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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Wilson establishing his name after victory over Nevada

Tyler Baker

Arizona running back Nick Wilson (28) darts past a UTSA defender in Arizona Stadium during the Wildcat’s season-opening win on Sept. 3

Arizona football is off to a 2-0 start, as expected heading into the season, but it was an uplifting victory for the Wildcats Saturday night as they knocked off Nevada, 44-20.

In their first road test of the year, the Wildcats prevailed behind the efforts of sophomore running back Nick Wilson.

The running back position has devolved into a less valuable asset, unless the conversation is about which one to take in a fantasy football draft.

Running backs are especially depreciated in a system like the infamous spread offense that head coach Rich Rodriguez embraces.

This style of offense doesn’t normally rely on the efforts of the running backs because the thought of utilizing one with four receivers is outrageous.

The topic swarming the program is how great the receiving core is and, in particular, how fantastic Samajie Grant and Cayleb Jones are. It’s the deep receiving cast that separates the Wildcats from the bunch in the Pac-12 Conference.

In reality, Arizona’s offense hasn’t evolved around a receiver since Juron Criner in 2011, the same year Rodriguez was unemployed after getting the boot at Michigan.

Wilson ran for 194 yards against Nevada and added three touchdowns. Wilson ran with a chip on his shoulder and picked up exactly where he left off last season.

This time last year, Wildcats fans were finally discovering who Wilson truly was. It’s easy to be identifiable when attempting to fill the shoes of All-American Ka’Deem Carey.

As the successor to arguably Arizona’s best offensive player ever, the spotlight can be blinding. Wilson put up two touchdowns against the Wolf Pack last season and made the hangover from Carey a much smoother transition.

Prior to Carey and Wilson, there were Nic Grigsby, Chris Henry and Mike Bell. There has been a fraternity of marquee running backs pumped through the program, and Rodriguez has continued the running back factory.

While Rodriguez’s offense doesn’t necessarily cater to halfbacks, he is no stranger to relying on one for success.

At West Virginia, for example, Rodriguez had the talented Pat White at quarterback, but tailback Steve Slaton handled the rock for 3,923 yards and 50 touchdowns for the Mountaineers over the course of his career.

The reputation of the spread offense for using numerous receivers and not using a running back is an absolute myth.

The offense has strongly relied on running backs’ performances ever since Rodriguez took the program’s reins.

Wilson has the opportunity to establish his name as nationally recognized because if he stays healthy, the Wildcats’ offense should feel more comfortable as the team deals with numerous injuries.

As much as Arizona fans want to see the passing offense, the Wildcats’ bread and butter this season will be Nick Wilson.

Of course, this is only if the sophomore running back can stay healthy, and running backs are a dime a dozen.

If the Wildcats can feed Wilson the ball early on and jump out on NAU, Arizona should have smooth sailing next week at home.

Who knows? Maybe Wilson will turn into the Heisman hopeful this season rather than Scooby Wright III or Anu Solomon.

Follow Justin Spears on Twitter.

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