Arizona Football: Wildcats outlast Lobos in Gildan New Mexico Bowl


The Arizona football team didn’t make it easy but managed to defeat the New Mexico Lobos in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl 45-37.

If you thought the return of Scooby Wright and some time off would help the Arizona Wildcats football team recover from a season full of disappointments you might have been right, for the first half.

The Lobos were no match for the talented Wildcats but inept defense, turnovers, onside kicks, dropped passes and missed field goals kept New Mexico in the game, sound familiar?

The season-long theme of injuries playing a large part for Arizona’s disappointment played itself right out of the minds of Wildcats fans as the defense. As was the case all season, gave up huge chunks of yards in the second half.  The Lobos rushed for 183 yards in the second half cutting an 18-point deficit to five.

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Casey Skowron added a field goal late with 1:32 left in the game to seal the victory for Arizona.  The win was the third bowl victory for Rich Rodriguez and extends the winningest senior class total in Arizona program history to 33.

The return of Scooby Wright was a much-needed boost on defense as he accounted for 15 total tackles, 11 solo, two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss, this is not including pressure he put on the Lobos quarterback at the end of their last series that led to the game-clinching interception by Cam Denson.

Outside of a 92-yard bomb from Lobos quarterback Lamar Jordan to Delane Hart-Johnson, who was tripped into the end zone by his brother Wildcat safety Will Parks, the Arizona defense held up well versus the running triple-option attack of New Mexico until midway through the third quarter.

On offense, all phases were full go despite some early turnovers by the Wildcats.  It was the Cayleb Jones show through the air as he hauled in four passes for 182 yards and a touchdown, all coming in the first half.  Jones was able to beat New Mexico’s single coverage time and time again with seemingly no adjustments being made by the Lobos secondary.

When it wasn’t in the air, it was on the ground as Jared Baker’s efficiency kept the New Mexico defense on their heels with no answers for anything Arizona wanted to do.  Baker contributed 107 yards rushing on 12 carries and found the end zone three times.

The three weeks off gave the Wildcats time to recover and refresh,  Anu Solomon could attest to that as he threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns. Solomon was mobile in the pocket and created several opportunities scrambling as he got into the end zone on the ground for a score as well.

Cayleb Jones and Scooby Wright III were the spark plugs for the Wildcats in the first half as the rumor mill has already begun on their prospects for entering the NFL draft.  ESPN’s Todd McShay has Jones rated as the ninth overall prospect at wide receiver and Scooby rated as the second overall prospect at inside linebacker.  Both players have been submitted for NFL draft analysis according to head coach Rich Rodriguez. Then Scooby declared for the 2016 NFL draft right after the bowl game by releasing a statement to Sports Illustrated (more on that later.)

Dec 19, 2015; Albuquerque, NM, USA; Arizona Wildcats head coach Rich Rodriguez looks on during the first half against the New Mexico Lobos in the 2015 New Mexico Bowl at University Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into next season some improvements will have to be made on defense, but the overall direction of the program seems to be trending up despite the results of this past season.

What this team did should be commended, they fought through a rash of injuries and managed to salvage a decent season.  Can they continue to build or is this as good as it is going to get?  Time will tell.  The mark of a good season should not hinge on a New Mexico Bowl invite; this program is hopefully past all that.

The win gives Arizona a winning record on the season at 7-6 making it the fourth consecutive winning season in the Rich Rodriguez era.  Help in the form of several highly touted recruits and transfers will be on the way for spring ball so hopes will once again be high in anticipation of this program taking another step in the right direction…Playing in January is fun, right?

Next: Arizona Football: Pac-12 Announces 2016 Schedule

Beardown Arizona!