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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Utah weather doesn’t faze Arizona football

Courtesy+of+Conor+Barry+%2F+Daily+Utah+ChronicalDespite+the+rain+and+cold+weather%2C+Arizona+running+back+Nick+Wilson+%2828%29+runs+for+a+touchdown+during+Arizonas+42-10+win+against+Utah+at+Rice-Eccles+Stadium+on+Saturday.+Wilson+and+the+Wildcats+fought+through+the+weather+to+keep+their+Pac-12+Conference+title+game+hopes+alive.

Courtesy of Conor Barry / Daily Utah Chronical

Despite the rain and cold weather, Arizona running back Nick Wilson (28) runs for a touchdown during Arizona’s 42-10 win against Utah at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday. Wilson and the Wildcats fought through the weather to keep their Pac-12 Conference title game hopes alive.

Facing then-No. 17/20 and now-No. 17/unranked Utah on the road, in the cold and in the rain was already a recipe for disaster for Arizona football.

Then, starting quarterback Anu Solomon went down, but then-No. 15/15 and now-No. 15/12 Arizona (9-2, 6-2 Pac-12 Conference) once again found a way to not only win but blow out the Utes 42-10 behind a dominant rushing game and attacking defense.

Solomon was having one of his best games of late, 8-for-17 passing for 158 yards, plus running for 22 yards on five carries and a touchdown. However, the Wildcats not only didn’t miss a beat, but they outscored the 17th-best in the country, according to the College Football Playoff rankings, 21-3 in the second half.

Backup quarterback Jesse Scroggins came in and went 3-for-5 for 64 yards and ran for 16 yards on four carries in relief. He started off hot, but once he fumbled two plays in a row, losing the second — which led to the Utes’ second-half score — the UA changed focus.

Running back Nick Wilson answered with a 75-yard touchdown run on the next drive, starting a 21-0 UA run to finish the game.

The 75-yarder put Wilson over 1,000 yards for season, the first UA freshman to ever accomplish that feat. In fact, only 11 Wildcats have ever rushed for more than 1,000 yards in a season.

Wilson added a 19-yard touchdown run to his touchdown tally. He finished with 218 yards on 20 carries for a 10.9 yards per rush average.

Former Wildcat Ka’Deem Carey is the best runner in UA history, but a home run-hitter running back like Wilson makes the Wildcats very scary in their last few games of the season.

As the rain poured down, the Wildcats fed Wilson the ball and ran out the clock rather than risk throwing the ball with a cold quarterback. Wilson was fourth in the Pac-12 in rushing before the game; had he not missed or been limited by injury for about a month, he would surely be at or near the top of the league in rushing.

However, wunderkind Wilson wasn’t the Wildcats’ only storyline for the game. Once again, the defense was dominant.

The Wildcat defense had its best game of the year, scoring two touchdowns, intercepting the Utes in the end zone and setting up 21 points that were scored off touchdowns.

One week after forcing the vital fumble to beat Washington and two weeks after scoring on a fumble return against Colorado, UA safety Tra’Mayne Bondurant once again showed his ball hawk skills.

First, Bondurant forced a fumble late in the second quarter that defensive lineman Dan Pettinato ran 31 yards for a touchdown. Then, with 9:58 left, Bondurant provided the dagger when he returned an interception 39 yards for a touchdown.

Bondurant started the season off the team when the Wildcats opened training camp. Good thing he came back, because he has an uncanny skill for making plays when the ball comes his way.

The defense also was key early on. After forcing the Utes to punt on each of their first four possessions, UA safety Jourdon Grandon intercepted the ball in the end zone when it looked like the Utes would score.

The defense made Utah look like the desert team playing in the cold and rain.

After the game, UA football head coach Rich Rodriguez told ESPN he didn’t know Solomon’s status for the ASU game. But after the performance of the defense, Wilson and even Scroggins for most of that first drive, Arizona may not need him.

While ASU is ranked No. 13 in the CFP rankings, it needed overtime to beat the Utes 19-16 at home.

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Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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