an elephant: “One bite at a time.”

“We took a couple chunks out of it today,” Rodriguez said.

The
No. 11/12 Wildcats (10-2, 7-2 Pac-12) have evolved from a team that
barely beat UTSA into Pac-12 South champions. Arizona kept winning and
now has at least one new championship sign to hang on the east side of
Arizona Stadium.

The UA only has six championships signs hanging
above the ZonaZoo: three Border Conference wins, two Western Athletic
Conference triumphs and the 1993 Pac-10 title.

“We talked about
it very briefly at the beginning of camp,” Rodriguez said. “Our goal
every year is to win the Pac-12 South and then win the Pac-12, and then
we don’t talk about it a lot after that because I think you lose your
focus.”

Actually, Arizona opened camp not knowing who its starting
quarterback or running back would be. Now, its freshman backfield of
quarterback Anu Solomon and running back Nick Wilson is among the best
in the country.

Wilson, the reigning Pac-12 offensive player of
the week, ran for 178 yards on 24 carries in the 42-35 win over No.
13/13 ASU (9-3, 6-3) for an average of 7.4 yards per rush and three
touchdowns. He won the Bob Moran MVP award.

Wilson said he was
surprised at how well he has played this season. He said before the
season he hoped to get into the playing rotation or thought he might
redshirt.

“I got the chance and I got the opportunity, and I made the best of it,” Wilson said.

Solomon
was 15-for-21 for 208 yards and two touchdowns. Solomon was 11th in
the country in passing yards and 12th in passing yards per game before
the matchup.

Rodriguez said Solomon, who was questionable to play, is a “competitor and great leader.”

“He
toughed it out,” Rodriguez said. “He wasn’t at 100 percent, but he
wasn’t doing any further damage to his foot. He was gutty; he made a
couple really big throws.”

Linebacker Scooby Wright had 13
tackles, five tackles for loss and two sacks. On ASU’s first drive,
Wright got a sack and forced fumble that led to an Arizona touchdown.

“Scooby
Wright, I think, has proven that every game, he’s one of the best football
players in the Pac-12,” Rodriguez said. “Two-star Scooby rose to the
occasion again today.”

Even Wright was a question mark going into the season as the true sophomore moved to middle linebacker.

Behind
their new faces, the Wildcats kept winning, holding off a feisty Nevada
squad, beating California on a Hail Mary and then winning at No. 2
Oregon.

After starting 5-0, the Wildcats lost to USC by two points
and, after dropping a 17-7 game at UCLA, they looked like they were
headed toward another bowl game in a place such as Albuquerque, N.M., or
Shreveport, La.

However, the Wildcats kept winning, and after a
last-second win over Washington, spanked Utah 42-10 on the road in a
game few predicted they would win. Thanks to the win over archrival
ASU, the Wildcats suddenly find themselves 10-2 and division champions.

“You
asking me? I don’t even know how we got to 10-2,” UA safety Jourdon
Grandon said when asked about how the Wildcats got to where they are
now. “But it’s just been an amazing ride and just very memorable.”

Rodriguez inherited a program that had lost 10 games in a row to FBS teams in 2010 and 2011.

“It’s
a dream come true,” UA offensive lineman Mickey Baucus said. “When I
committed here five years ago, I thought we could build something and
get to this level, and we have and we got a shot to win the Pac-12. It is
just incredible.”

While Rodriguez has talked about winning the
South title since the summer, he admitted he didn’t really imagine
winning the title this quickly when he took over the program.

“I
don’t know if I pictured it in the third year, but I thought it could
happen or I’d have never came here,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a perfect
environment to build the best program in the country.”

Looking forward, the Wildcats will face Oregon for a chance to win their first conference championship in over 20 years.

“Well, for all you guys that have been covering us locally, you got another work week,” Rodriguez said.

The
Wildcats are currently No. 11 in the College Football Playoff rankings
and with the ASU win (the Sun Devils were No. 13), Arizona is sure to
move into the top 10. With No. 2 Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game,
the Wildcats have a chance to make the four-team playoff with another
win over the Ducks.

“There’s a chance; you ever see the movie
‘Dumb and Dumber?’” Rodriguez said about the Wildcats making the final
four. “’You’re telling me there’s a chance.’ It’s better than one in a
million.”

_______________

Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

More to Discover
Activate Search