When the Arizona Wildcats got out to a 42-24 lead midway through the third quarter, it felt like the New Mexico Bowl was well in hand.
But the New Mexico Lobos were having none of that, scoring on their next drive, then recovering an onside kick, and scoring another touchdown three minutes later to make it 42-37.
A Casey Skowron missed field goal gave the Lobos the ball back with a chance to take the lead, but two crucial defensive plays, including a sack by one Scooby Wright III, put the finishing touches on the game, giving Arizona the 45-37 victory:
WATCH: @ArizonaFBall huge defensive play on 3rd down #AZvsUNM #GildanNMBowl #BearDown https://t.co/tN3rs31Reb— Arizona Athletics (@AZATHLETICS) December 19, 2015
SCOOBY GETS THE CATS OFF THE FIELD! #GildanNMBowl https://t.co/0VLggidMdW— Pac-12 Networks (@Pac12Networks) December 19, 2015
Scooby had an enormous performance in his first game in nearly three months. He had 15 tackles (3.5 for loss) and two sacks, including that one above. On the final play of the game, Wright's pressure on the quarterback forced an interception thrown to Cam Denson. It certainly leaves that "what if?" feeling, but it was great to see Wright have one last great performance in an Arizona uniform.
Bruising Baker: I had been very underwhelmed by Jared Baker's ability to get yards after contact this year. This game was a totally different story though. Baker was able to break tackles on a regular basis, picking up a bunch of extra yards throughout the day. He would finish with 107 yards (his third 100-yard game of the year) and three TDs.
Then it became the Orlando Bradford show in the fourth quarter, and the freshman had the most important play by the offense in the final period, picking up this hard-fought first down.
Who wants it more? First down Bradford. #AZvsUNM #BearDown pic.twitter.com/TkRpVZJdSN— Arizona Athletics (@AZATHLETICS) December 19, 2015
Bradford would finish with 61 yards on 11 carries.
Catching Cayleb: Yes, it was likely Scooby Wright's last game in an Arizona uniform, but the same may be true for redshirt junior wide receiver Cayleb Jones. And Jones certainly made the most of it, especially in the first half. All four of his catches, and 182 receiving yards, came before halftime, including this 78-yard TD grab. The UNM corners weren't able to cover Arizona's receivers, and if Anu Solomon had been better at getting the ball to his guys in this one, the passing numbers would have been off the charts.
Unsportsmanlike conduct: New Mexico was frustrated mentally early and often apparently. The Lobos picked up FIVE unsportsmanlike calls in the first half alone. It killed any offensive momentum they ever had, and set their defense up for failure as well. In the end, UNM finished with eight penalties for 109 yards. Compare that to Arizona's four penalties for 30 yards.
Dissipating DaVonte': DaVonte' Neal started out the season strong at corner. Since, he's progressively gotten worse, and there was no better example of this than the 92-yard TD catch by William Parks' brother, Delane Hart-Johnson. It's concerning to see him progressively get worse, and is certainly one of the best cases to be made that Arizona's coaching staff struggles with player development.
Delane Hart-Johnson to the house with a 91-yard TD reception! @NewMexicoFB trails Arizona 21-17 w/ 2:13 left in 1H https://t.co/2ijTW7FVQY— Mountain West (@MountainWest) December 19, 2015
Safety squeeze: One thing that really stood out on the defensive side of the ball was the total confusion amongst the Arizona safeties whenever a New Mexico quarterback ran one to the edge. Really disappointing performance by all those involved in that.
3-1: Arizona is now 3-1 in bowl games under Rich Rodriguez. We are the champions of bowl games that don't have any meaning at all.