Arizona Football

Arizona Wildcats survive to 11-0 vs. non-conference opponents under Rich Rodriguez

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Arizona freshman running back Nick Wilson runs for a 28-yard touchdown in the second quarter (Pac-12 Networks video capture)

Arizona freshman running back Nick Wilson runs for a 28-yard touchdown in the second quarter (Pac-12 Networks video capture)

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The Arizona Wildcats enter the Pac-12 season 3-0 for the third consecutive year under Rich Rodriguez, but it was not easy to get there against a feisty Nevada team Saturday night.

Arizona’s offense — bolstered by freshman back Nick Wilson’s ground-control running — was impeccable for most of the night.

The only flaws were Anu Solomon’s first interception of the season and his premature slide on fourth down that ended a fourth-quarter drive. Nevada senior quarterback Cody Fajardo, a projected fourth-round pick in the NFL draft by NFLDraftScout.com, was equally efficient for most of the night.

The overall performance of Solomon, who did not have a three-and-out all night, was enough to hold off Nevada 35-28 at Arizona Stadium. Cayleb Jones also had a productive performance with nine catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns after having seven catches in the first two games.

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“We’ll take the win,” Rodriguez, who is 19-10 as Arizona’s coach, told KCUB-AM after the game. “At least we made the stop at the end and our offense was able to get a couple of first downs when we needed them.”

Fajardo’s last gasp against Arizona’s defense, criticized again by Rodriguez for not making the plays to end drives, came up short on a fourth-down conversion with 2:23 left in the game. Fajardo overthrew a wide-open Jericho Richardson on a fourth-and-5 play.


Arizona's Cayleb Jones (facing left) celebrates the first of his two touchdown receptions (Pac-12 Networks video capture)

Arizona’s Cayleb Jones (facing left) celebrates the first of his two touchdown receptions (Pac-12 Networks video capture)

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That was one of Fajardo’s limited mistakes as he completed 29 of 39 passes for 321 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Nevada gained only 108 yards rushing on 40 carries.

“Unfortunately we forced him to throw it and he was accurate,” Rodriguez told Brian Jeffries, Arizona’s play-by-play voice on KCUB. “They’re a good football team. We certainly didn’t play well, particularly on defense.”

Solomon completed 22 of 26 pass attempts for 278 yards with three touchdowns and his interception, a careless throw that ended his pick-free streak at 83 straight passes to start his collegiate career. His slide in the fourth quarter was just inches shy when it appeared he could have gained more. Nevada took over on downs and scored on an eight-play drive, capped by Fajardo’s 6-yard pass to Jarred Gipson, to cut the lead to 35-28 with 6:01 left.

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“(Solomon) made a couple of freshman mistakes, but at the same time, he made really good decisions, too,” Rodriguez told Jeffries. “We place so much mentally on him. … He’ll never get a play off mentally.”

Wilson’s 171 yards rushing extended Arizona’s streak to 20 games with a 100-yard rusher. He also rushed for two touchdowns, giving him four after the first three games. Wilson already has 451 yards on 66 carries, averaging 6.8 yards a carry.

Arizona's Nick Wilson (28) is congratulated by lineman Steven Gurrola after his first touchdown run (Pac-12 Networks video capture)

Arizona’s Nick Wilson (28) is congratulated by lineman Steven Gurrola after his first touchdown run (Pac-12 Networks video capture)

Wilson’s running, Jones’ performance and Solomon’s completion percentage (84.6) was enough to overcome the Wildcats’ losing the turnover battle for the first time this season.

Before Jones’ two touchdown catches, Arizona freshman receiver Tyrell Johnson scored on a 35-yard strike from Solomon in the second quarter. At that time, Solomon had six touchdown passes, all caught by different receivers.

“It’s amazing,” Jones, a Texas transfer playing his first season at Arizona, told KCUB-AM. “They can never double or key on anybody. Somebody will have a big game every time out.”

For the second consecutive game, a Tucson walk-on product stood out on defense. CDO grad Jared Tevis, a senior safety, led Arizona with 16 tackles and a game-saving interception at UTSA last week. Jake Matthews, a sophomore linebacker from Ironridge High School, had a career-best 10 tackles against Nevada.

“He’s going to be a good player,” Rodriguez told Jeffries. “He’s a tough guy who will keep getting better.”

More oddities of Arizona’s win despite losing the turnover battle: The Wildcats had only one red-zone opportunity (converting on Wilson’s 2-yard run in the first quarter) and they averaged 7.9 yards in their limited 64 plays. Nevada had 79 plays.

The last time an opponent had more offensive plays than Arizona: Against UTSA last year, also in the third game of the season, in another victory. The Roadrunners had 76 plays compared to 69 by Arizona.

Also, Arizona’s five touchdowns were produced by first-year players (eligibility-wise) in the program: Solomon, Wilson, Jones and Johnson.

ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.

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