For the Arizona Wildcats, game two was better than game one.
Both wins, Rich Rodriguez’s team looked significantly better and more in control in a 44-20 road win over Nevada than a 42-32 home win over UTSA the week before.
“It was a good road win, got a little banged up at times but we’ll take it and move on,” Rodriguez told Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Monday morning.
The Wildcats, now ranked 20th in the AP Poll, left Reno with a victory in large part because of running back Nick Wilson, who torched the Wolf Pack for 194 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries. The sophomore who ran for 1,375 yards and 16 touchdowns last year is off to another good start through two games this season, as he is sixth in the nation in rushing yards with 291.
“We did a pretty good job up front, but Nick, he’s just a good football player,” Rodriguez said. “Runs hard. Sometimes I wish he’d try to make someone miss, but when he gets physical and tries to run over a DB, I think that kind of physicality rubs off on everybody.”
Wilson’s performance and the team’s 2-0 start aside, Rodriguez said the Wildcats had some self-inflicted errors Saturday that cannot be repeated if the team hopes to have a successful campaign. He’s confident his team will work hard to improve, though, and believes they will do just that.
And perhaps there is no one on the roster who embodies that concept, playing well with room to improve, than QB Anu Solomon. A look at the redshirt sophomore’s season stats — 493 yards, six touchdowns, zero interceptions and a completion percentage of 66.7 — would indicate a player who is performing at an extremely high level. However, Solomon has been unable to connect on some open deep passes, missing out on big plays that Arizona’s offense will need to complete against some of the tougher teams on the schedule.
“I think his command of not only the offense, but understanding how teams are playing us and seeing the field,” Rodriguez said. “It wasn’t a perfect game by any stretch — there’s a lot of things he can get better (at) and we still missed a few big, big plays and had some opportunities there.
“But he’s a tough competitor.”
The fourth-year Arizona coach said Solomon, who has had an impact as a runner, too, sometimes needs to be convinced that he’s better at that aspect of the game than he thinks.
“But he’s been seeing the field really well and he’s taken control of the offense,” Rodriguez said. “I think he’ll keep getting better.”
If the Wildcats are to contend for a second consecutive Pac-12 South title, he will have to. They would also benefit greatly from the return of All-American linebacker Scooby Wright III, who has missed the bulk of the last two games after undergoing surgery on the meniscus in his left knee. There is no official timetable for a return, Rodriguez said.
“We had a little walkthrough [Sunday] night, he’s jogging around a little bit,” Rodriguez said. “I didn’t talk to him about his weekend, but he didn’t go on the trip and I’m sure it killed him. He hates to sit out a play, let alone a whole game. He and a few other guys that have injuries, I don’t know when their timetable for when they’ll exactly be back, but he’s getting as many treatments as he possibly can each and every day and he’s getting better each and every day.”
Sans Wright, the Wildcats will get another chance to improve Saturday when Arizona hosts in-state foe Northern Arizona in the final non-conference game of the season. Since taking over the program, Rodriguez is a perfect 11-0 against non-conference teams in the regular season, and there are no plans to overlook the Lumberjacks and add one notch to the loss column.
“They’re a really good 1-AA program,” Rodriguez said of NAU, who is 2-0 after beating Stephen F. Austin 34-28 and New Mexico Highland 41-5. “They play really hard. And as I’m going to tell my guys, they’re going to give their best effort against us. It’s an in-state deal and we played them a couple years ago and those guys battled us. So we’ve got a lot of respect for their program.
“And what’s more important, and this is the same every week and it sounds like coachspeak, that our first focus every week is on us. What do we have to do to get better, what things did we not do well in the last game, what things do we have to do better going forward? And I think, again, our guys will take that to heart. Our schedule will stay the same every week, how we practice, how we meet, and we’ll see what happens Saturday night.”