Arizona (7-6) carved up the New Mexico (7-6) defense en route to a highly entertaining 45-37 victory in the 2015 Gildan New Mexico Bowl on Saturday.
While it amounted to a road game for the Wildcats, they still managed to produce 503 yards of total offense in the win. Quarterback Anu Solomon, who started the season strong before fading while battling injuries, finished with 341 yards and three touchdowns to help lead the way.
Here's the quarter-by-quarter scoring recap:
|2015 Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Arizona vs. New Mexico|
Arizona only posted a .500 record during the regular season despite high expectations after finishing 10-4 a year ago. Head coach Rich Rodriguez wanted his players to enjoy the moment after a campaign filled with frustration, as noted by Adam Green of Arizona Sports:
But in this thing here, as I tell our guys, we're only going down there for three days. So it's not really the bowl experience, even though they do a great job at the New Mexico Bowl, we've been there before. It's more of a business trip and I wanted our guys to kind of enjoy the last couple weeks of practice, I want them to enjoy each other.
The Wildcats offense came out of the gates a bit sluggish, though. The unit turned the ball over on each of its first two drives, once on a fumble and then on downs, to give New Mexico a golden opportunity to take control of the game early.
The Lobos could only muster a Zack Rogers field goal on the ensuing drives. The second one came to an end on the first play as Jarvis McCall Jr. picked off Lamar Jordan, who was taking a shot at the end zone looking for the quick score.
It didn't take Arizona long to capitalize on that mistake. Just two plays later, Solomon took a shot down the field for Cayleb Jones, who won the battle and raced the rest of the way for the 78-yard touchdown.
ESPN College Football highlighted the score:
Anthony Gimino of Tucson News Now noted it was part of a monster first quarter for Jones:
That play finally brought some life to the game after a pretty sloppy start from both sides.
The second quarter saw 35 points on five touchdowns (three for Arizona and two for New Mexico), including three from at least 25 yards out.
Delane Hart-Johnson provided the biggest play of them all, as he made a nice adjustment on a deep ball from Jordan and took it the distance.
The Mountain West Conference spotlighted the long touchdown for the Lobos:
In all, the last three drives of the opening half all went for touchdowns, not counting New Mexico running out the clock at the end. It became a Wild West shootout in the blink of an eye.
The Score showcased one of the other highlights from the first half, a unique formation from New Mexico:
It was more of the same in the third quarter as the offenses took center stage.
Both teams scored a pair of touchdowns in the quarter, all of which came via two players on the ground. Jared Baker scored from 32 and four yards out for Arizona while Jordan countered with a couple red-zone runs for New Mexico.
The Lobos' official Twitter feed captured the fun nature of the contest:
Michael Lev of the Arizona Daily Star passed along some notes on Baker:
The pace predictably slowed a bit in the fourth as Arizona attempted to defend its lead. New Mexico got back within five on a touchdown run from Austin Apodaca but couldn't get the second score it needed to keep its hopes alive.
Instead, the Wildcats got the two stops they needed to preserve the victory, including one thanks to a key drive-ending sack by Scooby Wright III.
Arizona Football celebrated the season-ending win:
Ultimately, it's a major positive for Arizona to end the campaign with a victory after battling through a lackluster regular season. It gives the program some momentum heading into the offseason, which will be necessary if it needs to replace Jones and Wright, both of whom could be headed to the NFL.
New Mexico finished the regular season strong with victories over Boise State, Air Force and Utah State down the stretch. The defense just gave up too many big plays to cap it with a bowl triumph. It still qualifies as a year of progress after winning more than four games for the first time since 2007.
ESPN passed along comments from Rodriguez after the victory:
Thomas Romero-Salas of the Daily Lobo noted New Mexico head coach Bob Davie came away pleased with his team despite the final scoreline:
Although this marks the end of the season for both teams, bowl season is just getting underway. There are plenty of games on the horizon leading up to the College Football Playoff. Arizona and New Mexico certainly set a high standard in terms of entertainment level for the rest of them to live up to.