The Arizona Wildcats softened the blow of a disappointing 2015 campaign with Rich Rodriguez's second Gildan New Mexico Bowl victory in four seasons.
Here are three big takeaways from the Wildcats' 45-37 victory over the New Mexico Lobos on Saturday.
1. So long, Scooby.
He missed nearly the entire 2015 season due to injury, but 2014 All-American linebacker Scooby Wright III didn't miss a beat in his return to the field Saturday. The junior was named New Mexico Bowl MVP after he recorded 15 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks, and his quarterback pressure on New Mexico's final offensive play helped set up a game-clinching UA interception.
Now, the bad news for Wildcat Nation: Immediately after the game, Wright said he will declare for the 2016 NFL Draft. Scooby's early exit has the same what-might-have-been feeling as when tight end Rob Gronkowski went pro after missing his entire junior year at UA with a back injury.
SCOOBY GETS THE CATS OFF THE FIELD! #GildanNMBowl https://t.co/0VLggidMdW
— Pac-12 Networks (@Pac12Networks) December 19, 2015
2. Starting Anu.
After missing the 2015 Territorial Cup with a concussion, sophomore quarterback Anu Solomon was productive in his return to the field. He wasn't as accurate as he could have been, but he made a number of home-run throws for a total of 329 yards and two touchdowns, and he added a 14-yard TD run in the second quarter.
Solomon could have competition at the QB position heading into next season, as redshirt freshman Brandon Dawkins, along with incoming four-star recruits Khalil Tate and Devon Modster, could make a push for the job. But Solomon did nothing Saturday to suggest he won't be able to fend off those challengers.
3. Running game looks promising.
Wildcat fans should feel good about their team's backfield going into 2016. While senior Jared Baker did most of the damage on the ground Saturday (107 yards, three touchdowns), freshman Orlando Bradford had some impressive runs of his own, especially in the second half, en route to a 11-carry, 61-yard day.
Bradford should be a nice complement to sophomore Nick Wilson, who sat out the New Mexico Bowl with an injury but is one of the Pac-12's top rushers. There's no reason why the Wildcats' running game shouldn't be one of the conference's best next season.
Anu Solomon get the Offensive Player of the Game.
— Jason Scheer (@JasonScheer) December 19, 2015