Arizona football looks forward to bowl game after loss to Oregon
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Anu Solomon wasn't moving fast. He was more limping than walking.
It was just after Friday night's 51-13 loss to Oregon in the 2014 Pac-12 Football Championship Game, and the Arizona quarterback had a walking boot strapped to his right foot. As he made his way toward the tunnel to exit the field, the Ducks celebrating en masse behind him, Solomon was tapped on the shoulder.
Mark Helfrich wanted to share a few words and a hearty hug with Solomon, who watched the second half from the sidelines. It was a nice sign of respect from Oregon's coach after a victory that was as lopsided as they come.
"It shows what great guys they are," Solomon said. "We as a program are hoping them the best."
It might have felt like a season-ending punch in the gut for the Wildcats, but coach Rich Rodriguez and his players are keeping perspective on their season. After posting a 10-3 record and winning the Pac-12 South, arguably the nation's best division with five of its six teams in this week's top 25, Arizona is primed to make a marquee bowl game. Not bad for a team that was predicted to finish fourth in its division and eighth in the conference in July.
"It's not the end," Rodriguez said after the game. "We've got a bowl game. Tonight was disappointing, the way we played, and you've got to give them a lot of credit. They're a very good football team and we didn't play well tonight."
The three-plus weeks between contests should also benefit Solomon, who said he's hoping to get back out on the field one more time this year.
"The training staff has done a really good job just getting me well," Solomon said. "Even without me, we'll still be well with Jesse [Scroggins] and Connor [Brewer]. But we've got to move on from this."
Solomon hasn't missed any time with his injury this year, but Rodriguez shared that his redshirt freshman quarterback has been dealing with the issue for about a month, perhaps explaining his recent dip in production. Still, Solomon wasn't using that as a cop-out after the game.
"Times were challenging," Solomon said. "But everyone's hurt, so I've got to tough it out."
Take a look at the numbers from the first half of Friday night's game, and they explain how Arizona fell into a 23-0 hole by intermission. Long story short, the Wildcats couldn't move the chains. After notching two first downs on its opening drive, Arizona went three-and-out on six consecutive series to close out the first half.
Even though Oregon had a hearty lead at the break, it could have been a lot worse if not for an admirable effort by the Wildcats' defense. Despite being on the field a whopping 57 plays in the first half because of the offense's struggles and an early special-teams fumble, Arizona buckled down in the red zone and forced four field goal attempts from the Ducks in the first half.
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"With that type of offense, they're going to get theirs," Rodriguez said. "Our defense hung in there and really competed well, I thought the whole game, particularly in the first half."
The wheels really fell off for Arizona in the third quarter as Oregon's lead ballooned. Senior quarterback Jesse Scroggins entered the game and was able to connect with a wide open Cayleb Jones on a botched Oregon coverage for a 69-yard touchdown, but he finished the evening 3-of-9 for 79 yards and an interception. Junior Jerrard Randall even got some game action under center for Arizona but went 0-for-5 passing. Randall actually scored a 25-yard rushing touchdown on the final play of the game as time expired, but that accomplished little besides a headache for Oregon defensive coordinator Don Pellum.
While the rotating cast at quarterback was certainly worth noting, running back Nick Wilson also had a subpar night. Oregon kept the bruising true freshman in check, limiting him to just 26 yards on 13 carries.
On the other side, Heisman hopeful Marcus Mariota was busy putting together another top-notch outing to add to his sterling resume. He finished the night 25-of-38 for 313 yards and two touchdowns passing while also adding a trio of rushing scores. It was a stark departure from the last time he faced the Wildcats and was bottled up.
"He's a great player," senior Arizona safety Jared Tevis said. "He played well tonight. It's hard to always account for him and it takes a lot of discipline to be in the right position every play. We should have done a better job doing that."