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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

COMIC: Rat’s Nest #3
Olivia MoreyFebruary 28, 2024
 

Column: Arizona football is back on track

Arizona+wide+receiver+Cayleb+Jones+looks+on+to+the+action+during+the+Wildcats+38-30+loss+to+Boise+State%26%23160%3Bin+the+44th+annual+Vizio+Fiesta+Bowl+at+the+University+of+Phoenix+Stadium+in+Glendale%2C+ARIZ.+on+Wednesday.+Jones+and+the+Wildcats+have+a+bright+future+after+a+groundbreaking+season.%26%23160%3B
Rebecca Marie Sasnett

Arizona wide receiver Cayleb Jones looks on to the action during the Wildcats’ 38-30 loss to Boise State in the 44th annual Vizio Fiesta Bowl at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, ARIZ. on Wednesday. Jones and the Wildcats have a bright future after a groundbreaking season. 

GLENDALE, Ariz. — It was a dark and gloomy day when the Wildcats returned to a major bowl on Wednesday, but the future for Arizona football is bright.

The No. 10 Wildcats (10-4) lost 38-30 in the 44th annual VIZIO Fiesta Bowl to upstart Boise State when their comeback bid came up short, but it will be first of many New Year’s Six bowl games to come for Arizona.

Remember, Arizona came into the season needing to replace its best player ever, in running back Ka’Deem Carey, its starting quarterback and middle linebacker. However, the Wildcats improved on their 2013 win total of eight by two games, won the Pac-12 Conference South championship and made it to the Fiesta Bowl.

In place of Carey stepped in true freshman Nick Wilson, who was fourth in the Pac-12 in rushing yardage after the regular season.

Redshirt freshman Anu Solomon became the new starting quarterback and went on to finish 12th in the nation in passing yards, 19th in passing yards per game and 22nd in total offense, as of Tuesday.

True sophomore linebacker Scooby Wright moved in to the middle linebacker slot and shined. After recording 153 tackles, leading the nation with 28.0 tackles for loss, and getting a school-record six fumbles, Wright won three national player of the year awards: the Bronko Nagurski, Chuck Bednarik and Rotary Lombardi awards.

While the Wildcats lose three senior offensive linemen starters and safeties Jared Tevis and Tra’Mayne Bondurant, having second or first year players excel at the key positions of quarterback, running back and middle linebacker shows the future for the program is bright.

Sophomore receiver Cayleb Jones said he’s not thinking about next year yet but that “it’s really encouraging” knowing who they bring back.

“I think we made tremendous strides as a program,” Jones said. “The guys we got here, we know we can win with.”

How many programs can make it to a major bowl with a freshman backfield?

“Him and Nick, I don’t see them as little kids; I don’t see them as young guys,” UA offensive lineman Steven Gurrola said about Solomon and Wilson. “They’re grown men.”

Chief among those returnees is Solomon. In the Fiesta Bowl, the rookie passed for 335 yards, going 28-for-49, ran for 32 yards on 23 carries, had two total touchdowns and two interceptions.

“I thought he made some plays; I thought he competed,” UA head coach Rich Rodriguez said about Solomon. “I’m pretty hard on quarterbacks anyway, so I think he can always play better.”

Solomon was off most of the day, often just missing receivers’ hands, but he was a few yards from tying the game after the UA started the game in a 21-0 hole. Plus, he led the Arizona offense to 29 first downs, which was the third most in Fiesta Bowl history.

Solomon drove the Wildcats down the field on their final possession but, after a Boise State blitz, took a sack with about eight seconds to go and no timeouts, ending the game. Of course, Solomon should have thrown the ball away to live another day, it was third down, but he did take the team down that close.

“We all could have done things better,” UA receiver Austin Hill said. “We can’t just, you know, blame it all on Anu. I don’t think he played any worse or better than he has over the season.”

The big thing about Solomon’s first bowl game was that he kept taking the blame for the loss in postgame interviews: all the blame. Solomon said he should have thrown the ball away and not tried to do too much.

“It’s all on me,” Solomon said.

Even when reminded that the Wildcats fought back, he kept blaming himself.

“I just got carried away, thinking that I could do this by myself,” Solomon said. “It’s a team game, and I failed my team.”

Jones, who Solomon hit for eight catches and 117 yards, including a 43-yarder on the last drive, said Solomon is a “great leader.”

“It’s absolutely not his fault at all,” Jones said. “This is a team loss, just like there’s team wins. I feel bad that he’s taking the blame, but it’s not his fault at all.”

Whether or not Solomon will eventually agree with the teammates that said it wasn’t his fault they lost, he seems certain to use the loss as fuel to get better.

“I’m going to work every day, starting tomorrow, starting getting better for the next season, putting my team in better situations,” Solomon said.

While the loss stings, it could produce positive results for Arizona.

“You just got to use that as motivation for next year,” Wright said. “You just got to think about this and how much it hurts and go back to that.”

After Rodriguez lost to a non Pac-12 team for the first time in his UA career, the focus now shifts to the 2015 season, which should be even better than the groundbreaking 2014 one.

“As I told the team just a few minutes ago, we’ve got to take it to the next level,” Rodriguez said. “That starts with the coaches, starts with the players in the offseason, our summer workouts. I think our guys are competitive enough to do that.”

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