SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Practicing at 6 a.m. in the sprinklers may not have made Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez popular with his players, but it made them feel prepared.
Coming from sunny Arizona to stormy Utah, freshman Nick Wilson ran for 218 yards and three touchdowns as the No. 15 Wildcats overcame an injury to quarterback Anu Solomon and pulled away from No. 20 Utah 42-10 Saturday.
“We were ready,” Wilson said. “That Thursday practice wasn’t really that bad. It was actually kind of fun.”
Not as fun as it was to run through, around and right by the Utes.
“I was fortunate the way the holes opened up the way they did. The offensive line made it easy for me,” Wilson said.
In heavy rain at times, Wilson had the most rushing yards ever for an Arizona freshman and topped the 1,000-yard mark this season. The Wildcats led 21-10 in the fourth quarter before Wilson scored on a 75-yard run.
Arizona (9-2, 6-2 Pac-12) reached nine wins for the first time since its 1998 Holiday Bowl team went 12-1 and was ranked No. 4. The Wildcats retain slim hopes for a berth in the conference championship game as a matchup with No. 13 Arizona State looms next week.
“I’m really proud of our guys. We played a really good football team on the road with inclement weather,” Rodriguez said. “Normally we celebrate a win like this for 24 hours, but since we play our rival early, we’ll only enjoy it for 12 hours and move on.”
The Wildcats ran for 298 yards, the most allowed by Utah (7-4, 4-4) this season.
“We aren’t the most impressive team getting off the bus, but getting on the bus after games like this may be a little more impressive,” Rodriguez said.
Solomon threw for 58 yards and got his first career rushing touchdown in the first half. He was fitted for a walking boot at halftime because of an apparent injury to his right foot. He will be evaluated on Sunday and Monday.
Backup quarterback Jesse Scroggins only threw five times, completing three, as the Wildcats relied on their potent rushing offense and opportunistic defense to turn the game into a rout.
“I didn’t have to be a superhero or anything, we were already up and I needed to stay within the offense, the system,” said Scroggins, a senior and one-time USC quarterback who has not played meaningful minutes in a major college game. “I almost wanted to cry because it’s been five years.”
Arizona beat a ranked team on the road for the second time this season, having downed then-No. 2 Oregon 31-24 on Oct. 2.
After Wilson’s breakaway score in the final period, Jared Tevis intercepted a pass tipped at the line by Derrick Turituri on Utah’s next possession.
Wilson ran 19 yards for his third touchdown on the next play. He had only one negative-yardage play in 20 carries against a defense that is among the nation’s leaders in tackles for loss.
“The running game was the key, without question,” Rodriguez said.
Tra’Mayne Bondurant intercepted Utah reserve Connor Manning’s pass and returned it for a 39-yard touchdown to complete the scoring with 9:58 to play.
Arizona defensive lineman Dan Pettinato picked up a fumble and scored on a 31-yard return for a 21-0 lead late in the second quarter.
“I just saw a big hit and they stripped the ball. I remember a few years ago against Washington I had a chance to scoop-and-score but I just fell on it. I didn’t want to take a chance. But this time, I wanted to make sure I picked it up and scored,” Pettinato said.
Utah quarterback Travis Wilson connected with Westlee Tonga on an 11-yard TD pass with seven seconds left in the first half, making it 21-7.
Wilson completed 16 of 29 passes for 143 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions while Devontae Booker rushed for 142 yards, his sixth 100-yard rushing game this season.
“We gave up 14 points on offense and scored 10. That’s not a good recipe for winning games,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
Against Utah’s normally stout run defense, Wilson hit the 100-yard rushing mark in the second quarter on his 17-yard touchdown scamper with 4:12 until halftime.
“All week we heard how Utah was tougher and the weather would be on their side,” Pettinato said. “Today we played as team we had guys step up, no doubt.”