The Arizona Wildcats lost their season opener 18-16 to BYU in heartbreaking fashion, but here are three Wildcats that stood out from the rest:
Offense: Nick Wilson
It was a rough game offensively for the Wildcats, as they racked up only 328 yards in total, including just 107 in the first half.
Arizona’s offensive line was getting beat consistently and the team’s quarterback play was lackluster, to say the least. Anu Solomon threw for 213 yards on 30 attempts and was picked off twice. He also took two crucial sacks.
The Wildcats’ offense scored just three points in the first three quarters, but things picked up in the fourth quarter thanks to Wilson, who looked as healthy as ever.
Wilson finished with 138 yards on 17 carries (8.1 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. Wilson’s first touchdown — a 15-yard run — allowed Arizona to cut BYU’s lead to 15-10 with 9:33 remaining in the fourth quarter.
These @ArizonaFball Wildcats are FIGHTING for old UA!— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) September 4, 2016
It's a ballgame now on FS1.https://t.co/RblRUH5EhX
Then, after Arizona’s defense held steady, Wilson broke free for a 49-yard touchdown run to give Arizona a 16-15 lead with 1:26 left in the game.
.@All_Day_JR_28 had us all like "OMG" with this late go-ahead TD. It's the @ArizonaFBall #12Best moment. https://t.co/WpY1pqqiJt— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) September 4, 2016
64 of Wilson’s 138 rushing yards were accounted for by those plays, but even if you took those out, he had 15 carries for 74 yards — a 4.9 yard-per-carry average — and that’s pretty impressive considering UA’s o-line was getting beat at the point of attack for most of the game.
But unfortunately for Arizona, BYU took the lead for good shortly after Wilson’s go-ahead touchdown, putting a damper on his fourth quarter success.
"I feel good, I feel healthy. I feel great," Wilson said. "But I would trade all of that for the ‘W’."
Other offensive player of the game candidates were Trey Griffey, who caught four passes for 66 yards — including a 32 yard catch-and-run in the first half — and Nate Phillips, who caught seven passes for 69 yards.
All this being said, there’s no doubt Arizona has a lot of work to do offensively before Pac-12 play starts. It was a pretty dire performance on that side of the ball.
Defense: Dane Cruikshank
Considering the expectations that were placed on Arizona’s defense heading into this season, you couldn’t have asked for much more from it in this game. Only allowing 18 points to Taysom Hill and BYU was unexpected.
Paul Magloire Jr.’s stat line was the most impressive among the UA’s defensive players — 10 tackles, two of which were for a loss — but he also missed on a few key tackles, leading me to select Cruikshank as the defensive player of the game.
Cornerback play has been a problem for Arizona in recent years, but it looks like that isn’t going to be the case this season.
Cruikshank was very solid in coverage, using his length and athleticism to blanket the receivers he was covering. Essentially, anytime the ball was thrown in his direction, Cruikshank was there to contest the catch or, if the ball was caught, make the tackle right away.
I think the only gripe with Cruikshank’s performance is that he wasn’t turning his head around to look for the ball.
It didn’t matter in this game because his coverage was that good, but it could cause him to be prone to pass interference calls in the future.
Regardless, the hype that surrounded Cruikshank in the offseason appears to be warranted.
Special Teams: Josh Pollack
Pollack, as expected, was Arizona’s punter and kicker against BYU and he excelled in both roles.
From a place-kicking standpoint, Pollock hit a 46-yard field goal to give Arizona its first points of the game in the third quarter.
Sure, he missed a 52-yard field goal right before halftime, but to expect a college kicker to convert that is unfair (and to his credit, he did have more than enough leg to make it, it just went wide left).
The important part is that he made the 46-yard field goal and gave Arizona fans a reason to have faith in him moving forward.
Meanwhile, Pollack punted well too. He had four punts for 190 yards (an average of 47.5 yards), and two of his punts were 50-plus yards. Not to mention he also dropped a punt inside the 20-yard line.
The coaching staff has repeatedly said they’d prefer not to have Pollack both kick and punt, but he showed against BYU that he’s capable of doing both things well.
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapireUA