Wildcats finish with 10 wins for second time
Jan. 01, 2015
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona's bid to pull off one last comeback came up short at the Fiesta Bowl, where the Wildcats' season ended on the 10-yard line inside University of Phoenix Stadium.
That's where quarterback Anu Solomon, who engineered so many of those comebacks, was sacked on the game's final play, allowing the clock to run out.
While Boise State's players raced out onto the field, many of the Wildcats dropped to the turf and dropped their heads.
A huge disappointment, but once the Wildcats have time to reflect, they'll look back and see the 2014 season was one of the best and most potentially program-changing in school history.
"A loss is a loss and it will sting a little bit. It probably will sting a lot," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. "(But) when you take some time and wait a few days, whatever, I think we'll reflect back and say he had a lot of good memories, too."
Arizona won bowl games in each of its first two years under Rodriguez, but was picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12 South Division this season.
The Wildcats went about their business through the first three games, putting up huge offensive numbers as always, before gaining a bit of a attention with a Hail Mary victory over California on Sept. 20.
Arizona rose in national prominence in its next game two weeks later by knocking off No. 2 Oregon on the road, the kind of marquee victory that had eluded the Wildcats in the past.
"That's when we really started to believe in ourselves that we could accomplish more than we thought we could," senior receiver Austin Hill said. "At that point, it just become our goal to let the nation know that we could play football here at U of A."
Two close losses to the Southern California schools hurt a bit, but the Wildcats rallied to clinch the Pac-12 South by beating rival Arizona State in the Territorial Cup game.
That gave Arizona an outside shot at a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff if it could beat Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship.
The Wildcats fell flat with a 51-13 loss to the Ducks that knocked them out of the playoff and possibly one of the New Year's Six bowls. Instead, Arizona finished 10th in the CFB rankings and earned a spot in an upper-tier bowl for the first time since 1994.
With a chance to bounce back from the Pac-12 debacle, the 12th-ranked Wildcats staggered out of the gate against No. 21 Boise State, falling behind 21-0 before slowly working their way back into the game.
Arizona's defense shut the Broncos down in the second half and the Wildcats had a chance to tie with one final drive, but Solomon took a sack instead of throwing the ball away and time ran out. Boise State won the game 38-30, sending the Wildcats (10-4) into the offseason with consecutive disappointing losses.
"If you're a competitor, this doesn't bother you, you shouldn't be in our program," Rodriguez said.
Despite the finish this season, the program is on an upward trajectory.
Despite his finale, Solomon had a superb first season under center, throwing for more than 3,700 yards and 28 touchdowns. He should only get better as a sophomore.
Nick Wilson, another freshman, had seven 100-yard games and finished with over 1,300 yards and 16 touchdowns before sitting out the second half of the Fiesta Bowl with an injury.
Linebacker Scooby Wright, who was an All-American and won multiple national awards, is a sophomore, as are talented receivers Cayleb Jones DeVonte' Neal.
The talent's in place and, despite the ending to the season, the confidence is building in Tucson after the second 10-win season in program history.
"Four years ago, we had lost our coach, we didn't have a very good season at all. I really didn't know at that point where the program was going to go," Hill said. "But when coach Rod came in, he changed everything around. He made us believe and work and feel that we could make U of A a football school."
The Wildcats seem to be on their way, no matter how the season ended.