The Arizona Wildcats fell behind 21-0 in the first quarter of the 2014 Vizio Fiesta Bowl which was too steep of a hill to climb despite a roaring comeback in the second half. They fell to the Boise State Broncos 38-30 in the game. Here are five things we learned.
No-so Festive Start: The Arizona Wildcats were embarrassed off the field in the Pac-12 Championship game and the lull they showed from that game carried into the first quarter of the Fiesta Bowl. On the first three drives of the game for Boise State, they ran a total of 16 plays and got two huge plays for scores and one that looked all to familiar in the Fiesta Bowl. The first, a 56 yard touchdown run for Jay Ajayi which led him to setting the single season rushing record for the Broncos. Then on drive two, big run plays and a lack of pressure on quarterback Grant Hedrick led to a 57 yard bomb to Chaz Anderson to make it quickly a 14-0 deficit. Finally, the Broncos bring back the statue of liberty play in the Fiesta Bowl which led to a 16 yard score, the second of the game for Ajayi. Conversely, the Wildcats were forced to punt on their first two possessions on offense. If you include the four quarters of the Oregon game and the first of the Fiesta Bowl, Arizona was out-gained 829-318 in five quarters combined.
“It was like going against air,” said Arizona Head Coach Rich Rodriguez after the game. “I mean wasn’t even challenged. I’d have to look at the film and see what happened there. And we didn’t tackle well. It was a combination of a whole lot of stuff.”
Solomon struggles: The Wildcats quarterback injured his ankle all the way back during the USC game back on October 11th. He has never really been healthy since and was forced to sit because of that ankle in the second half of the Utah and Pac-12 Championship games. So many including Rich Rodriguez hoped to see a better performance with a healthy Anu Solomon. But it would not be Solomon’s best night of the season. He went 28-49 for 335 yards with one 51 yard touchdown but two interceptions that came at very bad times that lead to 14 Broncos points. The first interception came when the Wildcats had a lot of momentum after getting their first score and then getting the ball back to make it a one possession game. The second turned into a pick six that proved to be the only points they would score in the second half. Solomon will also take some heat in the end with the Wildcats having a shot to try and tie the game on the final drive of the game but took a sack instead of throwing the ball which allowed the clock to run out on the Wildcats.
“We had 20 seconds,” mentioned Rodriguez. “I thought we could get off three plays. We clocked the first one, so you’re going to lose a play. You normally could get off three plays in 20 seconds. But we weren’t able to do that.”
Hey Mr. Wilson: Nick Wilson caps off what had already been a great season with a spectacular effort in the Fiesta Bowl. It was his efforts on the Wildcats drives when down 21-0 and then 28-7 that helped Arizona stay within two scores in the first half. His vision to alter runs after being handed the ball is something we’ve seen often this season and he was at it again in the Bowl game. Rich Rodriguez relied on him early and often in the first half to keep the game from being a blowout as he carried the ball 19 times in the first half alone. But on that 19th carry, he got his bell rung, would leave the game and not return in the second half. Former walk-on, senior Terris Jones-Grigsby, would come in and provide 79 yards of total offense which was big in the Wildcats attempt at a comeback.
“Really proud of Terris,” said Rodriguez. “We kind of consider him a co-starter. When Nick went down, Terris came in and played well.”
Casteel Curtain: Despite all the issues the Wildcats defense had in the first half. The second half was another story. They had 397 total yards in the first half. The Wildcats honed in on running back Jay Ajayi who went off in that first quarter for 101 yards on seven carries. But in the second and third quarters combined, the new single-season rushing yards leader in Bronco history was held to eight yards on eight carries. Boise State had just 74 yards in the second half. Tra’Mayne Bondurant led the team with 11 total tackles followed by Scooby Wright with 10. When asked what adjustments the Wildcats made in the second half, Rodriguez simply said the team “played better.”
Successful 2014: Rich Rodriguez acknowledged the fact that after losing two tough ones in a row, it’s hard to look back on the season as a whole. Mentioning, “if you are a competitor, this don’t bother you, you shouldn’t be in our program.” When Rodriguez and the Wildcats step back and look at the season as a whole, they will find that it is the most successful seasons they have had in quite a few years. 10 wins, a Pac-12 South title and a shot at winning the conference. The emergence of stars in the making with sophomore linebacker Scooby Wright and freshman running back Nick Wilson. It is a great foundation to continue to build on in the increasingly difficult Pac-12. As you turn the page on this season, the Wildcats really only lose considerable depth on the offensive line but have a great core of players from 2014 that will look to take another big step forward in 2015.